Rehabilitation camps aimed at reforming would-be cyber criminals have been launched by the National Crime Agency.
Teenagers who commit hacking offences are being offered the chance to take part in the scheme, run by the UK’s national law enforcement agency.
Youngsters who have been issued cautions and cease and desist orders across the country will be eligible if the pilot proves a success.
The agency hopes that the Prevent programme will help to bolster falling numbers of security industry experts.
A group of seven young men were the first to take part in the rehab workshops, held earlier this month in Bristol.
They were taught security skills and options for using their skills legitimately, according to reports in The Telegraph.
The group in question had all been caught by the NCA committing crimes online, including taking servers offline, either at home or from their schools.
One of the members began his hacking career by accidentally knocking out a primary school’s network.
He then began to experiment with his newfound skill, putting it to a variety of malicious uses.
The youngster claimed that hacking offered him an escape from bullying at school.
Speaking to The Telegraph Richard Jones, Prevent manager at the NCA, said: ‘Cyber crime has become easier to commit with the proliferation of easy-to-access tools, tutorials and online forums to share ideas.
‘Even the most basic forms of cyber crime can have huge impacts and the NCA and police will arrest and prosecute offenders, which can be devastating to their future
That means there is great value in reaching young people before they become involved in cyber crime, and even those already on the fringes of criminality – when their skills can still be a force for good.’
The scheme arose from research which found that illegal hackers have a very similar skill set and background to legitimate cyber security workers.
But intervention from authority figures like teachers and parents had steered the latter group into positions of responsibility, rather than a life of crime.
A group of seven young men were the first to take part in the rehab workshops, held earlier this month in Bristol. They were taught security skills and options for using their skills legitimately (stock image)
Previous work by the NCA has seen former young cyber criminals reform and become productive members of society.
The Prevent programme comes at a time of increasing threats from hacking groups and other lone wolf attackers.
In recent months, a number of high profile hack attacks have hit the headlines.
Perhaps most prominent was the Wanna Decryptor or ‘WannaCry’ Virus that hit the NHS last month.