Is Your Kid a Hacker?

Is your child a tech genius—or a criminal hacker?

If your child spends most of their free time alone with their computer, seems to know more than they should about other family members, has multiple accounts you cannot access and their computer is full of encrypted files, they may be a talented computer whiz kid with a bright future in technology. Or, if they choose another path, they may become a criminal hacker.

Of course, not all hackers are evil. White hat hackers, also known as “ethical hackers,” use their skills to make the internet a safer place. They help online companies find and fix security holes so they are not exploited by the bad guys.

Young people may be attracted to illicit computer activities without understanding the possible ramifications. If they are using family computers and internet connections for illegal hacking, they could be putting themselves and their families at risk for legal penalties. How can you tell if your child has a healthy interest in technology or if they are involved in unethical or even illegal hacking? And what can you do to get your child hacker back on the right path?

Security expert Roger A. Grimes dealt with teen hacking in his own family. His 15-year-old stepson was part of a hacking club that indulged in malicious hacking such as DDoS attacks on popular websites and making malware. Grimes identified 11 signs that your kid may be involved in illicit hacking:

  1. They brag about how easy it is to hack.
  2. They seem to know too much about you. If they know things they could only know by reading your email or other online communications, that is a sign they may be hacking you.
  3. They use sophisticated security for their computer files, including strong encryption.
  4. They have multiple accounts that you cannot access. Multiple accounts are not the problem, but if they have secret accounts they will not share, that may be a sign of hacking or other illicit activities, such as porn.
  5. You find hacking tools on their computer. Note some file names of unfamiliar programs and do an internet search to see if they point to hacking.
  6. They use hacking terms such as Pwned sites, DDoS, doxing and others.
  7. Your internet provider warns you to stop hacking. Do not assume these warnings are off base. They may know more about what is going on with your internet connection than you do.
  8. Your child’s close friends have been investigated for computer crimes.
  9. They often switch to “boss screens” when you enter the room. These are fake screens mimicking spreadsheets or other files that hide what the computer user was doing. This may just be because the child desires privacy, or they may be hiding something.
  10. Installed monitoring tools never show activity. A lack of activity in the logs could mean that your teen hacker is using proxies or other workarounds to hide what they are doing.
  11. Their grades suddenly drastically improve. It could be a sign that they are hacking their grades in the school’s computer system.

Grimes points out that some of these may be normal teenage behaviors and not signs that your child is a malicious hacker. However, if your child is engaging in unethical or illegal activities, there are things you can do.

  • Let them know you are aware of what they are doing, that it is illegal, and it can have long-term consequences.
  • Tell them you will be monitoring their activities, and if you find evidence of any misbehavior all of their electronic devices will be taken away for a long time.
  • Move their computers into the main living area where you can monitor their use.

It is possible to channel malicious hacking into more positive activities, if parents are aware and involved with what their children are doing online.