I remember unduly congratulating myself when my stepson's hacking activity appeared to go away after we caught him a few times. "He's finally listening to us," I remember thinking. Nope. He was just a master at using local and remote proxy servers to hide his illegal activity. At the time I had heard about these sort of port proxies, but I didn't fully understand how they worked.
What he and his friends had done was set up proxies on other people's computers, which tunneled their illegal activities across the internet. They had installed the proxies when other people asked them to look at their computers to repair or troubleshoot something. Grandma never did understand why her cable company was accusing her of hundreds of illegal downloads. She never was a big fan of Britney Spears or Good Charlotte.
He would also connect to my neighbors' unprotected wireless networks. When I asked my neighbors within wireless reach to add passwords, he hacked into their routers. I learned more about how easy it is to hack wireless WEP security from my stepson than from years of working in the security field.
He also learned that he could change his computer's time to 10 years in the past, and all the local event and system logs would store new alerts at the bottom of the indexed stack of messages. I didn't learn about this trick until he forgot to switch the time back a few times and I kept finding strange file time and date stamps.
11. Failing grades suddenly improve to top scores
Failing grades are among the most common hacking targets. Teenage hackers love hacking their school's computer system. And even though schools have greatly improved their security, having nearly every hacker wannabe test those defenses is bound to turn up vulnerabilities.
If your kid suddenly turns a failing grade to an A or B without any noticeable additional effort, while at the same time expressing some of the previous signs discussed above, you might have a grade hacker. This is easy to check; just call the teacher and (proudly) ask what your kid did to drastically improve their grade. Hopefully the teacher won't sound surprised and it was just the result of harder work.
A word of caution
Given the tumultuous nature of the teenage years, behavior like that outlined above may not mean your child is a malicious hacker. The desire for extreme privacy, curiosity, the desire to fit in -- many of the above behaviors could very well be considered normal for teens. I'm sure many of you have encountered one or more of the above behaviors and your kids have not been involved in illegal or unethical hacking. But it's important to share these signs, so you won't be caught blindsided like me and my wife were, or like many of the readers who write me have been. Awareness is a good thing.
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