Paedophiles use hidden 'dark net' websites to trade sexual abuse images

Abusers use special software to access hidden areas of the internet

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The Independent Tech

Tens of thousands of paedophiles are using hidden parts of the internet to trade and watch images of children being sexually abused, it has been revealed.

The so-called “dark net” - parts of the internet which are difficult to access without special software - is being exploited by paedophiles, BBC News reported on Thursday. 

A man, who ran a website used by paedophiles to swap sexual abuse images before closing it in May, told the broadcaster that some 500 of the sites 40,000 users be logged on at the same time.

“My own collection is 12 gigabytes,“ he wrote using untraceable emails and messages, and said the site's number of users was growing before he closed it.

He alleged what while there are “certainly more paedophiles come to the dark net,” he did not know if they were “brand new paedophiles” or people who wanted to avoid swapping images on the mainstream internet for fear of being caught.

His identity was safe because his “security set-up […] is designed with many layers to keep me safe from even the most capable adversaries in the world."

Greg Virgin, the owner of a software company who helps human rights group International Justice Missions, told the broadcaster that by analysing the traffic to a similar websites using complex algorithms, he can gather basic information about users.

One site had 10,000 users, with 2,000 of those people abusing children to produce content, he claimed. 20 per cent of the accounts were from the UK, he believed.

Some posts referred to meetings in the UK, with areas divided up into geographical regions.

The revelation comes as the National Crime Agency warned in a 2014 report that abusers were taking advantage of encryption technology and anonymous sites.

One such piece of software is called the TorBrowser, which uses an “onion-routing” system to make a PC’s IP address untraceable.

The programme is then used to access websites listed under the ‘.onion’ suffix which elude Google and other mainstream search engines.

While police forces from several countries have grouped together under the guise of The Virutal Global Taskforce to combat online child abuse,  IT experts like Mr Virgin are undecided as to whether it is possible to break into Tor and identify its users.

The body’s chairman, Ian Quinn, told the broadcaster that the task is “certainly a challenge”

“I'm hesitant to describe law enforcement techniques but it's something we're definitely keeping an eye on,” he added.

When asked if paedophiles were indeed moving from the conventional internet to the dark net, he replied: "I think you have to suppose that's the case, based on the investigations that we do."