NCA plots education drive to crack down on children exploring cyber crime

National Crime Agency (NCA) logo on a plaque attached to its headquarters
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The National Crime Agency (NCA) has partnered with schools around the UK to launch a new campaign aiming to deter young people from a life of cyber crime.

Recent data collected by the NCA's National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU) revealed there was an increase in children as young as nine years old undertaking cyber projects such as launching distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

Children who attempt to research cyber crime while at school will no longer be met with a typical 'access blocked' web page, similar to the content block they would encounter when trying to access a service such as Netflix while data school. Children will now be shown a warning page with a suggested redirection to the Cyber Choices website which aims to educate children on the Computer Misuse Act, cyber crime generally, and the consequences of participating in cyber crime.

The NCA said it observed a "significant reduction" in searches related to DDoS cyber crime - specifically, stresser and booster services - during a small four-week trial in select UK schools. It did not supply information about the students' reaction to the Cyber Choices website or indicate if the website's content influenced the children in any way.

The initiative will now be rolled out to more than 2,000 primary and secondary schools across the UK ahead of a wider rollout across the nation's schools and colleges.

"We need to equip this generation with the best digital skills and to assist them in making the right choices online," said Damian Hinds, security minister. "It’s great to see cooperation between law enforcement and the private sector in delivering important initiatives like this one to prevent students from getting involved in cybercrime."

"Education is a key pillar in preventing crime and these messages highlight the risks and consequences of committing cyber offences, which can result in a criminal record," said John Denley, deputy director of the NCA's NCCU. "Law enforcement plays a critical role in tackling cyber crime and keeping the country safe. School outreach is important to educate a younger audience and this initiative will continue to help divert young people away from criminality."

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The NCA's figures around the increase in young people exploring the offensive side of cyber security echo existing research in the area. University College London (UCL) research in 2017 revealed more young people in the UK were involved in cyber crime than were members of gangs.

The same figures, using data taken from the Millenium Cohort Study, also showed UK teens ages 11-14 were also more likely to be hacking than smoking and shoplifting.

The UK government also launched a £20 million scheme in 2017 to attract more young people into the field of cyber security and bridge the widening skills gap. Known as the Cyber Discovery Program, it challenged teens aged between 15-19 and pitted competitors against fictional hackers.

The four-year scheme ended in June 2021 but the DCMS is looking to procure another programme with similar aims after 10,000 participants ultimately got involved in the initiative.

Connor Jones
News and Analysis Editor

Connor Jones has been at the forefront of global cyber security news coverage for the past few years, breaking developments on major stories such as LockBit’s ransomware attack on Royal Mail International, and many others. He has also made sporadic appearances on the ITPro Podcast discussing topics from home desk setups all the way to hacking systems using prosthetic limbs. He has a master’s degree in Magazine Journalism from the University of Sheffield, and has previously written for the likes of Red Bull Esports and UNILAD tech during his career that started in 2015.