Organised criminal networks are getting away with a “disturbing” and increasing trend of pay-per-view child rape which allows the viewer to direct the assault, according to a major cybercrime report published this week by the EU’s law enforcement agency.
Almost half of the world’s websites dealing in commercial child sexual abuse material have their servers located in the United States, the investigation by Europol found.
The findings, contained in the new Strategic Assessment of the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Online, also show that the vast majority of images and videos continues to be distributed for ‘free’ on the open net, but the use of hidden online services like TOR makes it increasingly difficult for police to track down the criminals and networks behind the production and distribution of illegal material.
Perhaps the most disturbing trend in the ongoing battle against child abuse was the amount of websites now providing live streamed videos of the abuse and rape of children.
Organised criminal networks in Asia offer to rape children ‘on demand’ for people who want to view and direct the assault in real time. Europol said it faced an enormous challenge in catching the criminals as the ‘evidence’ to prove the crime is streamed and not captured anywhere.
Of the 1,138 URLs suspected of the commercial distribution of CAM (child abuse material) registered by the International Association of Internet Hotlines and sent to Europol’s cybercrime experts at its headquarters in The Hague for analysis, 516 have host servers in the US. Russia, Kazakhstan and Japan had more than 300 between them.
The UK was also one of the 18 countries featuring in the report, hosting five of the URLs with the British Virgin Islands hosting seven.
The report said that while a large number of URLs are being used for the commercial distribution of child sexual abuse material, it may be due to a small number of “extremely prolific Top Level Distributors”.
Analysis by the Internet Watch Foundation revealed that just eight TLDs were responsible for 513 commercial CAM distribution ‘brands’ in 2012, and that the 10 most prolific brands recorded last year were all associated with a single TLD.
The report estimated that people purchasing the material are able to hide from detection by using alternative payment methods, such as the digital currency BitCoin, instead of credit card or PayPal payments.
It said: “While there is insufficient information to identify BitCoin as a prominent payment method for CAM in the EU, concern has been expressed in the wider international environment that the relative anonymity afforded by the service will prove attractive to CAM distributors and purchasers.
“Digital currencies are already the dominant method of payment on Silk Road, a Tor forum which has become notorious for the retail of illicit drugs. The distribution of CAM is currently banned on Silk Road, but this does not preclude other entrepreneurial criminals replicating its business model specifically for CAM – complete with most popular digital currencies.”
Troels Oerting, Head of the European Cybercrime Centre, said: “We need to keep pace with these sophisticated criminal networks that distribute child sexual abuse material via cyberspace to child molesters all over the world, including the EU. It always surprises me how the disgusting abuse of children for sex crimes continues to develop, and that creative cyber savvy criminals now offer secure means to distribute – even live –this awful material for money to a significant global customer base.
“Law enforcement needs to focus even more on this illegal use of the Internet and engage in systematic intelligence gathering, sharing, crime prevention and investigation. We owe this to the children who are betrayed by those they should normally be able to trust – the adults.”
Europol said it would prioritise investigations into live web streaming for payment “in so far as this form of CAM distribution is directly responsible for new instances of hands on child sexual abuse”.