It’s a distressing subject and one that understandably most people want to turn their heads away from, but just a few days ago it was revealed that Terre des Hommes, a Swiss-based campaigning group, had snared 20,000 predators in an online honey trap.
The honey trap consisted of a video web cam with a 10-year old Filipino girl willing to perform sexual acts for a fee. The girl didn’t exist and the video web cam was designed to lure predators. Terre des Hommes wanted to highlight the issue of webcam child sex tourism and has handed the details of 1,000 people it was able to identify, to police.
Just a few weeks back the UK’s Child Exploitation Online Protection (CEOP) agency warned that this type of activity was growing with an increasing number of incidents of children being blackmailed via social networks.
In a strongly worded statement, Andy Baker, Deputy Chief Executive, CEOP, said: “These offenders are cowards. They hide behind a screen, and in many cases make hollow threats which they know they will never act on because by sharing these images will only bring the police closer to them.”
While the Internet has brought a raft of benefits, ranging from more information sharing to the opening up of previously closed areas and the ability to communicate in nano-seconds with anybody, anywhere, it has also brought in it’s a wake a shadow side that hides cybercrime on an industrial scale and predatory activity.
Predators typically start their activities by targeting children on open chat sites and social networks before moving them into more private areas where conversations become sexualised. They try and get them to send images and if they do this the offenders begin blackmailing them either for more indecent images or, in few cases, for cash. Unless the child agrees, the offender threatens to share the child’s pictures with family and friends.
Rampant and widespread
A dive into the deep web reveals just how rampant and widespread this predatory community is. The deep web is the part of the internet that can’t be accessed using normal browsers. Because IP addresses are hidden users are effectively anonymous hence its attraction for criminals and predators.
Terre des Hommes says its honey trap attracted people from 65 countries and deep web chat rooms that host paedophile communities certainly bear this out. One particularly ‘popular’ and disturbing chat room attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world.
User’s of this chat room list their preferences, whether boys or girls and age ranges too.
Based on their common interests these users then have conversations with each other. Some undoubtedly surface onto social networks an attempt to lure their prey into their subterranean world.
What’s equally disturbing is the level of technical expertise some predators possess and how they employ and share this to shade their nefarious activities. One site offers advice on the technical aspects of setting up a deep web site that hosts images for paedophiles. Intriguingly, this particular tract suggests that it’s not a good idea to use a Windows platform because deep web hackers will attack the site by exploiting known Window’s vulnerabilities.
However, what becomes quickly apparent from the musings and postings in the deep web predatory community is its size and the scale. The Terre des Hommes honey trap revealed this starkly – 20,000 people in a ten week period.
Among this deep web community you’ll also find disturbing ‘manifestos’ that justify predatory actions. There’s nothing new in this, before the Internet took off, similar perverse home-printed publications were advertised in the small ad sections of magazines, often coded. Ploughing through this information, it’s clear that remorse is not a word that has any meaning.
It’s also clear that some of these people are extremely intelligent with an understanding of technology that by far supersedes that of your average law enforcement officer tasked with hunting down predators. And by extension it becomes blindingly obvious that children need online protection from these people.
Posted by Steve Bell