Online crime and identity theft is nothing new — but what is shocking is the increasingly young age of alleged hackers accused of tapping into some of the world’s highest-profile online organisations.
A 15-year-old youth has been arrested in connection with a recent cyber-attack on UK communications giant TalkTalk, which saw almost 157,000 customers’ personal details accessed and more than 15,000 bank account details stolen. The alleged hacker, from Northern Ireland, was one of four people detained under the Computer Misuse Act. He was released on bail after being interviewed on suspicion of offences against the telephone and broadband provider.
A similar scenario has erupted in the United States following allegations that the email account of Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan was hacked by a 13-year-old high school student. The FBI is investigating after it was alleged the teenager accessed emails containing personal information, including Social Security numbers, of more than a dozen high-ranking American intelligence officials. It was claimed some of the hacked information was posted on social networking site Twitter.
With incidents of hi-tech crimes allegedly perpetrated by young offenders hitting the headlines, the question arises of how to deal with those who carry out such a serious criminal offence.
In the UK, the Youth Offending Team (YOT) — set up under the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act — deals with young offenders aged under 18 years. A multi-agency team, co-ordinated by a local authority and overseen by the Youth Justice Board, it attempts to prevent incarceration. YOTs supervise young people who are serving community sentences and sometimes organises meetings between offenders and their victims, encouraging an apology and reparation.
The YOT also arranges for an appropriate adult to accompany to the police station those youths aged under 17 years who have been arrested to advise the young person.
A common punishment meted out to young offenders in the UK is an Anti-Social Behaviour Order or ASBO, a civil order designed to protect the public from harassment, distress or alarm. Anyone aged over ten years can be subject to an ASBO, which prohibits them from doing certain things, such as spending time with known trouble-makers, or going to certain places. Breaking an ASBO is a criminal offence.
YOT jobs, especially in today’s climate, are challenging and mean taking a non-judgmental approach to young offenders. It also means adapting to changes in the type of youth crime in the 21st century, as young people have the power to bring down national companies — and even the government — by hacking. In February 2015, the APPG Inquiry into Anti-Semitism asked the Crown Prosecution Service to look into Internet ASBOs, which would ban offenders from social networking sites and hiding behind fake identities. The inquiry was aimed at combating online racist abuse of Jewish people, but with an increase in hacking, the CPS may have to examine whether prevention orders could be further imposed to combat hi-tech crimes.