UK Crime Agency's Latest Moral Panic: Kids Modding Videogames May Be A Gateway To Becoming Criminal Hackers

from the and-reporters-lap-it-up dept

Well, it looks like we may have our latest moral panic to deal with. The UK’s National Crime Agency is warning that kids modding video games may be a gateway to becoming criminal hackers:

Gaming websites could be spawning a new breed of cybercriminals, according to new research which claims that young people are being indoctrinated into hacking crimes via free and easily-accessible internet pages.

Websites and forums which provide cheat codes and modifications for video games are making it increasingly easy for young people to develop criminal skills and become involved in hacking chat rooms, a report by the U.K.’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has said.

And, of course, the press is lapping it up without any skepticism or criticism. The link above is to CNBC which just assumes the conclusions of the report must be accurate. Then there’s the BBC that also parrots the report without question. At least that one admits that this report was based on “a small number of interviews” conducted by the NCA, but then jumps in full bore with the moral panic:

At the heart of the NCA’s report is a simple but worrying conclusion: the internet is creating a new kind of criminal.

Young people who in the real world wouldn’t dream of committing a crime are, in their online world, stealing other people’s data, vandalising websites, taking down servers. Breaking the law, causing real damage to real victims.

Next thing you know, we’re going to see advertisements and concerned local newscasts warning parents to watch out for their kids modding games or visiting cheat forums. The BBC’s report goes full-on with the scaremongering:

This world can seem very seductive. Where you can make “friends” quickly and easily and you are praised for your skills, rather than being criticised for being a “nerd”. But it is also a place where the vulnerable or naive can become criminals without quite realising what they are doing.

The bad news is that suspects are getting younger. Seventeen is the average age, according to the National Cyber Crime Unit, but some are as young as 12.

Of course, all of this ignores that the vast majority of people who mod games or use cheat codes don’t go on to become criminal hackers.

In this age where having more people knowledgeable about computers and programming is important for future innovation, these kinds of scaremongering reports do a hell of a lot of damage. Lots of really smart techies got their programming chops started by messing around with video games. Having parents stop them from tinkering because of this overblown report of how it’s a “gateway” to crime could do a lot of damage.

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Comments on “UK Crime Agency's Latest Moral Panic: Kids Modding Videogames May Be A Gateway To Becoming Criminal Hackers”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Criminal gateways everywhere

While they’ve got the attention of hysterical parents, they should take the time to highlight other potential ‘criminal gateways’.

Let a kid fiddle with taking stuff apart and putting it back together, and they might end up trashing houses for laughs. Or get a job designing and/or repairing stuff.

Let a kid play around in the dirt and try their hand at gardening and the next thing you know they’ve got a dozen-acre weed farm. Or go into more legitimate farming.

Let a kid watch shows about automobiles and how they’re put together and before you know it they’re out stealing cars and stripping them for parts. Or I suppose get a job in the field of automobile repair.

Let a kid get away with blatant lies and misrepresentations of the facts and the next thing you know they go into politics, lying through their teeth in order to further their own careers, or fearmongering for the same reason.

Truly, the threats to the minds and morals of tomorrow’s youth are legion.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Criminal gateways everywhere

So, basically, what you’re saying is that any sufficiently advanced knowledge of ANY part of today’s world can be used for good or for bad?


Maybe we need to set up some ‘hacking’ fora to teach kids how politicians use tools like media manipulation to distribute propaganda and ‘awareness’? Maybe we can teach them to see though these veils and maybe, eventually, give them the skills to ‘hack the political trade’?

(and organise some effective peacetalks in the middle east?)

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Criminal gateways everywhere

Gateways to the parade of horribles begins with birth. We must stop this birth thingy in order to prevent all possible horribles. All possible horribles are more horrible than the world can accept, and failure to address gateways to horribles is criminal in and of itself. Arrest anyone giving birth (or having sex as that is a gateway to giving birth) because we must prevent gateways to horribles we cannot abide by (as defined by Corporate Sovereignty claims, as the results of hearings are irrelevant) in order to have a better world (as defined by Corporate Sovereignty claims, as the results of hearings are irrelevant).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Criminal gateways everywhere

Very true.

I’m from the UK, when I was younger I was part of a modding community that hacked and modded Nokia firmware, now I am a very successful Electronics engineer designing hardware and writing firmware.

Children should definitely be encouraged to mod and tinker with everything, they should have every opportunity to work out what they want to do in life. The next generation of great engineers is just a small mod away.

aerinai says:

Flip the coin

While the MPAA and RIAA will burst a blood vessel over this…
I do owe a lot of my computer knowledge to the early days of file sharing and piracy (KaZaa/Napster days, so it has been a while…). I learned what kinds of files could be trusted, which would give me viruses, how to clean up viruses, and other very handy tricks and tips of keeping a computer clean. This sparked an interest in computer science and changed my trajectory in middle school. Now I work in tech and have a career that I thoroughly enjoy.

Side note:

No wonder the UK has such a huge skills gap for cybersecurity professionals… you’d rather hyperventilate over their ‘illegal’ activity of modifying a game that they own…. rather than encourage them to make their passion a career.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Flip the coin

No wonder the UK has such a huge skills gap for cybersecurity professionals… you’d rather hyperventilate over their ‘illegal’ activity of modifying a game that they own…. rather than encourage them to make their passion a career

You sir, are an idiot. A smart idiot, but an idiot nonetheless.

Cdaragorn (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually, I think he read the article just fine.
Is it really that far of a stretch to believe that some game companies constant complaining about stupid things like piracy is a big part of what lead to this complete misunderstanding about what modding a game means?

Heck, I even see plenty of game devs whine when people mod or cheat in games they own (talking single player, not affecting other people). I think the connection between this report and that ridiculous whining to be pretty obvious.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

They’ve gotten cruel. They’ve put me in charge of security.

Including switching to Microsoft’s new authentication scheme where people can automatically log into your sites and software using their Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Microsoft accounts. To allow Kaspersky anti-virus to update, I had to open holes in the firewall to servers in Russia.

It’s like being forced to dig your own grave.

Anonymous Coward says:

Epic Retardedness!!!!

See World! America is not the ONLY idiot nation on this planet with clueless fucking wipes laying around or being voted into office!

Hacking and Modding have very little to do with each other!

I have hacked, I have modded, and I have coded! The mindset, aim, and process of each are very different.

Well, we all have to fucking BREATH THE AIR, and if the terrorists are doing it, you must be a fucking terrorist too!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Epic Retardedness!!!!

It doesn’t even matter that hacking and modding are different. Every single thing that I can think about has two sides (with a large grey area). You can use any skill for good and bad. They are trying to equal the skill of hacking with being a bad person (and then stupidly trying to tie any computer skill with hacking).
Fact is that there are plenty of good guy hackers out there… they are called security experts and tech innovators. I am quite sure that most parents wouldn’t mind their kid becoming one of those.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Epic Retardedness!!!!

Yep, it is only about establishing precedent for calling anything or anyone potential criminal material.

For government the only effort is to find ways to call people, they have decided they don’t like, criminals.

This is the same fuzzy logic that Police use to say people are acting suspicious. No human being can get from point A to point B without at least doing multiple suspicious things! Looking at a cop is suspicious, not looking at a cop is suspicious, avoiding a cops gaze is suspicious, looking uncomfortable around a cop is suspicious. Not telling everything a cop DEMANDS you to tell them is suspicious, standing up for your rights is not just suspicious, its also fucking illegal and can get you charged with obstruction, disorder conduct, and/or arrested for avoiding arrest!

Yea, I think that about covers it!

Anonymous Coward says:

Read between the lines. They’re not worried about people eventually becoming hackers per se, they’re worried that the consoles will be hacked to the point they’ll uncover what they really are – surveillance devices. We all already know they are, but they’re worried about someone having the ability to demonstrate that absolutely in a concrete irrefutable manner.

Anonymous Coward says:

Video Game Developers Creating New Generation of Dangerous Criminals!!!

Websites and forums which provide cheat codes and modifications for video games are making it increasingly easy for young people to develop criminal skills

Maybe if the developers of said video games didn’t require criminal-like skills to mod their games, then people wouldn’t develop criminal skills while doing so?

Anonymous Coward says:

strange. i thought their latest bull shit was that ‘criminal gangs are selling Kodi Boxes’!

let’s face it, neither the UK Police nor the PIPCU have the guts to go after any real criminals and the entertainment haven’t got the balls to back them doing that! all they want to do is go after the almost penniless parent trying to get a music track so their kids can stay up with the more fortunate, wealthy kids in the class! there are very few ordinary parents who are going to be able to afford a reasonable and sensible defense and even fewer who will take any sort of revenge on them!! all in all, a pretty safe bet to get big publicity for locking up ‘serious copyright infringers’!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Some people just go dumb when subject is anything tech

I am currently in my last year of a 5 year education of becoming an infrastructure Data Technician and at several points we were taught about IT security. Part of that lesson is often around various methods of hacking, what vulnerabilities were used and how. Basically in order to fight the guys who does the hacking and makes the malware, we had to learn to think like them.
For a while there, my own family didn’t get that concept, they thought me a criminal and were very angry that the educational institution I attend, taught such subjects.
What is it about technology that makes some people stupid? What is so hard to understand about the difference between knowing about a subject and how you apply that knowledge when the “magic” computers are involved?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Some people just go dumb when subject is anything tech

It’s not the computers. It’s the the fact that you know about it period.

There are many (morons) that believe that knowing something “bad” will entice you to do “bad”. (Corruption). Or that “bad” is impossible to use for “good”. (Forbidden Fruit.) These people can’t discern the difference between good and bad uses, because they constantly defer such judgement to others whom they deem to know more about the subject. They will always consider someone learning about the subject to be a risk until proven otherwise, of which that proof must often come from the same people they deferred judgement to.

Long story short, it’s a kind of person who believes only someone who is proven to be righteous can be trusted to wield such power responsibly, and therefore such power should be kept hidden from the unwashed masses to prevent it’s abuse. Anything that violates this premise will be lashed out at by them. So your best option for avoiding their outrage, is to simply avoid telling them about it.

TripMN says:

Re: Some people just go dumb when subject is anything tech

Explain it to them using standard professions that they should hopefully understand.

Take a locksmith for example. They learn how to pick locks as part of their training and carry around a set of lock-picking tools with them (at least my friend’s dad did). If they are picking the lock of your door to steal stuff, then they are doing it for bad, but if they are picking it because you locked yourself out at 2am, then they are doing good.

Tech security is the same. If you don’t know the vulnerabilities of the locks or how others might gain access, how are you to build better security?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Some people just go dumb when subject is anything tech

I was a bit more dramatic in my approach.
One of them is a mechanic and I asked him how many people he had killed by sabotaging the brakes since he had the knowledge to do it.

A bit over the top maybe, but it helped putting things into perspective for them. It should just be so painfully obvious.
I sometimes miss the “good old days” of being consider just a weirdo and a nerd for my passion, compared to today’s mix of “uhhh magic!” and “Arrrgh black magic!”.
It is just a profession like any other.

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