Hackers redirect internet users to 'the most severe' images of child abuse

Internet Watch Foundation says it has received 227 of 'hijacked' sites in the last six weeks

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has released new reports of legitimate websites being hacked to host images of child abuse.

The charity has received 227 reports regarding this trend over the past six weeks, though are unable to explain the perpetrators’ motivations.

"We don't understand this entirely," said IWF chairman Sir Richard Tilt. "But some company websites have been hacked into and some of this appalling material has been placed there."

The hacks work by hosting secret folders on legitimate websites (the IWF gave one example where a furniture website had been compromised) the existence of which are unknown to the websites’ owners.

Hackers place illegal images within these folders and then direct unsuspecting internet users to them from hacked links on other sites. The administrators of the latter sites (which include those hosting legal pornography) are also unaware of what has happened.

The IWF reports the images being hosted and linked to were of “the youngest children and the most severe levels of abuse”. This would mean levels 4 to 5 on the Sentencing Guideline’s scale of child sexual abuse.

“Since identifying this trend we’ve been tracking it and feeding into police forces and our sister Hotlines abroad,” said IWF Technical Researcher Sarah Smith.

“It shows how someone, not looking for child sexual abuse images, can stumble across it. The original adult content the internet user is viewing is far removed from anything related to young people or children.

“We’ve received reports from people distressed about what they’ve seen. Our reporters have been extremely diligent in explaining exactly what happened, enabling our analysts to re-trace their steps and take action against the child sexual abuse images.”

Speaking to The Independent, security specialist Graham Cluley said: "So, who is behind this?  Could it be rival porn websites trying to damage their competitors?  Anonymous hackers with an axe to grind against the adult industry or those who consume unsavoury pictures and movies online?"

"But there's another clue I think.  My understanding is that visiting the illegal content hosted on the legitimate websites can often result in your computer becoming infected with malware."

"If that malware is of the "ransomware" variety (which typically locks your PC, and demands that you pay a fine online to regain access, often pretending to be a message from the police) then it would perhaps be a much more convincing scam if the victims had been visiting adult websites, and found themselves unexpectedly looking at child abuse images."

An example of how ransomware appears to users.

"What better way to scare someone into paying a ransom than to tell them that they have been spotted accessing child pornography?" says Cluley. "Many people who receive a message like that would be petrified of contacting the police to check if it's true, or taking the computer down to PC World to be checked over."

These tactics have proved fruitful in the past for hackers, with reports emerging from America last month of one Jay Matthew Riley who turned himself into the police after fake ransomware told him his computer had been locked by the 'FBI'.

The warning from the authorities was fake, but when police examined Riley's computer they found images of underage girls. He was charged with "3 counts of possession of child [sexual abuse imagery], 1 count of using a communication device to solicit certain offenses involving children, and 1 count of indecent liberties with a minor."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones