Casual hacking is almost as established a part of teen life as downloading music to an iPod, a new survey of the age group has claimed.
According to Panda Security, we should take seriously the statistic it gathered from a survey of over 4,000 15 to 18 year-olds that nearly one in five of them have the knowledge to use 'advanced' Internet-distributed hacking tools. Of that group, nearly a third claimed to have used them on at least one occasion.
Two thirds of the group said they had actually succeeded in hacking instant messaging or social network accounts of people known to them, with 20 percent admitting to having published embarrassing photographs or videos of acquaintances on the Internet.
Apart from mischief-making and competition with their peer group, the main motivation for trying out hacking appears to be curiosity, with 86 percent citing that as the point from which their involvement started.
"We should encourage young people to use the Internet as a channel for personal development, teaching them to use it in a healthy and responsible fashion," said technical director of PandaLabs (the research wing of Panda Security), Luis Corrons. "It is important to help them avoid participating in dubious activities which are made all the easier thanks to the anonymity afforded by the web."
Despite the decent sample size, the survey does not show that teens are any more likely to engage in the more serious or illegal side of online activity than any other age group. It is also hard to assess the degree to which the individuals were being honest about their involvement in the more hardcore side of online hacking.
"Those who are drawn into hacking out of curiosity may very likely end-up discovering the financial potential of this activity, and become the next generation of cybercriminals," suggested Corrons.
What would be interesting would be to relate the statistics to location, something the company was not able to provide more details on at press time. It could be that a youngster in the Ukraine is more likely to see experimental hacking as the start of a career than his or her contemporary in the US, say.
The survey was carried out between January and April of this year online after prior email invitation.