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Project to protect tech-savvy teens from online radicalisation

A new partnership in the north east will see expert cyber Prevent officers work alongside their counterparts in Counter Terrorism to identify young people with highly specialised digital skills, who often run the risk of being exploited and coerced into committing serious offences online.

The North East Regional Cyber Crime Unit initiative was created earlier this year after a teenager bypassed his school’s VPN to access extreme materials. Due to the teen’s exceptional computer skills, he was brought to the attention of NERCCU’s cyber officers, who were able to help educate him about the dangers of hacking and offer a range of ethical and legal platforms for him to perfect his skills.

It is hoped that the new scheme will mean teenagers, especially those with a range of neuro-diverse traits, who are brought to the attention of Counter Terrorism will be able to benefit from specialist intervention from cyber officers – who can work with them to steer them away from online crime.

Detective Sergeant Andrea Burns from NERCCU said: “The last thing we want to do is criminalise young people for having a specific interest in the cyber world. My team is dedicated to helping steer teenagers away from cybercrime, and towards ethical hacking and platforms which allow them to use their skills in a positive way.

“It is incredible to see how many young people excel in areas like scripting, coding and programming and these skills are something which will land them a successful career in the industry one day.

“What’s sad is that because of the length of time these young people spend online, they are at risk of becoming radicalised or poached by criminals who need help in bypassing security systems for example. Because the internet knows no boundaries, it’s important all law enforcement works together to recognise when this is happening and to provide intervention to those most in need.

“We’ve already carried out a number of joint visits with CT Prevent officers – and the results so far have been really positive. We’ve been able to share vital information with our colleagues and with those working to support the young people – like their parents, teachers and carers.”

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