When you try to imagine a typical hacker, it is more than likely that children do not spring to mind. Teenagers, perhaps. Somebody in their 20s or 30s almost certainly. Yet new alarming research has shown that children as young as 11-years-old are already capable of writing code to hack online accounts.
While the coding was not always of the highest standard, AVG - the anti-virus firm - found that it was enough to breach the accounts of gaming sites and social networks, putting users' data and privacy at risk. BBC News reports that the majority of hacking was undertaken using C# or Visual Basic, but the research confirmed mistakes were often made.
In fact, errors in coding led AVG to tracking down the source of one malicious program and found it to belong to an 11-year-old in Canada. Now, the firm and industry experts are calling for more to be done in educating people of all ages in why this cannot continue.
"As more schools are educating people for programing in this early stage, before they are adults and understand the impact of what they're doing, this will continue to grow," Yuval Ben-Itzhak, chief technology officer at AVG, told the news provider.
One example shows how youngsters playing Runescape were offered the chance to win free virtual currency, but were instead tricked into running a dangerous program. Key information was taken from each user and sent to the hacker.
Mr Ben-Itzhak told the news provider that this is where the code was likely to have been written by somebody just starting out and not a professional. "When the researchers looked at the source code we found interesting information," he noted.
"We found that the malware was trying to steal the data from people and send it to a specific email address. The malware author included in that code the exact email address and password and additional information - more experienced hackers would never put these type of details in malware."
Of course, nobody would condone the actions of those hacking, but after criticism of how the UK schools system is failing youngsters looking for a career in technology, a lot can be learned. This includes how advanced children are in coding - even from a young age - and how crucial education is in teaching right from wrong, while channeling this knowledge into something productive.
Or is it more likely to be dangerous?