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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

The other thing to note is that not all hacking is bad. In fact most hacking is positive. Going beyond the normal confines of a GUI, investigating what computers and networks do -- hacking can be a vital expression of curiosity and experimentation. If you think your kid is hacking, it's important to determine whether they are doing something unethical or illegal before taking away their computer privileges. After all, most of the computing industry finds its roots in the hacking ethic of the young.

How to put a stop to malicious activity

If you do find that your kid is participating in unethical or illegal hacking activity, there are steps you can take to turn them around, but it won't always be easy.

First, realize that kids who hack maliciously can be reformed. Most give up illegal activities as they mature and find enough stimulation from legitimate computing work. Only a very small portion make a career out of black hat activities. The key is to help guide a hacking child who knows they are doing wrong to using their developing skills for good.

Second, be firm in telling them that you know what they are doing and that it is unethical, illegal, and could lead to their arrest. Long gone are the days when companies and authorities were clueless entities that rarely arrested someone for computer-related crimes. Hackers are arrested every day. It happened to some of my stepson's friends. I have co-workers that to this day cannot accompany me on certain high-profile engagements because their criminal record prevents them. This is serious business.

Third, let them know you will be monitoring their activities for as long as you feel they need to be monitored. Tell them that you won't be telling them what you'll be doing, but that they've been warned. And if you catch them doing anything even slightly unethical or illegal, that every electronic device they have will be taken from them for a long time. They need to know there are consequences to their actions. Most importantly, follow up on your threats if they break the rules.

Meanwhile, move their computers into the main living area where you can monitor their use. They've lost the privilege to use a computer behind closed doors. Set a rule that prevents them from using a computer when you're not home and not monitoring. This rule should be in place until you can trust them again.

Once again, follow through. You will need to monitor what they are doing on any computer in the home, even in front of you. My stepson did really well at first with the computer in the central room, but after a while he noticed that his mom and I were too busy to monitor him closely. Old habits crept back in, and we ended up getting another warning call from the cable company.


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