J030-Content-Every-Criminal-Blackhat-Started-With-Some-First-Hack_SQThey say that marijuana is a gateway drug, and that people who try it are more likely to try more dangerous and potent drugs as a result. Along those same lines, are relatively common crimes on the Internet, like movie piracy, gateways to more significant crimes, like identity theft, fraud and worse?

Every criminal blackhat hacker started with some first hack. Whether it was simply guessing a friend’s password to Facebook, or figuring out how to get around the licensing and activation for the latest game, that act was the first step down a slippery slope. The next generation of cybercriminal is probably upstairs right now, playing on their tablet instead of finishing their homework.

That’s right… the next generation of cybercriminal could well include our own kids. So what can we do to educate the next generation of hackers so their skills are used for innovation and not for criminal gain?

For starters, we have to communicate, clearly, about right and wrong. We cannot ignore issues such as hacking, piracy, and cyberbullying and hope that they are discussed in schools. We need to have open conversations with our kids to be sure they know what is right and what is wrong, and what we as parents expect from them. Explain to them that piracy is not a victimless crime; that cyberbullying is wrong, and that unauthorized access to systems is illegal.

Second, we must give our budding IT geniuses creative outlets for their hacking impulses. Whether you get them into Rasberry Pi, Lego Mindstorm, Arduino, or Game Programming for Teens, giving them something fun and challenging to sharpen their skills will help direct their genius towards proper outlets. There are many different ways teens can get involved in building their IT skills. Linux, Java, and PHP are all available for free, but even Microsoft offers free access to their development platforms for students through the Dreamspark program.

Next, we need to ensure our kids, like our users, understand best practices for IT security, like how to create a strong password, and know to change it often. They need to know not use the same credentials across multiple systems, not to post too much information online; and how to recognize a scam. Just in case you missed it, read our parenting guide in an online world.

Finally, we must lead by example. Just as a smoker’s kid is not going to be impressed by a “tobacco is bad” message delivered next to an ashtray, your kids won’t place much importance in the message that piracy is bad when they just watched a telesync on family movie night.

Our children, whether they are grade-schoolers or teenagers, have never known a day without computers. They are as much a part of their life as television and electricity were to ours. With natural skills, innate curiosity, free time, bandwidth, and plenty of peer pressure, whether they become the next Kevin Mitnick or the next Bruce Schneier may come down to simply whether or not you talk to them first and help them start down the right path. Do yourself – and the Internet – a favour – talk to your kids before it is too late.