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One in four UK schoolkids admits hacking

Pre-teenage kicks

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One in four UK youngsters have tried hacking into Facebook or webmail accounts, according to a new survey.

An online poll of 1,000 school-age children in London and 150 in Cumbria discovered that the vast majority (78 per cent) knew that hacking was wrong. Despite this a substantial minority couldn't help themselves from snooping on their schoolmates' social networking activities, often hacking into accounts after guessing passwords.

The most common motive for Facebook hacking was for fun (cited by 46 per cent of mini-miscreants), followed by mischief (21 per cent). One in five hacked in the belief they could make money while five per cent went further still and imagined a career on the dark side.

A quarter of the self-confessed scamps targeted Facebook accounts, 18 per cent went for a friends email, seven per cent for online shopping sites, while 6 per cent went after their parents' email, and five per cent breached the school website. Around 27 per cent of the junior hackers said they were caught. Four in five (82 per cent) of the miscreants in the sample confessed hacking was tough.

Over a third of those surveyed had become victims themselves after either their Facebook or email account was hacked.

The poll, run by IT security experts Tufin Technologies in conjunction with Cumbria Constabulary, discovered that children from the Lake District county were more likely to try out hacking at a younger age than their big city counterparts, with three in four who admitted to hacking reporting that they did so before their 13th birthday, In London, pre-teen hackers numbered just 16 per cent of the sample of self-declared wrong 'uns.

Cumbria Constabulary’s deputy chief constable Stuart Hyde, who leads ACPO's e-crime prevention efforts, said the survey illustrated the need for strong passwords.

"Hacking into personal online accounts whether email or Facebook can be child’s play if users do not protect their own passwords," he said. "It illustrates the importance of keeping your passwords strong, secure and changing them regularly to help protect your accounts from unscrupulous people of all ages.

“Only 53 per cent of the children surveyed felt that hacking (i.e. using someone else’s account) was illegal which shows there is a real need to educate youngsters to the dangers both so they are deterred from trying it and also so they know how to protect their own accounts.

"Hacking is illegal and we need to ensure everyone understands that.”

Top tips from Cumbria Police on staying safe online can be found here. ®

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