Security experts have poo-pooed “misguided” advice from UK police suggesting that kids using services like Discord, Tor and Kali Linux could be early signs they’re hackers.
News of the guidance broke when a poster from the West Midlands Police being distributed in schools appeared on Twitter earlier this week.
The poster alleged that children’s use of certain software and apps, including Discord, Metasploit, Tor and Kali Linux could indicate they were engaged in illegal activity.
However, F-Secure senior security consultant Nick Jones quashed the notion telling Trusted Reviews, if anything, kids’ interest in software like Kali Linux could be beneficial.
“In the strictest definition, Kali Linux is an operating system often used for hacking, in the sense that it’s a popular operating system used by security professionals to perform offensive security testing,” he said.
“It’s not necessarily an indicator of anything nefarious if it is present on a child’s computer, as it’s also commonly used by people participating in legal cybersecurity activities, such as online competitions, Capture The Flag (CTF) exercises, and a wide variety of other legitimate hobbyist cyber security activity.”
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The UK government and numerous intelligence and law enforcement agencies all run competitions, like the ongoing Cyber Security Challenge UK, to try and help identify young people with the skills needed to work as ethical hackers and security professionals.
Jones added that, despite the positives, parents should still talk to their children about their use of tools like Kali Linux, so they can guide their studies.
“Parents shouldn’t immediately assume that its presence is an indicator that their child is up to no good. Instead, parents should talk to their children and understand their children’s motivations for having it,” he said.
“Assuming that they acquired it through legitimate interest in the field, parents should encourage this in their children given the cybersecurity skills gap and the ongoing demand for these skills in the UK workforce.
Thycotic chief security scientist Joseph Carson mirrored Jones sentiment telling Trusted Reviews that the ad stemmed from common misconception about what hacking is.
“The West Midlands police should have engaged with the ethical hacking community to create this poster, and clarified that using these tools does not make your child a criminal. It may also indicate their interest in several key paths to becoming an ethical hacker, so it would have been useful to include ways to guide them or connect them with mentors to further develop their skills,” he said.
“A child using legitimate tools to learn new skills should not be portrayed as bad, but it is important to ensure that they are aware of the legal and illegal uses of those tools […] Children using Kali is great news, we must enable and empower them to be the defenders and ethical hackers of the future but guidance is critical, as is the case with any child learning a new skill.”
The two experts’ comments follow widespread reports of a cyber security skills gap within the UK, with the government outlined a strategy to try and plug the gap in May 2019.