PSNI: 75% of major cyber crime across NI is by children

Cyber crime is costing the Northern Ireland economy �100m per year.
Cyber crime is costing the Northern Ireland economy �100m per year.

About 75 per cent of major cyber crime being committed in Northern Ireland is by children, the PSNI have revealed.

DCI Dougie Grant, head of the PSNI Cyber Crime Centre, told the News Letter that the bulk of major cyber incidents they are countering in Northern Ireland is by teens whose parents think they are playing in their computers in their bedrooms.

Head of the PSNI Cyber Crime Unit, DCI Dougie Grant,  presents a recording of a live time analysis of 1% of hostile internet attacks across the globe. Each one of these 'missile strikes' is a cyber attack.

Head of the PSNI Cyber Crime Unit, DCI Dougie Grant, presents a recording of a live time analysis of 1% of hostile internet attacks across the globe. Each one of these 'missile strikes' is a cyber attack.

“So over a recent six week period we visited over 75 addresses in Northern Ireland that we believed were involved in Cyber criminality,” he said. “And the large majority of the 75 houses - it was actually 70 it was a young person in the house who was involved in cyber criminality.

“We are seeing more and more the main age demographic for involvement in cyber crime in NI is between 14-17 years old. That is the age of our criminals in NI - about 75% of them. That is major cyber crime.”

He is leading a programme to divert such talented youth into legitimate careers.

“We run a prevention protection enforcement strategy - protection for business and industry, preventing people becoming victims of crime but also preventing young people from becoming involved in crime because we are seeing more and more the main age demographic for involvement in cyber crime in NI is between 14-17 years old.

a Northern Ireland teen has been charged with alleged involvement in the breach of Internet Service Provider Talk Talk, costing the company £350m and wiping £500m off the stock market

READ MORE: Northern Ireland’s hidden £100m war with cyber crime

He played the News Letter an educational video produced by the National Crime Agency to illustrate the scenarios they encounter.

It shows two parents sitting on the sofa talking in jovial terms about their teenage son’s computer skills.

His father says: “He is such a clever boy spends all his time on his computer.

“You know those shooter games? The other day he was losing so he crashed the server. Whizz kid.”

His mum adds: “It is amazing what kids can do these days... He got 100% in maths - every single exam for the last two years - not to mention his GCSE coursework.”

He is going to Cambridge to study computer science and will be an internet billionaire by the time he is 25, she jokes.

“He is very clever with his money too,” the father adds.

“He has got more in his account than me. We only give him a tenner a week.”

There is then an awkward silence as the realisation dawns on them of what their son has been up to.

The camera pans out and it turns out they were being interviewed by two police officers in their home, who ask them to start again.

Mr Grant says his investigators “are doing that exact scenario”.

A later section of the video shows the teen hacking answers to his school assignments and stealing money from bank accounts.

“Last week one of the investigators was out at a house just outside Belfast,” Mr Grant said.

“They rang the front door, the mother answered the door and they asked – who was online in the house.”

The mother said her son was upstairs “playing games” but the officers replied to her: “No he is not.”

The PSNI is playing out the same scenarios “every week” at the moment.

“We called them cease and desist visits – we call them prevent messaging – to say ‘stop what you are doing because you can end up committing very serious crime’.”

He noted that a Northern Ireland teen has been charged with alleged involvement in the breach of Internet Service Provider TalkTalk, costing the company £350m and wiping £500m off the stock market.

“And that is because of one cyber crime attack,” he added.

The Johnston Press Investigations Unit recently covered the trial of one such teenager in the seaside town of Worthing in Sussex, who was alleged to be a ‘key player’ in a major computer hacking group and involved in a series of cyber attacks across the globe.

The 17-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was a lead member of Anon Mafia Cyber Family, an offshoot of the Anonymous movement responsible for numerous high-profile hacks.

Detectives linked the Hove teenager to attacks on organisations and websites in countries including America, China, Israel and the UK, often following events he was angered by.

After pleading guilty to three hacking-related offences at Worthing Magistrates Court, Lorna Vincent, prosecuting, said: “After officers went through his computers they realised the offending he had committed was part of the Anon Cyber Mafia Family.

“He has been one of the key players, we submit, in that hacking group. He is responsible for encouraging others and recruiting others to commit hacking-type offences.”

The boy came to the attention of the Serious Regional Organised Crime Unit (SEROCU) after the FBI linked his IP address to the publication of sensitive details from a hack by the Crackas With Attitude group, which prosecutors said the teenager also had contacts with.

The boy had published sensitive details from a hack on then United States Deputy Director of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.

Police arrested the boy and seized devices, which revealed the defendant’s involvement with Anon Cyber Mafia Family, the court heard.

Operations prosecutors said he was involved in extended back to August, 2014, when press and governmental websites in Hong Kong were subject of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks - which see systems or websites flooded with traffic to disrupt them.

Social media postings linked the boy to three DDoS attacks on Sussex Police in late 2014, triggered by the arrest of a homeless man.

The group also targeted Muslim extremist sites in response to the Charlie Hebdo shooting in France, and Chinese sites in revenge for the Yulin Dog Meat Festival.

Israeli websites were also targeted ‘for the treatment of Palestinians’, while another operation was launched in response to the death of American student Kendrick Johnson.

Police uncovered contact between the boy and an American man believed to be part of Crackas With Attitude. They discussed tactics ahead of the man’s hacking of the National Crime Agency website, which saw the organisation’s website disrupted in June, 2015.

Mrs Vincent said the teenager often posted details of the attacks, or calls to action, on his social media account.

The boy pleaded guilty to conspiring to gain unlawful access to a computer, conspiring with others to do unauthorised attacks on computers and obtaining instruction manuals to commit computer misuse offences.

Stephen Paley, defending, said his client’s arrest had a profound effect on him and disrupted his studies. He said he was now using his skills to inform organisations of vulnerabilities in their systems.

“It’s fair to say he has some talent in finding vulnerabilities in computer networks,” he said.

“Now, when he finds a vulnerability he will report that.”

He will be sentenced on July 27 following pre-sentence reports. Devices used to facilitate the hacks will be destroyed.

• Have you a cyber crime story to tell? contact us at p.bradfield@newsletter.co.uk - more installments in the cyber crime series nest week

READ MORE: Northern Ireland’s hidden £100m war with cyber crime