Seth’s mum and family knows a thing or two about going with the flow. When your son is a young hacker, the way you choose to embrace or reject their unique skillset as a parent can make or break them. I first met Seth ‘the Script Kiddie’ at Mozilla technology festival 2016, where he ran a hacker session with Kali Linux. Prior to that, as I chatted to his mum via Skype, I conveyed to her that at MozFest, both she and Seth would be made to feel accepted with us — even if the world outside our walls could not yet do so. At MozFest we care and value the skills that young people have to contribute, such as penetration testing in Seth’s case. While the majority of us at MozFest are not penetration testers like Seth, we constantly hack the system in our own way. But fear not — at MozFest we are a diverse community of “White hatters” — a group of people who use our skills, talent and time to the benefit of the internet community; ‘Here at Mozilla doing good is part of our code.’
So why is it so important to go with the flow sometimes? It can be a huge challenge to make society relevant to a young person’s interests. When children exhibit extreme interest in topics like hacking our natural reaction as a society is “Caution” most of us have heard of it but never studied it and as a result our youth get misunderstood. It is important as a first step to inform ourselves by seeking common ground with our kids so we can proactively address the discomfort we feel about such topics. My own daughter is often headstrong and single-minded, and she possesses the ability to argue with a logic that is scary in a 9 year old! I have to pick my battles. Don’t get me wrong — my daughter is my princess. I would love nothing better than to disguise the harsh realities of the world from her. To wrap her in cotton wool and make sure she never fails, gets hurt, sad, rejected, ridiculed or made to feel her opinions or interests are worthless.
But even were I to succeed in this mammoth task, where would it leave my daughter in this modern day world? So instead I want to empower her — to build resilience in her, and grow in her an ability to celebrate where she finds herself now. To encourage her not to develop a victim mentality, or a bitter ‘glass half-empty’ response to the injustices she encounters in the world. I think of my daughter’s journey through life as a river that I should not choose to halt, but should be guided in a forward-looking way. So I introduce her to people and tools to act as her lifeboat should she need them, which will help her to:
- Be independent and responsible for her actions
- Have confidence in herself and be resilient to the world
- Be firm on her own 2 feet, knowing she can ask for help if she needs it
- Understand that the world does not revolve around her
- Realise that failure is not something to fear, but rather a good thing which is to be welcomed, as it helps us to reflect on what didn’t work, an opportunity to fix it.
Seth is a great example of how this can work in practice. When he hacked his school computer system at a young age, he got into a lot of trouble and was excluded from the school for a while. But in time, Seth’s school and his parents chose to acknowledge his talent and natural curiosity for hacking and ‘went with the flow’. They chose to look for common ground, and reached out to HackLab in Cambridge for help and guidance. And as a result Seth’s story turned out, just fine.
About the same time that Seth hacked his school’s system, another young man in Kent (UK) did the same thing. Like Seth, he was excluded from school. But here the similarity ends. This young man’s school as they didn’t know any better swept the whole issue under the carpet. As a result he repeatedly hacked the system of a local pizza company, sending free pizzas to his mates. When the police managed to track the activity back to him, on the advice of the police his computing equipment was removed in a traumatic incident that undoubtedly had a negative effect on such a young man. And on that day, we lost a potential natural white hatter, because society did not understand his motivation, nor did they seek out help from those who could have shone light on the situation. There were experienced people who could have been consulted and added to this young man’s ‘lifeboat’, but no one sought them out.
On the flip side, Seth has been working with HackLab to develop his skills in legal penetration testing as “Ethical Hacking” i.e. a White hat. His learning is supported and encouraged by a white hat community, who are now part of his lifeboat. Now aged 15, Seth was awarded a bursary to attend MozFest 2016 and share his skills and journey with other “white hatters”. His audience was made up of a diverse group of people who share a passion to use their skills, talent and time to benefit society. Their existence defies the common notion that hacking is only ever a negative, harmful skill, and they push themselves to learn more about their craft and the process involved in it. How a person chooses to use their knowledge is the definer between whether a skill is ‘good or bad’. And often for young people, that all-important decision of how they should use their knowledge comes down to their peers, who can influence them one way or the other — to cause harm or to stay on the right path.
To all script kiddies out there, would you like to come to MozFest 2017? We have a space for you to share your skills with other white hatters who are ready to learn from you. Come and teach us how to protect ourselves, because if we don’t know the dangers in the first place, we are under-equipped to protect ourselves and our children from those that would do us harm. Help us to help your parents and teachers understand that taking your ‘Computer’s’ away is never the answer. Because time and time again we are seeing that it is one of the pathways that helps create tomorrow’s black hatters. When society does not value you or your skills, there are not many places left for you to go. All too often there is a simple lack of understanding from parents, who are all too human and are regularly fed the message by the media that ‘hacking = bad and dangerous’; only you can show them the “Real” story!
Come to MozFest and help equip us with the knowledge we need to make up our own minds about hacking, and to address the issues that are very real in the digital and physical world today. Help us to help you, and show us what you can do as a white hatter. Let doing good be part of your code and come find us on twitter YouthLED @MozillaYouth
This blog is a result of Seth being invited to submit a session for MozFest 2016. He ran a session on Kali Linux, explaining the process involved in steering clear of danger online and staying safe. You can read his blog about MozFest here: https://medium.com/@sduffett18/the-h4ck5-at-mozfest-101e5f2383c4