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11 signs your kid is hacking -- and what to do about it

Roger A. Grimes | July 7, 2016
Here’s how to find out if your child is involved in malicious online activity -- before the authorities do

All the past phone calls and the emails from strangers telling me to stop hacking suddenly made sense. They weren't idiots blaming me for something I wasn't doing. Maybe I was the idiot for not connecting the dots.

8. Their close (computer) friends have been investigated

Two years after I became intimately aware of the extent of my stepson's hacking activities, my wife and I read about some arrests related to computers at his school. Some of the kids I had previously heard that my stepson hung out with had been arrested for a variety of illegal computer deeds. These included hacking the school's computers, changing grades, and even, very unfortunately for all involved, posting nude photos of one of their girlfriends to a public website -- the latter of which resulted in multiple felonies.

Our family's saving grace was our early recognition of our son's questionable hacking activities and our dedication to putting a stop to them. It wasn't easy, and it didn't happen without a fight. But luckily, by the time his group's activities got noticed by local school and law enforcement activities, his hacking days were long over. We fretted for a few weeks about whether the larger investigation would find trails leading back to our son. Fortunately, they did not.

9. They consistently switch to 'boss screens' when you walk into the room

While this may simply be a privacy issue, it's worth noting. And if you work in an office, you're likely familiar with this behavior. "Boss screens" are fake screens, often mimicking legitimate spreadsheets and school projects, that can quickly replace whatever the computer user is truly doing. Boss screens look legitimate, but rarely change.

If you notice that your kid is always moving their hands (usually it is a Crtl or Alt key combination) or mouse every time you come into the room (that is, they are never just reading from the screen without moving their hands), pay more attention to what's on the other windows on their PC. One way to do this is to call them away from the computer to do a chore, while directly looking at them, and then perform a quick investigation of the various windows after they walk away.

10. Your monitoring tools never show any activity

The absence of activity is rarely a good thing. A normal kid doing normal things will occasionally trigger events in system or parental blocking logs. It's hard to surf the web looking for normal things without the internet bringing back something illegitimate from time to time. If you've caught your kid doing something unsanctioned or nefarious on the internet once or twice before, and you know they are still interested in that subject, the absence of activity in a related log file is more likely a problem than not.


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