Teenagers in Leeds have been given official warnings by police – after investigations revealed they owned sophisticated computer hacking software.
Officers visited addresses in Pudsey, Aberford and South Milford that were found to have access to spyware technology that has been used by international gangs of cyber criminals.
Teenagers using this type of product are also unwittingly taking the first steps into a world of cyber-criminality.”Detective Inspector Vanessa Smith
The software – called Black Shades – allows hackers to steal information, including pictures and videos, from another computer.
It is thought the programme is often bought by youngsters using their parents’ payment details.
Detective Inspector Vanessa Smith, who is setting up a specialist cyber crime unit in West Yorkshire, said: “I know from other colleagues across the country that a number of parents have been completely unaware their children have bought spyware using money from their accounts.
“This is not about the criminalisation of young people, many of whom may be using this product for little more than a practical joke on their friends, but parents need to be aware of the darker side of this activity involving blackmail and bullying.
“Teenagers using this type of product are also unwittingly taking the first steps into a world of cyber-criminality.”
The so-called “cease and desist” visits in Leeds were among nine carried out across West Yorkshire, including Huddersfield and Bradford in a joint operation by West Yorkshire Police, the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Yorkshire and Humber Cyber Crime Unit.
The spyware technology is relatively cheap and is not illegal to buy, but anyone who uses it is breaking the law.
News of the operation comes as the NCA continues to investigate an alleged international hacking ring, which led to the arrest of three people in Leeds last November.
It also follows a week-long campaign by West Yorkshire Police to raise awareness of cyber crime.
As reported on Tuesday, West Yorkshire Police is currently recruiting a new team of ‘cyber officers’ who will tackle online trolling, grooming, fraud and other types of crime.
The unit is expected to be in place by the end of April.
Det Insp Smith added: “During the last year we’ve seen national and international news following the theft and redistribution of personal information, including pictures and videos.
“This rapidly expanding area of criminality can leave victims extremely emotionally distressed and open to blackmail as well as financial theft.”