Idealism, Not Money, Is What Motivates Teenage Hackers


A recent study by the National Crime Agency has revealed that money isn’t what motivates teenage hackers, rather idealism and impressing their friends and peers.

Money is not the motivation:

For the study, the organization, which is categorized as law enforcement, has interviewed teenagers and even children as young as 12 who have either been arrested or received a caution concerning crimes which are computer-based.

The interviewees had an average age of 17. The study found that they are not likely to be involved in harassment, fraud, or theft. But, according to senior manager at the NCA’s cybercrime unit, Paul Hoare, the leader of the research that they consider hacking a “moral crusade.”

The report also found that some of the interviewees’ motivation was to take on a technical issue and prove themselves to their friends.

Hoare gave an interview to BBC Radio 4’s Today program, where he said: “They don’t understand the implications on business, government websites and individuals.”

He added that the young hackers might profit from their skill set on condition of avoiding cybercrime, saying: “A lot of the skill sets these people have are hugely marketable. The world has a lack of cybersecurity and there are lucrative careers to be had, but [they] are much harder to come by if you already have a criminal conviction.”

Ethical hacking, another path:

Former member of the Anonymous hacking collective, Jake Davis, attacked government websites and was arrested in 2011 at the age of 18. He said that his hacking were to challenge secrecy not for profit.

“It was not financially motivated at all, as the NCA report says, it was mostly politically motivated,” he said. “I was motivated as a teenager by the idea that this internet was this utopian space that shouldn’t be controlled or filtered or segmented or chopped up into little blocks and distributed out, and that it should be open and free, and anyone in the world should be able to use it.”

Davis served time in an institution for young offenders and he was also banned from the internet for two years. He said that his idealism han’t been lost. He said: “There is still a place for that kind of idea of freedom online, but we got a little bit out of hand.”

He stated that now there are several opportunities to work in “ethical hacking”, saying: “Companies and governments love hiring hackers. There are systems in place called bug bounties. You get to hack to prevent them being hacked. Companies will put out a message to say: ‘This is within scope, if you hack us responsibly, tell us about it, we will patch it up and then we will pay you.’

“The hackers will message the company saying: ‘I’ve found this bug in your system, here is what damage it can cause.’ If you take a company like Twitter they have paid over $800,000 [£625,000] to hackers over the last few years.”