How old are cyber-criminals? Would you believe 11?
In a recent report, AVG warned that during the last quarter of 2012, they found several attacks using Trojans developed by young amateur coders – including an 11-year-old Canadian.
“You may not believe that an 11-year-old schoolboy or schoolgirl could design a Trojan horse that is able to steal the account login information of your favorite online game, but we see these cases on a daily basis,” AVG stated in a recent report called, “Q4 2012 Community Powered Threat Report.”
The code has some common trends. Most use .NET framework (Visual Basic, C#), which is easy to learn and deploy. Many target online games, social networks or e-mail. They sometimes fake giving virtual currency to an online game or hack a Facebook profile.
“These young code authors unintentionally leave traces in the malware's binary files, which is quite surprising as they are technically savvy,” AVG said. “Their creations may not be state-of-the-art programming, but they still they require a degree of technical knowledge.”
The young cyber thieves tap into personal data accessing names, photos or Facebook profiles from school, as well.
“These child script writers are not doing it for financial gain, but more likely for a thrill. Essentially, young geeks seek to outsmart their friends and win the games or show off their computer skills,” the report added.
But it can lead to more serious cyber-bullying or serious cases of identity theft, AVG warned. It is made more severe because many gamers use the same login details for social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
“It is also logical to assume that at least some of those responsible will be tempted to experiment with much more serious cyber-crimes,” said Yuval Ben-Itzhak, chief technology officer at AVG Technologies.
"We cannot tell how many kids around the world are [writing malicious programs], but we believe there are more cases like this,” he was quoted by The BBC.
The issue becomes more of a problem with schools now teaching children to use code rather than just run computers. Several companies have backed such instruction. In fact, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt recently visited Cambridge, United Kingdom, where he co-taught code to young students.
Microsoft also wants to see computer science taught to younger students.
AVG also reported that there is more mobile malware code around to target the Android operating system. The report warns too that this year there is likely more malware that targets PC and mobile Internet banking apps.
Ben-Itzhak told Computing that Stuxnet and Flame-like cyber-attacks are on the rise this year as well.
In addition, some 60 percent of all threat activity online was performed by exploit toolkits in 2012. Blackhole Exploit Kit and the Cool Toolkit were among the most popular of these. One program, Runescape Gold Hack, was supposed to provide free virtual currency for a game, but actually stole log-in information from users, The BBC said.
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