Some of the most explosive teenage talent in the world is engrossed in the dark art of illegal hacking, waging cyber war on governments and corporations. And then there are those young children who master the art of legal hacking in schools run by former hacking wizards.
On the sidelines of the world's biggest gathering of hackers, the Defcon hacking conference in Las Vegas, Nev., a kids' workshop is being held where young children learn the art of legal hacking and showcase their skills. More than 60 children participated in the workshop aimed at grooming next generation hackers.
The goal of the workshop is to teach children aged eight to 16 that it is not a bad idea to be "white hat," or benevolent hacker. At the conference, children learn things like computer programing, lock picking and puzzle solving.
There will also be courses in hardware hacking, which shows children how to modify a circuit board, among other things, Reuters reported. Essentially, at DefCon, children learn the ropes of White hat hacking from the pros. In a surprising twist, they are often encouraged by their parents, many of whom say their children's hacking skills often come in handy.
The conference was held in the backdrop of daring hack attacks on high profile government organizations and corporations like Google, the International Monetary Fund, FBI, Sony, Lockheed Martin and others, besides scores of enforcement agency Web sites in the U.S.
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More often than not, young adults are involved in the intriguing hacks of high profile targets.
Think of teenage hacking sensations like George Hotz, who shot into fame by cracking the iPhone, and then unleashed his wizardry by breaking open the Sony PlayStation 3.
Or the 18-year-old hacker Jake Davis, known as "Topiary," who was arrested in London by Scotland Yard in connection with the worldwide hacking by a group associated with Anonymous and LulzSec. A month ago, another teenage hacker, Briton Ryan Cleary, was arrested for illegal hacking. He had been one of the ring leaders of the group that compromised the data of organizations like the CIA, Sony and Nintendo.
These examples show how getting too cocky can bring a hacker down, and how eventually, law enforcement catches up with them, which means many hackers are now cooling their heels in prisons around the world.
DefCon, one of the oldest and the largest continuous running hacker conventions around, was started in 1993. Its founder Jeff Moss used to be a hacker of renown under the name "Dark Tangent." He is now on the White House Homeland Defense Council.
At this year's Defcon's Kids Village, children engaged in activities like deciphering clues, picking locks, coaxing information out of people, and reading subtle facial expressions, according to Agence-France Presse.
Chris Hadnagy, one of the tutors at the Kids hacking workshop, has written a book titled Social Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking. Hadnagy says it is imperative that children learn hacking skills safely and legally in a world imbued with technology.
He says some of the kids taking part in the DefCon are gifted. One 10-year-old girl was particularly impressive with her ability to hack games on smartphones or tablets running on Apple or Android mobile software.
"The girl, who went by the hacker name CyFi, found the vulnerability after she got tired of waiting for virtual crops to grow in farming games. She figured out a way to tamper with in-game time," the report said.
Potential employers, including high-profile government agencies like the United States Cyber Command, the Pentagon's Internet Security division, were at the conference looking for teenage hacking wizards.
One parent, who brought his 14-year-old son to the workshop, said: "I see it in him — he feels like he belongs to a clan, to a group. I'm really proud ... I can see he has the excitement in his eyes," ABC News reported.
Rey Ayers, an information security specialist for a utility company, said it is important to introduce children to the hacker community and teach them the difference between ethical and unethical hacking.
The new initiative to educate children in ethical hacking comes at a time when criminal hacking has caused the biggest threat to government organizations and large corporations the world over. Last week, AntiSec hackers released a massive amount of confidential information they got after breaking into Web sites of more than 70 U.S. police agencies, claiming that the compromised data would "embarrass, discredit and incriminate police officers across the U.S."
The daring war on the U.S. police was launched by the AntiSec and LulzSec groups in retaliation for the recent arrest of key activists of the underground anti-security movement, especially that of teenage hacker Jake Davis who had acted as a spokesperson for the group.