IT students have fees paid by criminals

Security company McAfee claims some gangs are prepared to fund technology students through university courses

Organised criminal gangs are beginning to recruit would-be hackers straight from universities, and in some cases are even sponsoring them financially, according to a report from security company McAfee.

The report, released on Friday, "Organised Crime and the Internet", alleges that organised criminal gangs are employing tactics used by intelligence services, such as the former KGB, to groom skilled young IT enthusiasts into joining illegal networks.

"A growing number of IT students are being recruited by organised criminals. They see students struggling, and offer them what seems a good career path," said McAfee security analyst Greg Day. "Places like India and Russia produce a lot of IT students. These places where there are poorer economies lend themselves to this kind of career. Organised criminals are sponsoring the IT education of some students."

The McAfee report cited a survey of 77 computer science students at the US' Purdue University in June of this year showing that 68 admitted to "engaging in activity that could be classified as deviant".

However, when pushed, McAfee's Day could not come up with any specific evidence of incidents of IT students being groomed by gangs. As a provider of security services, McAfee has something to gain from highlighting what it claims is the increasing threat of organised cybercrime.

The McAfee report also contains comments from industry experts such as Dave Thomas, section chief of the FBI's cyber division and Professor Martin Gill, professor of criminology at the University of Leicester.

"Young hackers and script kiddies get involved on the small scale and it steamrolls from there. They start with very simple tasks but move quickly to accessing credit cards and other money-making schemes," said the FBI’s Thomas.