Turn another Page on the Teenage Rampage

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Awkwardness. Feeling that the world is against you. Tantrums. Blundering into things. Angst. Raging hormones. Guilt. Sullen silences. Issues with authority figures. Secret drinking.  Nope, that’s  not a summation of a career spent writing for a living but a brief description of what we all probably  remember  from being a teenager.

Oh those teenage years.  Best days of our lives?  This author was 17 in 1981, the year, those of us old enough to remember, that the film Gregory’s Girl was released in the UK. Presenting a wonderful look at what it was like to be a teen in the early 1980s, in particular a Scottish new town, it also contained the equally wonderful line ‘why can’t you be like a normal teenage and go vandalize a bus stop?’ 

This came to mind at the breaking of the latest development in the tale of woe that has now descended into farce – that is the TalkTalk breach. As of 30 October, police in London have arrested a second teenager for the ‘crime; one who worryingly lives just a ten minute train ride from the Infosecurity Magazine offices.

Should we then be reassessing what is indeed normal teenage behavior when it seems that smashing security systems rather than bus stops is what passes for the norm?

As the father of someone who not  long ago left her teens  and another approaching the end of hers, this author can look back and reflect on just how much things have changed  or not  since that  mythical ‘in my day’. Plus ça change, and all that.

Yet here’s what we all have to remember: today’s teens are all total digital natives. Those of us of an age – okay mine – probably felt lucky to have always lived in a house with a telephone, removing the need to use the phone box at the end of the street. And which was the next target for bored teens after bus stops, well certainly round our way.

By contrast, virtually teens these days have lived in homes, been educated in schools with a computer. Logging on is as normal as watching TV. And whereas in the past hanging round on street corners threatened bus stops and boredom-fuelled, mindless or deliberate vandalism, these days negative behavior is channeled into the  computer and by extension  computer systems.  

But such behavior can actually be channeled positively. In a recent podcast organized by UK national newspaper The Guardian, for which Infosecurity Magazine was a proud participant, Nigel Harrison, director of business engagement of Cyber Security Challenge UK, revealed that the teen hacking community could likely offer a ready solution to the security professionals’ careers crisis that seems to be gripping at lot of countries these days.

Harrison is organizing In November what the company claims is the UK’s most realistic simulated cyber-terrorist bio-warfare attack. The simulated attack forms the basis of the Cyber Security Challenge UK’s Masterclass Grand Final, the second for 2015 and designed by UK cybersecurity experts from across the worlds of IT, finance, national intelligence, military, government, defense and education including QinetiQ, the Bank of England, BT, Cisco, Falanx, GCHQ, Roke Manor, Simudyne, CyberCENTS, National Crime Agency and NBC Universal.

The companies are laying down a challenge to 42 members of the general public, many of whom teens, who have all won places to compete through a series of online cyber-games over the past three months. They now have to hack into and take control of ventilation systems within a building on the grounds of Westminster Abbey in order to prevent a biological attack on the Royal Family and senior government officials during an international conference.

Candidates will be assessed on the digital forensic skills used by real world operatives and required to adhere to the real legal checks around hacking into computers that have been put in place and which are monitored and assessed by GCHQ in the real world. They’ll get their mitts on the cybersecurity tools and protocols that the defense community already relies on to assess how the simulation’s attacker got into the relevant network.

In explaining the events aims, Harrison stressed that the challenge is wholly designed to find and inspire hidden cyber security talent across the UK and encourage more people to consider a career as a cyber-defender.

The organizers are furthermore adamant that gaming and competitions are the new way to search for and subsequently train talent capable of preventing increasingly sophisticated cybersecurity attacks.

During The Guardian podcast, Harrison revealed a military background.  This is a guy who understands theatres of wars: it’s not facetious to regard cybersecurity as one.

And I guess that this is the essence of the thing – it’s really a case of channeling all of that energy and desire to stay online rather than smash up bus stops or, as was the recent penchant of the son of one of the Infosecurity Magazine team to draw on expensively acquired fencing uniforms and another to use Facebook to organize a parent-free party with the inevitable consequences. While we should stop being surprised that teens will be fingered for breaches such as TalkTalk, it’s up to the security industry to make best use of the talent. That is to say that the only handcuffs in use should be of the golden variety as employers fill their vacancies.

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