Cybercriminals do things online, so punish them by stealing their Internet access. It is as easy as taking a crowbar from a burglar. Or is it? Some out-of-the-box thinking by a top cop this week has sparked a debate among cyber security types over young offenses and punishments.
Ch Supt Gavin Thomas, president of the Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales, said in an interview that wifi jammer – devices worn on the ankle or wrist to block the Internet – serve as a smarter penalty for cybercrime could as a prison. “We have to stop using 19th century penalties to fight 21st century crimes,” he said.
Few would dispute this, but there are some problems with jammers. First, they are illegal under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006, so we have to work on it. Second, they would not work.
“Although we desperately need alternatives to jail, using cell phone jammer is both technically impossible and unreliable,” said Cal Leeming, who was jailed for hacking as a teenager and is now a security advisor. “Even if you could do it to implement without disrupting nearby connectivity, which would be very difficult in itself because of how the radio works, it could be easily circumvented with a cable. ”
Darren Martyn, an Irish convicted hacker who became a security researcher (he was part of the LulzSec group), added: “This would cause a huge disruption to anyone who is within range of the” tagged “person.”
Would a forced screen break – a digital foundation that is increasingly being released by parents – help solve the broader problem despite legal and technical hurdles? Prof. Mary Aiken, cyber psychologist at University College Dublin, is skeptical. If the criminal justice system has trouble keeping up with technology, delaying education is the bigger threat, she says. “It will be very difficult, if not impossible, to follow our path out of problems like youth hacking,” she explains. “What is needed is a fundamental reassessment of the impact of technology on youth development.”
In Youth Pathways into Cybercrime (pdf), a report published by Middlesex University in October, Aiken and her colleagues recommend not to thwart the digital skills of these young people, but to offer them safer options.
Jessica Barker, a cyber security consultant who runs the cyber.uk website, agrees. She cites research by Sonia Livingstone, who heads the parenting for a digital future research project at the London School of Economics. It suggests that denying screen time or web access can be counterproductive, regardless of whether they are naughty children or young criminals. “Children who are denied access are more likely to be risky because they can find another way to access the Internet unattended,” says Barker.