Tag Archives: Cybercrime

Authorities Break up International Pedophile Ring That Streamed Live Child Abuse

Global operation sees 29 arrested across 14 countries

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Police in the UK, US, and Australia have dismantled an international ring of pedophiles accused of streaming live video of child abuse from the Philippines.

LONDON – Child abuse investigators in the United States, Britain and Australia have dismantled an organized crime group that live-streamed child sexual abuse to order from the Philippines.

Britain’s National Crime Agency said an international investigation broke up the ring, resulting in 29 arrests people in 12 countries who had paid to watch the abuse.

Police describe the use of webcams to stream live child abuse — especially from developing countries — as a “significant and emerging threat.”

“This investigation has identified some extremely dangerous child sexual offenders who believed paying for children to be abused to order was something they could get away with,” said Andy Baker, the deputy director of the agency’s command for child protection. “Being thousands of miles away makes no difference to their guilt. In my mind they are just as responsible for the abuse of these children as the contact abusers overseas.”

The investigation began after a routine visit to Timothy Ford, a registered sex offender in Britain. Police found a number of indecent videos on his computer and contacted child abuse investigators, touching off a global investigation beginning in 2012.

UK authorities worked with the Australian Federal Police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers as well as the International Justice Mission, a non-governmental group. Together the agencies presented their data to authorities in the Philippines to identify offenders and victims.

The investigation — codenamed Operation Endeavour — identified 733 suspects and has resulted in some convictions, including Ford, who was sentenced in March to 8 ½ years in prison. The agency said Ford paid to watch the live abuse and had planned to move to the Philippines to set up an internet cafe.
Ford and another man, Thomas Owen, had discussed traveling to the Philippines together. Ford, who uses a wheelchair, “suggested that Owen could act as his carer so they could travel to the Philippines together in an attempt to avoid detection,” police said.

Owen, who was found with nearly 4 million indecent images of children, was sentenced in July to seven years in prison.

Authorities in the Philippines issued three search warrants in 2012, and 15 children aged between 6 and 15 were rescued and placed in the custody of social welfare services.

Stephanie McCourt, of the UK’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center, which is now part of the NCA, told the BBC that pedophiles should know that the Internet is not a “safe place for them.”

“They must also not be under the mistaken impression that this is a crime which carries no guilt because it happens on the other side of the world,” she said. “It is just as bad, just as harmful as though it was happening to the children right here in the U.K.”

The arrests underscored the well-established problem of cybercrime rings victimizing children in impoverished communities.

Community support to eradicate the problem is crucial because the crime often is concealed in the privacy of homes away from the attention of authorities, said Mayor Michael Rama of Cebu city in the central Philippines, a region where some of the abuses have been reported.

“When you have some poverty, the availability of information and technology and the attraction for easy money, these abuses happen,” Rama told The Associated Press by telephone. “City hall can fight this but if the villages don’t get involved, what’s going to happen?”

Philippine police Senior Superintendent Gilbert Sosa, who heads an anti-cybercrime unit, said incidents of abuse have been monitored in Cebu, Manila and Angeles city north of the capital.

Impoverished parents allow their children to be sexually abused and watched by paying foreigners via the internet in exchange for $100 to $200, Sosa said.

“We’re continuing with our operations,” Sosa said. “We’ve not eradicated this.”

 

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Live Streaming and Pay-Per-View Child Rape

Almost half of world’s websites dealing in commercial child sexual abuse material have their servers located in US

Live Streaming Child Abuse Rising Trend of Particular Concern

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.

PAUL GALLAGHER 

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”.

Effort to target sex ads hits surprising obstacle

The role state Rep. Blair Thoreson, a Fargo Republican, serves with a national conservative group has him leading an effort to block a change in federal law to allow state prosecutors to go after websites that host ads for child sex trafficking.

In this Oct. 2012 photo provided by Shared Hope International is one of the organizations billboards near Kalispell, Mt., that started going up across the country to raise awareness about the problem of child sex trafficking. A number of states attorneys general  are pressing Congress for more authority to go after websites that host ads for child sex traffickers. (AP Photo/Shared Hope International)

In this Oct. 2012 photo provided by Shared Hope International is one of the organizations billboards near Kalispell, Mt., that started going up across the country to raise awareness about the problem of child sex trafficking. A number of states attorneys general are pressing Congress for more authority to go after websites that host ads for child sex traffickers. (AP Photo/Shared Hope International)

DAVID A. LIEB

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Top law enforcement officers across the country are pushing Congress for greater authority to go after a booming online industry that hosts ads for child sex traffickers. But they are encountering opposition from an unexpected source – conservative state lawmakers who fear a government clampdown on Internet businesses.

The conflict highlights the difficulty of policing an online marketplace that has rapidly evolved under a generally hands-off approach by government.

A coalition of conservative lawmakers and businesses has drafted a model resolution that could be considered next year in state capitols from coast to coast. The document, obtained by The Associated Press, urges Congress to deny state prosecutors the enforcement power they seek over the ads- warning that it could discourage investment in new Internet services.

For state lawmakers wary of being characterized as sympathetic to sex offenders, it’s admittedly a political risk.

“Obviously, anything dealing with sexual predators or sex trafficking, we want to put an absolute stop to that,” said North Dakota state Rep. Blair Thoreson,a Republican who leads a multi-state task force opposing the request by state attorneys’ general. “But in this case, I think we can maybe find other ways to do it…”

Some attorneys general say the concerns are unfounded.

“It’s not like we’re trying to hurt free speech. We’re trying to protect children who are being sold for sex,” said Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, a Republican.

Of particular concern to state attorneys general are online classifieds, such as those hosted by Backpage.com, which advertise “adult” services for strippers and escorts with veiled references to prostitution. Investigators say that pimps offering children are using the sites, making it easier for pedophiles to buy sex.

Under pressure from attorneys general, Craigslist shut down its adult services section in 2010.

Prosecutors have brought charges against pimps, prostitutes and customers who have advertised on Backpage. But they have been precluded from pursuing the website itself because of a 1996 federal law that generally shields website operators from liability for content posted by users.

Last month, a U.S. district judge blocked a newly enacted New Jersey law against advertising sexual services by minors. Judges in Tennessee and Washington have issued similar rulings.

Frustrated by such failures, 47 state attorneys general signed a letter this summer to the leaders of the U.S. House and Senate commerce committees urging them to make a two-word tweak to the federal law to allow the prosecutions. Congress has yet to act.

When “corporations are knowingly generating revenue from what is widely or universally viewed as criminal conduct, the (federal law) should not stand as a shield for corporate revenues,” said Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat who was the lead signatory of the letter.

File – In this combination of undated file photos are, from left: Republican North Dakota state Rep. Blair Thoreson; Democratic Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, and Republican Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens. Kostner, Olens and other state attorneys general are pushing Congress for greater authority to go after websites that host ads for child sex traffickers

Elizabeth McDougall, the general counsel for Dallas-based Backpage.com, said the legal change is unnecessary. She said the company’s filtering software catches tell-tale terms for child prostitution like “schoolgirl” and “trip to the islands.” All “adult” classifieds are reviewed by employees, she said, and 400 to 700 ads a month are referred to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

If U.S. website operators were forced to shut down adult classifieds, she said, many of those ads simply would shift to websites hosted in foreign countries that might not cooperate with U.S. authorities.

“It would be an ineffective and counterproductive measure to help combat domestic minor sex trafficking,” McDougall said.

Advocates for online businesses said the legal change could force startup companies to keep track of thousands of specific state laws and could lead to government intrusion into other Internet areas.

Carl Szabo, the policy counsel at NetChoice, a trade association, outlined his concerns last month during a closed-door task force meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an association of conservative lawmakers and businesses that crafts model legislation for states. The organization carries particular sway with Republicans, who now control more than half the state legislatures.

The task force drafted a resolution for adoption by state legislators urging Congress to reject the attorneys general’s request. It could be ratified by the association’s executive board as soon as October.

Attorneys general contend that child sex trafficking is expanding through the online classified sites. They pointed to numerous ads this year, including one by a Miami pimp who marketed a 13-year-old girl with his name tattooed across her eyelids to mark her as his property. Shared Hope International, a nonprofit group that seeks to prevent sex trafficking, has tracked 232 criminal cases in 45 states involving more than 300 children who were marketed on Backpage.com since 2010.

The online sex ads often use code words, such as “young and tender,” when referring to children, Olens said.

But police posing as teenagers also have used Backpage.com as an investigative tool. Going after website operators may temporarily make it harder for pimps to market children for sex, but won’t solve the problem, said some investigators.

“When one site is shut down or no longer exists, this activity moves to another site,” said Lt. Chuck Cohen, commander of the cybercrime section of the Indiana State Police.