Cheshire police are training up students who break into their school computer networks to become fully fledged hackers.
Cyber crime is a growing problem in society with prevention more effective than pursuing the anonymous online criminals.
So diverting young hackers down a legitimate route that could lead to a career in cyber security is one way of undermining online fraud which hit one in four UK businesses in the last 12 months with customer data stolen.
Detective Constable Matt Hull, from the E-forensics team, told at media briefing at Winsford HQ: “We go into schools and we identify these individuals who hack school networks – this happens – so they can play Call of Duty on the computers in schools!
“Those people are quite clever so we try and divert. We use organisations such as Cyber Security Challenge UK and we get them to do these sorts of things legally. We teach them how to hack because it’s worth a lot of money to the private sector.”
One element of cyber crime sometimes involving youngsters are ‘denial of service attacks’ which have affected Playstation, PayPal and Amazon networks.
Matt explained: “This is the equivalent of an attacker using thousands of computers around the world to access a particular website all at once, all in one go. It’s like logging on to Ticketmaster and trying to get Ed Sheeran tickets or something like that. You go on there and it crashes, doesn’t it?
“You can’t get on the website, we are being denied a service, so criminals pay a small fee, I mean about a fiver, to launch a denial of service attack against a target for a 24 hour period, for a fiver!
“That is used predominantly by children who play Minecraft. And that is a Computer Misuse Act offence. That happens all of the time.”
Matt said 50% of recorded UK crime is fraud and cyber crime represented a whopping 75% of the total.
This resulted infinancial losses to individuals and organisations with past victims including the NHS and Talk Talk.
Many frauds rely on individuals clicking on fake links and being asked to change their passwords because of a supposed ‘security breach’.
Some people have been tricked into exposing themselves by blackmailers who threaten to publish the explicit images unless large amounts of money are handed over. Nine victims have committed suicide in the UK in the last 12 months.
There is ransomware that can lock all files on computers and mobile phones with a demand for virtual money in return for the decryption key with police advice never to pay the fraudsters. There are fake free wi fi networks used to gather information when people are going for a coffee or visiting a hotel.
“Get this, kids when they get their first credit or debit card nowadays take a photo and put it on Facebook. Beware of your digital footprint it can be used against you!” implored the cyber security expert, who says part of his team’s role is also to tackle ‘people who can’t control themselves on social media’.
The good news?
“It’s you who can stop all of that stuff, it’s your responsibility – 80% of cyber crime can be prevented by doing three things. Get anti-virus on your devices, that includes your mobile phones unless it’s an Apple phone. Update and patch your computers. Don’t do what the NHS did. When Microsoft says would you like to update your operating system press ‘yes’ don’t press ‘not now’ because that’s too late.
“And make sure you’ve got a strong password.”
Every password must be unique, should not include personal information, must have 14 characters minimum with a mixture of upper and lower letters and numbers.
Matt, whose team works in partnership with the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit and the National Cyber Security Centre, says avoiding personal detail in passwords is vital. That's because there is free software that can be pointed at a social media account to generate a list of possible passwords.
Acting Chief Constable Janette McCormick told those gathered: “We cannot enforce our way of this, it’s about education.”
Speaking to The Chronicle, she said: “I think the biggest challenge for me is the changing nature of crime. We're slightly moving away from the traditional burglary and vehicle crime. Our forensic techniques of investigation of that are better than they were 10, 15, 20 years ago.
“But now a lot of it is driven by technology so it’s either crime that’s online or crime that is because of technology or where there is an electronic footprint and we are having to think very differently about the skills of our officers, the techniques that we’ve got.”