Empowering our young citizens finds the ethical line, online.

In the UK, more than £190,000 a day was lost by victims of cyber-crime between April and September last year. That’s an increase of 24% on the previous six months, according to figures from Action Fraud. Of these, more than 5,000 people were hacked via their social media and email accounts, costing in excess of £14.8 million pounds.

Cyber-crime is growing problem without a clear-cut solution. But we can start to tackle the problem by creating a culture of cyber security awareness, and by helping people to protect themselves using basic techniques such as stronger passwords (use three random words!!). Visit the National Cyber Security Centre website for further tips and advice.

I work on a police team called ‘Cyber Prevent’ that guides young people on the fringes of cyber-crime into more productive uses for their cyber skills. This might be through workshops, exposure to industry and further education, depending on their needs.

Where it starts

Our team find that most people start out by hacking into their school network, or booting other gamers from online games such as Call of Duty, Fifa, or Fortnight. Often they have no idea that what they are doing is illegal and that offences can carry a prison sentence.

For example, the team spoke to one individual who had hacked into his school network and downloaded an end of year class exam. After acing the exam, questions were asked when he scored 100% after not performing particularly well throughout the year!

The Cyber Prevent team worked with the school to signpost the student to online education where he could progress his skills in a legal, ethical way. The team was also invited to give school assembles to raise awareness of the Computer Misuse Act, so that students would be empowered to understand where the legal boundaries are when surfing the internet.

Whilst that story had a relatively happy outcome, not all stories play out so well.

In 2015 a bio-science student installed a keyboard spying devices to capture staff passwords on a university computer. He then used this data to hack into his university network and bump up his grades. He was sentenced to four months in jail after admitting at court to six charges in breach of the Computer Misuse Act 1990.

Ignorance isn’t a valid defence

Cyber dependent crime is not a crime in the traditional sense. Take for example a robbery or burglary offence, where we’ve grown up with the understanding that these are wrong and deplorable crimes. In the online world the line between legal and illegal activity is a blurry one, and we see this every day when we talk to young people who have crossed that line into criminality. Unfortunately ignorance of the law isn’t a defence, so awareness is key, especially now that the world we live in is becoming more and more connected. It’s an important life skill to know how to keep yourself safe online, and this now means knowing where the boundary is between ethical behaviour online, and breaching the Computer Misuse Act.

This year Young Citizens celebrate 30 years of making a difference to young people and empowering them to become active and informed citizens. When I began to write a Cyber Crime scenario for this year’s National Final of the Bar Mock Trial Competition, I wondered if the founders could have known that Cyber Crime would grow to become the biggest evolving crime type in the UK in terms of volume and complexity.

Jon kindly offered to help write a scenario that could help young citizens from 197 UK schools to understand the risks, and empower them to know where the line is between ethical online behaviour, and committing an offence contrary to The Computer Misuse Act 1990. You can follow activities at the Bar Mock Trail Competition’s National Final using @YoungCitizensUK #MockTrials