Children as young as 11 years old are developing malicious code to steal personal information from online gamers, according to antivirus software provider AVG.
The Q4 2012 Community Powered Threat Report reveals some schoolchildren have the skills required to design Trojan horse malware capable of stealing data from players of games including MMO RuneScape and popular free-to-play shooter Team Fortress 2.
Common features of the malicious software include being written in easy-to-learn-and-deploy programming languages such as Visual Basic or C#, with the regular ploy of offering players in-game currency.
While some might not see log-in details for online games being stolen as a major security issue, the connection to personal email addresses and passwords - which could be used to login to other services such as email, Facebook or online banking - means young hackers potentially pose much wider threats to online security.
The report uses the example of code being used to steal the details of a user's Steam account, which could have hundreds or even thousands of pounds worth of computer games installed. However, AVG believes most of the young hackers are producing malware because they can, rather than for financial gain.
"We believe these junior programmers are motivated mainly by the thrill of outwitting their peers, rather than financial gain, but it is nevertheless a disturbing and increasing trend," said Yuval Ben-Itzhak, chief technology officer at AVG Technologies.
"It is also logical to assume that at least some of those responsible will be tempted to experiment with much more serious cyber-crimes."
Just this week, Yuval Ben-Itzhak told Computing that 2013 will see a rise in Stuxnet and Flame-like cyber-attacks.
"Stuxnet and Flame have already happened, and have shown that this powerful malware can become accessible to others, and we're starting to see people increasingly utilising this sophisticated malware that is sponsored by governments," he said.
"It's going to be keeping security officers in a lot of countries quite busy, so from their perspective that's going to be a major player this year."
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