Hacking Adolescence- Teens and Web Experimentation

Posted: April 19, 2011 in Media, Mobile Technology, Politics, Social Media, Tools/Gadgets
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September 22, 2010 – http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474978538594

Sneaking off to smoke cigarettes. Experimenting with alcohol. Sexual experimentation. These are all Hollywood hallmarks and symbols of adolescent youth in the United States. Americans think of the teenage years as the time to get out into the world, try new (and perhaps forbidden) things, and become an adult in the process. But what if in the process, the adolescent become a felon?

Every once in a while a high profile case involving teens and the internet hits the web, and parents start to squirm. Generally, however, these cases highlight how the Net may be perilous to the teen, not how the teen may be perilous to the Net. While in some situations those warnings are legitimate, it may be time for parents to begin to consider another way in which their child’s internet use may be perilous to their future: hacking.

Today’s teens are more tech savvy than any other generation, and the generation that follows them will be all the more savvy. According to a February 2010 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, “Internet use is near ubiquitous among teens and young adults. In the last decade, the young adult internet population has remained the most likely to go online. Over the past 10 years, teens and young adults have been consistently the two groups most likely to go online, even as the internet population has grown and even with documented larger increases in certain age cohorts (e.g. adults 65 and older).”

Thus it is no longer sufficient to think of every teen as wide-eyed and naive about the varied functions and uses for the Net. Many teens are way ahead of the rest of us, hacking and writing code, doing their own programming and creating the next generation’s tools. However, the same teen urges that drive them to experiment with drugs and sex– those strong hits of hormones and a sense of invincibility– also today lead them to commit crimes on the web.

Just this week a 17 year-old Australian teen caused a “massive hacker attack on Twitter which sent users to Japanese porn sites and took out the White House press secretary’s feed.” The teenager, Pearce Delphin, simply revealed a Twitter code security flaw and publicized it. The flaw was then exploited by hackers who subsequently wreaked havoc on Twitter’s user base of more than 100 million for nearly five hours. When asked why he would do such a thing, Delphin reportedly replied, “I did it merely to see if it could be done … that JavaScript really could be executed within a tweet…I had no idea it was going to take off how it did. I just hadn’t even considered it.””

But the story gets better, before the Associated Press could actually hypothesize what the danger of this hack might have been, 17-year old Delphin came through with it first, “Delphin said it could have been used to ‘maliciously steal user account details.’” He told the reporters, “The problem was being able to write the code that can steal usernames and passwords while still remaining under Twitter’s 140 character tweet limit.”

Likewise, in 2008 another 17-year old from Pennsylvania admitted to crashing Sony’s PlayStation site after being banned for cheating in a game called SOCOM U.S. Navy Seals. By intentionally infecting the Sony site with a virus, the teenage honors student was able to crash the site for a duration of 11 days in November 2008. In that case the kid got lucky, rather than pursue the case as a grand jury investigation, the authorities decided to let the teen’s local juvenile court handle the charges. In the end, the 11th grade student was judged delinquent and charged with unlawful use of a computer, criminal use of a computer, computer trespassing and the distribution of a computer virus.

Somewhat humorously, Net security sites like Symantec and McAfee have pages dedicated to teen use and abuse of the Net. Symantec’s is titled “The Typical Trickery of Teen Hackers,” and addresses questions such as “I discovered that my teenager had figured out my computer password and logged in, resetting the parental controls we had installed. How did this happen?.” In their recent 2010 study McAfee reports that, “85 percent of teens go online somewhere other than at home and under the supervision of their parents, nearly a third (32 percent) of teens say they don’t tell their parents what they do while they are online, and 28 percent engage with strangers online. The survey results should serve as a wake-up call for many parents.”

While teenage tomfoolery and trickery is generally regarded as humorous (thanks Hollywood) and as a coming-of-age tendency, the trouble begins when a teen’s future is jeopardized because he or she has not developed a sense for the moral and ethical implications of their actions on the web. Because hacking is not as tangible as, say, stealing a T-shirt at the mall, it is harder for teens to grasp how a few key strokes can be considered criminal. Yet it is up to today’s and tomorrow’s parents to put in the extra effort to educate teens about how their activities online may jeopardize their extremely valuable future.


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