Nearly 900 members of a global ‘dark web’ pedophile ring sprawling Europe and the Americas have been arrested following a two-year investigation, the FBI and Europol reported after the website’s founder was handed a 30-year jail sentence.
Shedding light on the scope of the operation which is still active, the FBI revealed that in the US alone, 350 arrests were made as part of a wide-ranging investigation into Playpen – a secret website that is being referred to as possibly the biggest child pornography online dump that ever existed.
This was in May of this year.
In July, German police have uncovered an underground website for child pornography with nearly 90,000 users and arrested the suspected operator of the platform.
The “Elysium” platform, built as a forum, has existed since the end of 2016 and was only accessible via the so-called Darknet, Frankfurt public prosecutor’s office and BKA Federal Police said in a statement.
Police had arrested several users of the website, mainly in Germany and Austria, it said. Among them was the suspected operator of the platform, a 39-year-old man living in the district of Limburg-Weilburg north of Frankfurt.
The website had more than 87,000 users and was used for the worldwide exchange of child pornography and to make appointments for the sexual abuse of children, prosecutors said.
“Among the child pornographic images and video files exchanged by the members of the platform were recordings of the most serious sexual abuse of children, including toddlers and depiction of sexual violence against children,” it said.
All in Dark Web
It is used by the mafia, journalists and activists. Tens of thousands of people do trade there without knowing the identity of their partners while using a currency that does not officially exist. Thus unwritten rules had to be created to ensure the entire system does not collapse.
According to the US Department of Justice, “The expansion of the Internet has led to an explosion in the market for child pornography.”
The FBI explained that investigations into Child Pornography (CP) cases take place through the Child Exploitation Task Forces—a multi-agency partnership with federal and state law enforcement.
“Nearly 400 law enforcement partner organizations participate in these task forces,” the announcement explained. FBI intelligence analysts and subject matter experts work with the partner agencies, along with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).
In reference to the offenders, the FBI explained that “their crimes are carried out on the so-called dark web—where they can remain anonymous—and their actions are unknown to spouses, families, and associates.”
Special Agent Eric Campbell explained that the darknet made locating the CP offenders significantly more difficult. They often, as seen in many of the high-profile Operation Pacifier cases, avoided any sort of criminal record or history.
Recently, he said, the FBI examined a “particularly egregious website on Tor.
”The website hosted 1.3 million images that displayed the sexual exploitation of children. On the site, a significant number of the children, especially those featured in particularly violent imagery. The producers and consumers of child pornography operate in the shadows, and anonymous Internet networks such as Tor often allow them to carry out their illicit activities without fear of being unmasked and caught,” Special Agent Campbell said.
NCMEC estimated that their analysts reviewed 26 million sexual abuse images and videos in 2015. While that number is undeniably high, law enforcement, since 2002, located and identified more than 10,500 abused children. NCMEC additionally reported that in 2015, internet users submitted 4.4 million CyberTipline reports.
“We are aggressively confronting evolving threats online by prosecuting those who use the so-called “Dark Net” in the service of child pornography and child sex trafficking, and by seeking to work closely with the private sector to ensure that state-of-the-art encryption technology is no shield for criminal activity.”
A darknet or the Dark Web is becoming a widely used because it allows users to hide their tracks on the Internet, according to Tomáš Zaťko, the CEO of the Citadelo firm.
“This tool is important in countries with strong censorship,” Zaťko told The Slovak Spectator. “The original purpose was not to aid criminals.”
However, it is obvious that criminals have discovered it.
A darknet (or Dark Web) is formed by individual pages which can only be opened if a person knows their exact address and knows which program to use. Guessing a page name is not possible as they look like this: anonywebix6vi6gz.onion.
To open such sites users need the Tor browser originally developed by the US Army for the secure communication of its employees.
Entering a darknet is not difficult. The process can easily be found on the Internet. The user just needs to download Tor for free, find the list of websites working only through this program, and start exploring the dark corners of the Internet.
Soon a person finds that many of the published darknet websites, probably up to 80 percent, do not really work.
It is mostly because they are operated by individuals who have cancelled them for various reasons. Another possibility is that one company is running a number of sites, and when it ends, all of its sites end as well, according Polish internet security expert Marcin Koziej.
“Websites accessible through Tor come and go,” Koziej told The Slovak Spectator. “They are mostly maintained by individuals, and can easily be discontinued.”
Among those pages whose links are commonly available on the Internet, The Slovak Spectator has found, for example, a child pornography page aimed at the spanking of small children. The operator offers five albums for download, the possibility of commenting on them and discussion of the topic in a forum.
There is a freely available page of a false passport vendor promising that the customer will not only receive ID, but will also be registered in official databases and will be able to travel freely with the document.
On another page, people were offering 92-percent uncut cocaine from Peru for $75 a gram.
On the contrary, sites with crowfunding for an assassin or ordering a hacker attack did not work.
In general, dealers ask for bitcoins in exchange for goods. For example, a Walther PPK gun was available for BTC0.434.
In order to gain trust, salespeople in a darknet are much more customer-focused than their counterparts in ordinary life, British journalist Jamie Bartlett says in one of his lectures. He spent several months on a darknet, made contacts with the users, and bought marijuana in order to report on how the whole system works.
“Now, this kind of consumer-centric attitude is the reason why, when I reviewed 120,000 pieces of feedback that had been left on one of these sites over a three-month period, 95 percent of them were five out of five,” said Bartlett.
“The customer, you see, is king.”