Dark net used by paedophiles for trading images reveals BBC investigation
The “dark net” is being used by thousands of paedophiles to anonymously trade images of sexual abuse, according to a BBC investigation.
The term dark net is used to describe a “private network where connections are made between trusted peers using non-standard protocols”. The system is very hard to access without special software and often is associated with secret political communications and illegal activities.
The inquiry revealed paedophiles use special encryption software to maintain their anonymity. One of the most popular of which is Tor, aka the Onion Router – first developed by the US military – that makes a PC’s net address untraceable.
This software is often used by pro-democracy campaigners, whistleblowers and journalists working undercover. It encrypts data in multiple layers like an onion and each layer peels off before the data reaches its final destination. Experts consider in many cases Tor has helped users defend against identity theft and stalking.
However, in dirty hands it changes colour. It was found child abusers extensively used Tor in order to access chat rooms to circulate and share illegal images.
During the BBC investigation the undercover officers posed as paedophiles, to tempt the abusers to reveal their identity. The investigators contacted an active paedophile running an illegal chat room, who disclosed being the owner of the site and having used “untraceable email and encrypted messages” that helped lurk his identity.
He further admitted having a “personal collection of 12 gigabytes and over 40,000 user accounts on the site and sometimes 500 page views per second, until the site shut-down in May 2014”.
In October last year one of the dark net websites Silk Road – notorious for selling firearms, illegal drugs and providing tips to hack computers and ATMs – was taken offline and its owner arrested by the FBI.
The research showed 20 per cent of abusers were from the UK. In several postings they referred to have arranged meetings and divided themselves in four regions: South West, South East, North East and London.
Gregg Virgin, at Redjack, a software company that is up against child abuse, told BBC: “Using complex algorithms one can mine dark net chat rooms for data. The typical law enforcement approaches to finding out what computers are being used are no longer available. But by analysing the traffic on one particular site, enables to find out much more about its users.”
Last year, David Cameron held a summit on online security and urged spy agencies and Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) to co-operate with the police to catch the abusers.
Mr Cameron said: “That expertise is going to be brought to bear, to go after these revolting people sharing these images on the dark net.”