Irish academic believes children with special tech talents could help in fight against cyber crime

Sean Duffy

Mary Aiken at the Dublin Info Sec 2016 Conference in the RDS.
Mary Aiken at the Dublin Info Sec 2016 Conference in the RDS.

A leading Irish academic believes children with special tech talents could help in the fight against cyber crime in the future.

Dr Mary Aiken says that children with exceptional tech talents including those on the autism spectrum can be targeted by cyber criminals when they reach adolescence, and added that it was vital that these children were identified engaged and nurtured in the educational system before they became targeted by cyber criminals.

She was speaking at the inaugural Info Sec Conference at Dublin's RDS.

"We need to put a system in place where the particular gifts of these tech talented children are identified at an early age and used in a positive way. We need to make sure that they don't get exploited by criminal organisations who could use their gifts in a harmful way. The reality is that if kids or teenagers engage in criminal activity online such as hacking, they may face prosecution by the authorities."

She said existing practices were failing such children, with schools and educators ill-equipped to identify, harness and nurture their technology skills in a positive manner.

Links between hacking activity and autism have been established, the hacker Lauri Love who has been diagnosed with severe Asperger’s is currently awaiting extradition to the US to face hacking charges, he faces 99 years in jail if convicted

Dr Aiken's recent research shows that a number of youth in online hacking communities on the dark web have some vulnerability, are socially awkward, withdrawn, and may have some learning difficulties. 

"We need to find a way of identifying these tech talented kids, nurture and mentor them them in the system. That means that you provide them with the support during their school life, which will enable them to contribute in a positive way to the area of cyber security if they want to when they become adults.

Dr Aiken is the author of The Cyber Effect, a new book which addresses how our use of cyber space is shaping our perceptions of the world.