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NetClean Labs | 15/12/2017

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Darknet or the open web – where is child sexual abuse material shared?

Darknet or the open web – where is child sexual abuse material shared?

When asked the question ‘which methods are most commonly used to share and distribute child sexual abuse material?’ ninety per cent of the police officers who responded to the survey that formed the NetClean Report 2016, answered P2P/file sharing. File sharing was followed by darknet/TOR, social media, cloud based services and instant messaging.

However, are these results a true reflection of where child sexual abuse material is shared? As police officer Björn Sellström points out below, there is potentially a big discrepancy between where most child sexual abuse material is found, and where it is actually most frequently disseminated. 

More information is needed on how child sexual abuse material is shared
Björn Sellström, Swedish Police, National Operative Department (NOA), Swedish Cyber Crime Centre, the Child Sexual Abuse Group. He now works at INTERPOL.

There is a lack of comprehensive and well researched information on where and how the largest proportion of child sexual abuse material is distributed and shared. It would take a lot of work to find that out, but the resources used to do so, would be well invested. Looking at the situation in Sweden specifically, we don’t even have collective expertise in how social media is used for sharing child sexual abuse material, primarily because the National Operative Department (NOA) is not automatically informed of all cases around the country. Therefore, the results of the survey reflect the experiences of police officers working in child exploitation, which is not necessarily the same as the true pattern for sharing child sexual abuse images.

Based on my experience and the cases that we work with, I would say that P2P is absolutely the most common way to share child sexual abuse material. It says something about how little perpetrators know of their vulnerability – it is not hard to find people on file-sharing sites. When we find an IP address, it very rarely turns out that someone else has used the network or the proxy, the IP address usually leads us to the offender.

However, considering how easy it is to find information on how to hide your identity on the internet, my guess is that even more child sexual abuse material is actually shared on the hidden part of the internet, using anonymisation technologies.

Social media is also widely used and most importantly, has created a platform for grooming, online child sexual abuse and ordered abuse. Other than that, my gut feeling is that social media is rarely the primary method for distribution. However, I do think it is used to make contact with like-minded peers and for offenders to spread tips and information to each other.

Social media is a major challenge for law enforcement in Sweden, because the platforms are often based overseas and are regulated by different laws. Companies in Canada, for example, are not allowed to disclose information to foreign authorities, which means that we must make a legal request to get information. It is both time and resource intensive. We need better international regulation in order to tackle this type of problem.