Our Heads in the Sand

In class, we’ve heard about the ‘bad things’ people are doing to computer networks with malware, viruses and other cyber-attacks in the news.  These attacks make national news because some hacker stole millions of customer records that may contain private data.

You have no idea what monsters lurk among us.  This elusive monster is the child sexual predator.  Their arrest for possession or distribution of child pornography rarely makes national news.  We pretend it’s a small problem committed by statistical outliers when the local news reports their arrest.

How can these monsters lurk about and victimize children?  Think about these tools used for depraved purposes; Cellphones, laptops, the Tor Network and the Dark web.  It’s everything these animals need to distribute their images.  Technology, Globalization, encryption and the Dark Web have enabled these monsters to thrive; a child predator can encrypt and post images of victims around the world in seconds using peer-to-peer networks.  Thanks Tor – you keep telling us how important encryption is and how no one should be able to discover what your sending across the internet.

According to the Tor Project website on a page describing how users use Tor;

  • They protect their children online.You’ve told your kids they shouldn’t share personally identifying information online, but they may be sharing their location simply by not concealing their IP address. Increasingly, IP addresses can be literally mapped to a city or even street location, and can reveal other information about how you are connecting to the Internet. In the United States, the government is pushing to make this mapping increasingly precise.

I didn’t see one sentence about combating the pedophilia scourge.  Let’s just pretend that Tor hasn’t been responsible for literally millions of exploited images being transmitted globally as academics and others hail Tor’s success because they allow oppressed people to get the word out about brutal dictatorships.  How often does that happen?

In a posting to the agency’s website titled “The Scourge of Child Pornography,” the FBI states many of the people who engage in the production and distribution of child pornography come from all walks of life and most don’t even have a criminal history.   Many of the crimes are carried out on the “dark web,” using Tor – a browser which allows users to remain anonymous.

Among the eye-opening statistics shared, a Department of Justice 2016 report shows one website on the Dark Web hosted 1.3 million images depicting children subjected to violent sexual abuse.

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. Below is a glimpse of the enormity of the problem (compiled in a 2016 report to Congress by the Department of Justice called The National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction:

  • The FBI’s analysis of one particularly egregious website on Tor found that it hosted approximately 1.3 million images depicting children subjected to violent sexual abuse. Analysis of these specific files identified at least 73 new victims previously unknown to law enforcement.
  • NCMEC estimated that more than 26 million sexual abuse images and videos were reviewed by their analysts in 2015. Additionally, NCMEC reported that since 2002, more than 10,500 victims depicted in child pornography have been located and identified by law enforcement. According to NCMEC, 4.4 million CyberTipline reports were submitted in 2015.
  • Between 2011 and 2014, researchers from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst looked at five of the most common peer to peer (P2P) networks used to trade child pornography. They estimated that three in 10,000 Internet users on these five P2P networks worldwide were sharing known child pornography in a given month. They also estimated there were 840,000 worldwide unique installations per month of P2P programs sharing child pornography, thus indicating a significant volume of new devices trading confirmed child pornography that connected to at least one of the P2P networks analyzed for the first time.
  • An FBI investigation of a single website hosted on Tor had approximately 200,000 registered users and 100,000 individuals had accessed the site during a 12-day period.

These monsters lurk locally.  In a recent press release issued by The Chester County District Attorney Office, District Attorney Thomas Hogan discussed his Office’s resources and statistics;  the Chester County District Attorney’s Office maintains a Computer Forensics Unit (the “CFU”) to deal with digital evidence.  The CFU was created in 2003.  The CFU processes electronic devices for all 46 police agencies in Chester County, and handles all electronic evidence for the District Attorney’s Office.  From 19 jobs handled in 2003 through 331 jobs in 2017, the CFU has dealt with an ever-expanding case load.

Chester County District Attorney Hogan stated, “Computer forensics is a growing and vital field for law enforcement.  Whether we are investigating drug dealing, child pornography, white collar fraud, or violent crimes, the ability to retrieve and interpret electronic data is crucial.  We are lucky to have such resources available in Chester County.”

The CFU is housed in a special computer forensics lab in the Chester County Justice Center.  Such a lab requires sophisticated computer hardware and software, electronic storage capacity, and a climate-controlled environment.  The Chester County Commissioners authorized the construction of the new lab in 2014.

The explosive growth in the field of computer forensics can be seen in the total number of jobs and devices handled by the CFU every year.  A job is considered a single case, which may include multiple devices to be examined.  For instance, one child pornography investigation will be shown as one “job,” but may involve the examination of three computers and four phones, meaning one job with seven devices.  The following charts show the tremendous increase in work done by the CFU in criminal cases:

Sources:

Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan Press Release dated March 1, 2018, “Computer Forensic Investigations Explode for Chester County Law Enforcement.”

https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/the-scourge-of-child-pornography

https://www.justice.gov/psc/national-strategy-child-exploitation-prevention-and-interdiction

https://www.torproject.org/projects/torbrowser.html.en

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