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30,000 children join Net gangs

Thousands of teenagers are renting their computers to cyber gangs to spread viruses or carry out online scams and blackmail threats.

The growing band of ‘child labourers’ are paid about £50 an hour for the use of their PC’s to launch Internet attacks, a new report claims. They are savvy enough to seize control of their friends’ and others’ computers as well to drag them into the ring.

Small groups of young people are creating a resource of 10,000 to 30,000 computers networked together and are renting them out to anybody who has the money, said one Scotland Yard source.

The phenomenon is highlighted by a Europe-wide study into organised crime on the Net.

Most of the youngsters are ‘script kiddies’ who already spread viruses for fun but are exploited by gangs for profit. The parties never meet and information is traded through chatrooms.

Together they forge remotely controlled networks of computers called bot-nets, to steal credit card details or identities or to extort money by threatening to paralyse companies’ websites by bombarding them with bogus emails.

‘The use of script kiddies can be seen as a new form of child labour, in the same way as drug dealers use a 13-year-old child as a runner,’ says the McAfee Virtual Criminology Report. ‘The kids don’t necessarily understand how their actions are being put to bigger criminal ends.’

Bot-nets are growing at the rate of about 30 a day in Europe. ‘Organised crime has been quick to adapt to the new hi-tech world, replacing knuckle dusters and baseball bats with sophisticated invisible weapons such as bot-nets,’ the report says.

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