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Importance of Cyber Security Among Adolescents

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    Highlighting the growing concern of cybercrime targeting adolescents between 10 to 19 years of age. Adolescents’ usage of digital devices and services connected to the internet has made them prone to cyber threats. We delve into the sources of these cybercrimes, assessing their frequency of occurrence and severity. We demonstrate that cybercrime is on the rise, its perils just as severe to lives of adolescents as to any large organization, furthermore, we accentuate preventive measures to curb cyber threats among adolescents.

    Index Terms- adolescents, cybercrimes, cyber-security

    Introduction to Cyber Security

    The 4th industrial revolution has made the world much more connected. Gradually shifting the world into cyberspace may have a lot of good around it; however the downside is that it has made it easier for the occurrence of cyber threats. These cyber threats can range from small personal scale to large organizational scale threats or even threats to a country. Safeguarding data has been a priority for as long as people have needed to keep information secure and private. Cyber security is generally defined as the protection of data by addressing threats to the information processed, stored and transported through network systems. Its objective as of today is threefold; the components put together are abbreviated into ‘CIA’ which stands for ‘Confidentiality’, ‘Integrity’ and ‘Availability’. Confidentiality ensures that sensitive information is kept out of reach from those who are not authorized to access them. Integrity ensures that the information received is the information that the creator intended them to have; that is, only authorized people are allowed to edit the data. Availability ensures that the information can be accessed and are available to those who need them.[11]

    Cyber threats keep changing and become more malicious with time. From the Morris worm attack in the 20th century to the more recent attacks such as the Sony, Yahoo, WannaCry attack and so on, cyber-attacks are only bound to increase and come in all shapes and sizes. Alongside the evolution of threats, cyber security is also growing at a fast pace and is able to shut down such attacks in a short period of time.

    Evolution of Cyber Security

    In the 1960s, cybersecurity was the same as physical security. The main frames were guarded and only authorised usage was allowed. Over the years as the concept of individual computers were introduced, threats had increased but still leaned towards the physical side.

    The first cyber-attack started innocently in the early 1970s by Bob Thomas, an engineer from BBN Technologies who had no malicious intent. He wrote a code for a program that moved between devices connected by the ARPANET and displayed a message saying “I’m the creeper: catch me if you can!” Following this, Bob’s colleague who invented the email, Robin Tomlinson wrote another program that moved through devices in the network deleting the creeper worm and copied itself as it went. Thus they were termed the Reaper and Creeper. Ray Tomlinson is said to be the creator of cybersecurity.[12]

    In 1983, MIT was granted the first patent for cybersecurity in the US for a ‘cryptographic communications system and method’. RSA, Rivest-Shamir-Adleman algorithm which is known as one of the first public key cryptosystems was introduced. As of today, cryptography is the foundation of cybersecurity. [13]

    The first malicious attack was in 1989, the Morris worm, created by Robert Morris. This worm caused a widespread instance of a denial of service (DOS) attack. The response to this attack at that time was to shut down the entire internet for several days. Ironically, the worm took advantage of the ‘sendmail’ function which was related to the email. As we saw earlier the email was created by Ray Tomlinson, the author of the first virus ever created. However it is still not clear whether this attack was an accident or a predetermined attack. Robert claims to have made the worm on the pure basis of only exposing security flaws. This worm, unlike the others kept re-infecting the systems again and again which caused the systems to be clogged with worm processes to a point where they would not function. No damages to systems were recalled, only loss of time till they were made operational and the security holes were fixed rapidly. As a result of the Morris worm outburst, viruses started to get deadlier, it is believed that the Morris worm paved the way to an era of internet vulnerability and corruption.

    Cyber Threats Adolcents

    With the increase in the number of people using the internet via various devices per person, escalates the number of IP addresses to be protected. The exposure to cyber threats in all factors have proliferated. Although many attacks are being covered and talked about on a large scale, cyber-attacks towards adolescents are not given as much attention to. From cyber-predators to social media posts that can come back to haunt them later in life, the internet is a dangerous place for children. Adolescents are full of curiosity which when coupled with limited maturity and awareness can fall victim to such traps. They are seen as the most vulnerable sections of the society and can easily be exploited in the cyber world. Adolescents either knowingly or unknowingly become victims or even offenders in cyber-crime. Although it may seem like adolescents are alone with a computer, as soon as they access the internet, they are no longer alone. It is found that children start using the internet at the age of three and spend twice as long on it than their parents know of. It is also noted that only around 22% of the parents are aware of negative experiences that their children fall victim to online. It is believed that addiction to the internet is quite common amongst those even below the age of 16, who spend more time in the virtual world than amongst real people. [1] Also, studies show that only 33% of the households protect their children with filtering and blocking data through parental control features. [2] Across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland there were 8,224 recorded child sexual offences with an online aspect in 2018/19. [3] In Oman alone, 35 children were victims of cybercrime between January 1, 2019 and June 30, 2019. [4 ] This is quite disturbing as it opens up a large window for cyber threats to happen in various forms.

    Major Cyber Threats

    Many of these children have come across inappropriate content, eating disorders, abusive and self-harming content. Studies show that over 5, 00,000 predators are online almost every day.[5] Popular sites visited by children include gaming sites where they compete with strangers or those games that have violent content. Few go to chat rooms where they can talk to strangers, pornographic sites, gambling sites and even on sites where they can purchase drugs and weapons. Considering that they rely mostly on the internet for social interactions exposes them to various cyber predators. Along with the harmful results these contents may have on the child’s psychology, it is also a pathway for various malware to enter the system and cause damage. The information leaked may not only affect them alone but also their family in ways such as hackers being able to access bank account details, locations and so on.


    Social media, chat rooms, forums and countless other socializing platforms have their pros and cons. These online communication platforms have certainly brought convenience to children’s’ lives, however, they have made children susceptible to new risks. Cyberbullying is one of the most common threats posed to adolescents. It is defined as “bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation.” [6]. The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) indicates that an estimated 14.9% of high school students in the United States were electronically bullied in the 12 months prior to the survey. [7] Rise in cyber bullying is fueled by reasons such as the perpetrator has the advantage of being anonymous or use a false identity, since cyberbullying does not require physical meeting. Many cyberbullies will say or post things online that they would never have the courage to say in real life. The prevalence of cyberbullying stems from the fact that this form of bullying does not require the perpetrator to be in physical contact with the victim or to even real his real identity. Physical strength, age, geographic location or the severity of intention to do harm matters very little when dealing with cyber-bullies. There are no specific hours, and it can happen around the clock. Countries around the globe are witnessing cyberbullying with tragic consequences such as suicides. [8]

    Chat rooms are another example for virtual extensions of real world human interactions, they are only spaces used for text based communications. It is extremely easy to find chat rooms to suit certain interests and all that’s needed is a username and password. Many chat rooms don’t necessarily stick to the topic of choice as it’s merely a guideline. Various chat services have added features that allow video and audio calling as well. It is quite often that these features have been misused especially due to its anonymous nature. Chat rooms, no matter what topic it is based on can end being a site for sexual talks, unabashed opinions and spaces used to spread phishing links. Just as seen in various social media, chat rooms are exclusively meant for a certain age group, which is generally above 18. However this restriction is more or less never followed in any sector. Many participants of these chat rooms tend to be of an age of 14 to 15 who are often exposed to inappropriate content and innocently download shared data that could contain various malware. Chat rooms also allow personal conversations between two people which are where the real risk lies. Predators that target children tend to tell the child that they are the same age but in reality they happen to be much older. It is common to find chat rooms to be a place where teens vent out their personal life frustrations which they feel they cannot share with parents or teachers. This leads into them confiding in strangers whose only intention would be to exploit the child after gaining their trust by ‘grooming’ them. Chat rooms still stand as a popular space for children to confide in strangers and thus make them the most vulnerable to cybercrimes.[14]

    Internet Browsing

    Internet browsing is the most typical way of accessing the information on the web for adolescents and adults alike, it is also by far the most common way to get infected and or fall prey to cyber crimes. The internet is ridden with shoddy websites prying on user behavior, attempting data theft of browser history, saved passwords in web browser etc., deceiving the user into downloading toolbars or plugins more often than not malware and viruses. Adolescents are primarily targeted by these malevolent sites because of two reasons. First, they are easy to entice by offering free games, goods or services. Second, due to their young age, younger children are almost oblivious to such This is also true for unethical advertising we encounter on the web. There are millions of illegitimate ads following ethical standards. In 2016 alone, Google took down close to 2 billion advertisements which violated their policies. [20]

    It is important to note that young internet visitors must be kept aware of how much information they share with even the most trusted websites as these websites themselves have become victims to user data breach in the past. [21]

    Video Streaming Sites

    Over 41% of children in the age of 11 to 14 download or stream videos, films and TV programs from illegal sites that result in malware entering their devices. Peer to peer file sharing also has its risks, while sharing and downloading files that are most generally music, videos and games, a shared file may contain hidden spyware, malware and pornography. It is quite common for children to click on links or pop up messages that seem quite appealing but are mostly a form of phishing. YouTube still dominates the video traffic.

    Online Gaming

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    Online gaming is common and has always been. Just as any other activity online, these games pose a threat to children in many ways. Around 81% of those aged 8 to 17 play online games out of which over 52% have played multiplayer games with people they don’t know. It is found that over 26% of gamers have had their accounts hacked at least once. [17] Cyberbullying is also quite common due to the anonymity involved. Identity theft and data breaching are also huge in this arena. Many online games have in game purchases for which card details also have to be given, which is a huge vulnerability in many big games including Fortnite and Pubg, which are very popular games around the world. The biggest breaching attack was the PlayStation network attack in 2011, where data of over 2.4 million customers were stolen and the network had also gone black for several days to boot. Steam on the other hand has prevented many such attacks from happening with their tight security. [18]

    Risks Involved

    The risks of being online are innumerous. The few most common risks that need to be known by everyone, especially adolescents are the risks of exposure, linkage, persuasion, permanence, exploitation, deception, victimization, habituation, isolation and impulse. [10] The risk of exposure comes from the fact that each entry online helps in identifying you, as an individual user better. Linkage is the connection between the user and the server, whatever you link to can link you back. The risk of persuasion is put forward by the predators online that can influence their victims to perform certain actions by posing as someone else. The internet is forever, once put out there it stays forever and can be exploited for the profit of others. These risks are believed to increase proportional to the decrease in parental involvement.

    Trending Cyber Threats

    One of the latest dark web cyber-crime trends is selling children’s personal data. Hackers access sensitive networks and steal the identity of children to sell on the dark web. The fact that children have no credit history is what makes them the best target for data breaching. Vendors tend to boast on having ‘fresh’ which can be effectively exploited by their buyers. Advertisements in the underground market offer full identity kits of the child, including name, date of birth, social security numbers and much more which would be enough for a criminal to commit fraud. In the underground market, such kits are termed as ‘child fullz’. The demand for this data has grown and is sold on an average at just $25 for the data per child. Some criminals use this data to make false claims for child tax credit, take huge loans and even create whole new identities based on the data collected.

    It is also common that stolen medical records, especially that of children are used for criminal activities. Experts have suggested that over half a million record are being sold illegally through the dark web. It may also take years for people to become aware that their records have been compromised. [15]

    In 2015, the VTech Hack was one of the largest attacks that targeted youngsters. VTech Holdings, a digital toymaker whose firm was based in Hong Kong. The cyber-attack on their databases for the Learning Lodge app store and Kid connect messaging system exposed the data of over 6.4 million children. The data collected included the child’s and parent’s personal data which had all families alert day and night and toy companies rethinking their security protections for children’s data.[16]

    There have also been many attacks on schools, using ransomware. These hackers seek to extort money from these institutions on the threat of releasing personal sensitive information of students. One of the many hacking groups that are known for such crimes is ‘The Dark Overload’, who is also known for the Netflix hack.

    Preventive Measures

    The foremost concern of a parent paper would be how do we go about protecting the kids from the omnipresent cyber-threats highlighted in this paper, the task are difficult, albeit not impossible. The primary measure for protecting is teaching kids about digital safety, online behavior and setting up boundaries on what they should and shouldn’t do. Basic rules like keeping their personal information private and informing an adult if a stranger approaches them online can go a long way.

    It can be challenging to be involved in the ever-online lives of adolescents; therefore, communicating the risks of the internet with them will allow them to be digitally resilient. (Digital resilience is the ability to deal with and respond positively to any risks encountered online.) [19]

    Many online services now recognize the threats posed by their services to kids and let parents set up a safer environment for them using parental control, safe search/browsing, and or a kid-friendly version of their product. Alternatively, third-party parental control tools can also be a possible course of action to keep a watchful eye for unsafe practices, such as browsing unsafe websites, downloading malware, managing screen time even getting alerts when your kid searches for inappropriate content including alerts on suicide, weapons, and drugs.

    Above all, what matters is that we do not undermine the severity of cyber threats to adolescents, getting aboard the idea of prevention is better than cure is crucial in this respect.


    In the current scenario the sheer scale of internet and cloud based services has made shielding adolescents from cyber threats an exacting task. Even though cyber security is gaining preeminent status at medium and large scale business, it is observed that the exposure to minors and possible exploitation is not given much attention to.

    In this paper, we have detailed about the nature of cyberspace, focusing on the usage by adolescents and its hazards. We have also accentuated various attacks commonly targeting the minors and their possible preventive measures. With the fast-paced emerging threats especially amongst the youth, it is an utmost necessity to ensure that cyber security is made priority at firms and households alike.

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