Why are 9-year-old kids launching cyber-attacks against schools?

'With great tech knowledge, comes great responsibility…'

Boredom during the Covid pandemic

During the Covid-19 pandemic, British schools have experienced a heightened increase of cyber-attacks designed to block access to school networks and websites. Amongst the main culprits are pupils themselves, the average age being fifteen years old and as young as nine years old.

One theory is that children first learn these crime skills ‘by firstly playing online games, and then falling into installing mods, hacks, and even remote access trojans to get the upper hand on their gaming rivals.’

The UK government response

National Crime Agency
National Crime Agency by Philafrenzy under CC BY-SA 4.0

The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) is now warning children as young as nine that if they commit Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, it will ‘result in a police visit, a ban on accessing the internet, and the seizure of computing equipment.

The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has launched a new initiative called Cyber Choices which has been rolled out to 2,000 primary and secondary schools in the UK, with plans to go live in more schools and colleges across the country.

The NCA hope that this program will dissuade youngsters from embarking on a life of cybercrime and to educate them of the consequences of launching DDoS attacks.


Strong deterrents

If confiscating their computer equipment isn’t sufficient enough deterrent for children, the NCA Cyber Choices website goes further to warn ‘Anyone (including young people) who commits cybercrime could face ….
Up to life in prison for the most serious offenses.’

Young people in the UK must be warned about the legal deterrents for computer misuse. Under the Computer Misuse Act, the UK has some of the strictest penalties in the world. The UK has also been known to follow up extradition requests to send hackers to other countries to face justice.

In the UK, ‘The lowest-level of penalty is applied if you are found guilty of gaining access to a computer without permission holds a penalty of up to two years in prison and a £5,000 fine.


Crimes that can be committed with a computer that have hefty punishments include:

Distributing malware with the intent to destroy or change the contents of a computer, a person can receive a prison sentence of up to ten years alongside an unlimited fine.

A person involved in cyberattacks on essential systems controlling power supply, communications, food or fuel distribution” will find themselves with a terrorism charge and a prison life sentence. The Serious Crime Bill introduced these amendmentsSerious Crime Bill.


Although it has been known that computer hackers can be as young as nine years old, the age of criminal responsibility in the UK is ten years old. Therefore a 9-year-old can’t be arrested or charged with a crime; it is not without consequences for the child or their parents. Children under ten who break the law in the UK can be given a Local Child Curfew, a Child Safety Order, or can be taken into care in extreme cases cancan be taken into consideration.

Hopefully, early intervention in the education of young people about the legal consequences of hacking is the key to putting young people’s skills on the right path and creating a better society.

Future careers in fighting cybercrime

child learning to code
Why are 9-year-old kids launching cyber-attacks against schools? 3

The NCA website tries to highlight that skills in coding, gaming, cyber security, or anything digital-related are in high demand. The website states ‘The average salary in the UK is £36,903 whereas in tech industry, the average is £53,318. Specialised tech roles, that use cutting-edge kit, are particularly in demand and the average for that is £85,894.’


However, is education by the police enough to entice children to a life of virtue when it is a thrill for children to get instant kudos from their peers by doing things that they shouldn’t?

Can children be taught to abide by the law and ignore the instant gratification of beating a system just like any other game that they play on the computer?

What incentive is a 36k to 86k job when unethical hacker gangs can make money in the millions, even in the billions.


The NCA website provides links to GCHQ where young people can consider a future government career fighting cybercrime and links to participating in other cyber challenges that won’t get them in trouble. Let’s hope for our sake that they make the right choice.