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NetClean Labs | 15/12/2017

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The newest trends in child sexual abuse investigations - from encryption to live-streaming

The newest trends in child sexual abuse investigations – from encryption to live-streaming

The police officers who participated in the survey which formed the NetClean 2016 Report, highlighted a number of the challenges they face whilst working on child sexual abuse cases. Encryption, anonymisation technologies, live-streaming and “deleters” are the four areas that were most frequently mentioned.

The major problem with new technology, new ways of viewing abuse material and offenders being able to efficiently hide what they have been viewing is resources. In the report we asked Björn Sellström, from the Child Sexual Abuse Group at the Swedish Police (now at Interpol), to share his experiences and thoughts of these challenges. This is what he told us:

Encryption and anonymisation technologies are among the major challenges in combatting the spread of child sexual abuse material and child sexual abuse. When technologies first enter the market, they are expensive and inaccessible, later they become cheap and readily available. That is where we are now, and as a result we see an increase in the use of both encryption and anonymisation technologies.

Encryption requires a tremendous amount of work
Encryption means that we cannot access the material, unless we manage to seize it before it is encrypted. Before encryption, we could show up and just pick up all devices, today we need to seize the material while the suspect is online. That requires a completely different kind of planning and operations, with many more people involved. Sometimes we can also access or break passwords, which is something that we have achieved a number of times, however, it requires a tremendous amount of work.

TOR does not just hide crime
TOR is a concern for law enforcement in several ways. The most important question we need to ask ourselves is: do we really want to find the answer to uncovering people on TOR? The reasonable answer to that, as far as I am concerned, is no. The consequences of breaking TOR would only be the creation of a new TOR.  Anonymisation is not just about crime, there must be a space for anonymity online for whistle-blowers or people fighting for democratic rights around the world. If we managed to break TOR in Sweden, so could North Korea, Syria or Iran. The solution is not to break TOR, but to actually police TOR.

Live-streaming is probably bigger than we know
As for live-streaming it is impossible to say whether it is increasing or not. Most likely, the problem is much bigger than we know. What we can say, is that the Philippines is seeing an increase in children being bought and used for live-streaming purposes, which probably means that the problem is increasing. It is important to add that even if the Philippines has been, and still is the primary market for this type of child exploitation, (where there is poverty and children there is a breeding ground for child sexual exploitation) it is not only happening there. We have similar cases with Swedish children, where both the perpetrator and the person ordering the abuse are Swedes. The difference is that those cases do not include a commercial element.

Deleted material is difficult to quantify
It is equally difficult to say how common the trend with “deleters” is. If people just look at the material and then delete it, we will normally not know about it. Those cases mainly come in through excess information, when we seize a computer for another reason. Therefore, the problem could be much larger than we know. However, my experience is that most of the offenders collects large amounts of material, so much they will never have the time to look at it all.