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UK’s Top Police Warn That Modding Games May Turn Kids into Hackers

The National Crime Agency had a booth at EGX to promote ethical hacking.

Last week at EGX, the UK's biggest games event, attendees got a chance to play upcoming blockbusters like Battlefield 1, FIFA 17, and Gears of War 4. But budding gamers may also have spotted a slightly more unusual sight: a booth run by the National Crime Agency (NCA), the UK's leading law enforcement agency.

Over the last few years, the NCA has attempted to reach out to technologically savvy young people in different ways. EGX was the first time it's pitched up to a gaming convention; the NCA said it wanted to educate young people with an interest in computers and suggested that those who mod online games in order to cheat may eventually progress to using low level cybercrime services like DDoS-for-hire and could use steering in the right direction.


Our NCCU officers are at @EGX until Sunday promoting ethical hacking & developing coding skills. Come say hi! #cyberchoices #EGX2016
— NationalCrimeAgency (@NCA_UK) September 22, 2016

"The games industry can help us reach young people and educate them on lawful use of cyber skills," Richard Jones, head of the NCA's National Cyber Crime Unit's 'Prevent' team, told Motherboard in an email.

"Through attendance at EGX and various other activities, we are seeking to promote ethical hacking or penetration testing, as well as other lawful uses of an interest in computers to young people," Jones said. Penetration testing is essentially hacking done with the consent of the target company, usually done in an effort to uncover vulnerabilities which the company can then fix.

Read More: The UK Wants Gamers to Fix Its Cybersecurity

Jones said that the EGX presence wasn't part of an NCA recruitment campaign, and there aren't any specific ethical hacking jobs at the agency.

"The conversations we have been having with younger attendees have been about promoting career pathways into gaming, cyber security, or law enforcement, where they can use their cyber skills positively to have interesting and prosperous careers. Where needed, we have also explained that certain online activity is illegal and there are consequences for victims," Jones added.

In December, the NCA announced that the average age of cybercrime suspects over the last year was 17 years old, compared to 24 the previous year. The agency has a particular interest in reaching those who cheat at online games, suggesting they may eventually dabble in criminal activities.

"We have undertaken analysis on pathways into cyber crime offending and can conclude that some young people who have an interest in online games may begin to participate in gaming cheat websites and 'modding'," Jones said. "This has the potential to progress to criminal hacking forums and use of low level cybercrime services like DDOS for hire. We are therefore at the event to speak to young people who may be vulnerable to becoming involved in cybercrime and promote lawful career pathways."

Holly Nielsen contributed reporting.

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