• United States



How child predators cover their tracks online

Mar 26, 20123 mins
CybercrimeData and Information SecurityPrivacy

As the father of two children below the age of 12, I’m sickened by what I’ve read in the Internet Watch Foundation’s (IWF) 2011 Annual Report. The report, released this morning, details how pedophiles are successfully hiding the evil they do online.

From the summary of the report posted on the IWF site:

Criminals are ‘disguising’ websites to appear as if they host only legal content. However, if an internet user follows a predetermined digital path which leads them to the website, they will see images and videos of children being sexually abused. This trend has been identified by analysts at the IWF who are experts at tracking and tracing child sexual abuse content. During 2011 this technique was seen nearly 600 times.

Chief Executive Susie Hargreaves said: “We received reports to our Hotline by online users who have stumbled across these sites. They pose challenges because when the website is accessed directly, only legal content appears. However, the reports we receive by the public can be quite detailed and these reporters were sure of what they had seen. Our analysts investigated further and discovered a legitimate web development technique was being used to disguise the website from all those who had not followed a particular digital path to access it. Clearly, ordinary online users had still found this content and we’ve been working with analysts in our sister Hotlines and with our Members to tackle this issue.”

This legitimate web development technique is commonly used, for example, on shopping websites. There are several reasons why this method is used. Firstly, it masks the criminal website from those who have not followed the correct digital path. Secondly, it means that a commercial child sexual abuse business may be able to acquire legitimate business services if the website appears to host legal content when accessed directly – essentially tricking companies into providing their services for what is actually a criminal enterprise.

Sophos senior technology consultant Graham Cluley wrote about the report in the vendor’s popular “Naked Security” blog, saying, “From time to time SophosLabs encounters website content and images in spam which are extremely disturbing, and where appropriate we report these to the IWF.”

Cluley threw in this quote from Mark Harris, VP of SophosLabs and Global Engineering Operations at Sophos: “It’s vitally important to invest in combating the inventiveness of child abusers. We intercept new methods of distributing images of abuse all too often, and we’re committed to reporting all instances to the authorities that identify perpetrators and rescue victims.”

I’ve seen how child predators use the Internet to feed their cravings. A guy I went to school with surfaced on Facebook a couple years ago. He friended me and it didn’t take long to see that he was friending a lot of young girls from around the world, telling them how pretty they were and encouraging them to contact him offline. These were 13-14-15 and 16-year-old girls.

He was ultimately reported to Facebook and removed from the social networking site. It turned out he was a thrice-convicted pedophile.

That and the IWF report just goes to show that we can never be too vigilant in protecting our children online.