Way on the other side of our little blue planet, folks in New Zealand are reeling from the recent arrest of 18-year old Owen Thorn Walker, who masterminded a group of programmers that infected more than a million computers around the world.Authorities contend Walker and his legion of hacking doom successfully stole banking and credit card information and manipulated stock trades. The FBI estimates the botnet they unleashed may have stolen as much as $20 million worldwide. In addition, Walker is allegedly responsible for placing advertising spam on about 1.3 million computers worldwide through systems based in the Netherlands. All total, he's looking at a decade of jail time if convicted.
John E. Dunn at Techworld.com writes "The world has been reminded that the era of the teen hacker is far from dead." Indeed, Dunn reports that just a few weeks ago a U.S. teenager plead guilty to hacking thousands of computers, including several belonging to the U.S. military.
In that case, authorities have been tight-lipped on details of the teen (hacker moniker B.D.H), leading to speculation that he's underage.
Does anyone remember that early '80s TV show Whiz Kids? The premise centered on a gang of teenage, mystery-solving computer experts. Despite their hacker-like skills, they solved crimes and used their abilities to help the helpless, defend the defenseless, and stop -- well, the stopless. Wouldn't it be nice if life imitated art?
Fortunately, for every couple of BDHs and Owen Thorns, there's a kid like Shane Kelly. This U.K. resident recently completed a Certified Ethical Hacker course, which instructs students on the various types of attacks, and how to help organizations defend against them. What makes Shane so special is that, at 16 years old, he is the youngest person to complete the course, which normally requires students to be at least 21. Shane plans to take his certification and apply it to a career in IT (helping companies defend themselves from the bad guys) and already has attracted attention of several key security executives.
We often report (read: lament) over the shortage of IT talent. With interest waning, students are dropping computer, science, and engineering courses left and right. Just as it's our responsibility as a society to make sure that there's plenty of this planet left for future generations, a similar goal for IT pros should be to cultivate interest in the technology sector among the young (lest we be forced to resort to coding via abacus). Imparting a positive attitude about our profession also can help steer these kids clear of its darker sides as well.