As you have seen in the previous topic, the rise in internet users has an impact on the rise in cases of OCSE. But what is the technological side that makes it possible for child sex offenders to exploit children online, and how does it impact the investigations of these crimes?
In this section you will find a brief explanation of the main technical terms on internet use which are connected to online sexual exploitation of children which will answer these questions and provide a better understanding on the issue.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
As the name implies, an Internet Service Provider is the company which provides your access to the internet. Your ICT device cannot connect to the internet without first being connected to an ISP. The ISP serves as a gateway which allows the local network to access the internet, and ensures that all the information which travels on the web is directed to the right location by using the IP address of the ICT device.
IP (Internet Protocol) Address
An IP provides a device’s specific address in the form of numbers and dots, and allows online information to reach the right destination.
An example of what an IP address looks like: 157.123.12.09
Similar to your home address, each set of numbers refers to a different aspect of the device’s location; the first set will refer to the country and regional network, the following numbers to the subnetwork of the device and the address of the device. In this way devices communicate with each other and the data which is sent online will not get lost.
Since an IP reveals the location of the device which the information was sent from, it serves as valuable information for law enforcement during investigations of OCSE. For instance, an IP of a device can help locate the offender by determining the address from where CSAM was distributed. However, there are many ways of disguising IP addresses which makes it harder to identify and locate, all which provide challenges for law enforcement in the investigations of OCSE.
Watch this video by George to learn more about IP Address
Peer-2-Peer (P2P) Networks:
P2P networks enable direct communication and file sharing between two or more ICTs without requiring a separate server for the operation. With P2P networks, devices need to be set in such a way that users allow sharing of information between one device to another and give them permission to have access to it (for instance between a computer and a printer, or accessing a file and downloading it even if it is located with a different user).
P2P networks are commonly used by child sex offenders for the distribution and possession of CSAM, however advances in technology and encryption methods are showing a shift from offender’s use of P2P networks to other platforms for sharing CSAM such as through forums on the Dark web.
Watch this video by Lisk Academy to learn more about P2P Networks
Activities done online leave digital traces which can be identified if monitored. This information is known as metadata which exposes more details related to the context of the information which was collected. For instance, if a photo is taken on a smartphone, the photo will not only contain the image itself, but it can also reveal when and where it was taken, as well as the device used to take it and more. This way, even if some online information will be protected by passwords, some metadata might still be able to be identified and provide an insight to learn more about the user. However, the use of different encryption strategies enables a person to hide their metadata and make it more difficult to monitor.
Encryption is one of the most common and useful strategies used to ensure the safety of our private information when we communicate online. It is a way of transforming and disguising the information through programmed software so the information we send will only be seen by the intended recipient. Almost all of the main communication platforms will use encryption methods and it allows your messages, emails, and your private information to be seen by the right people.
Despite the obvious benefits of protecting our online information and making us less vulnerable to attacks on our privacy, the use of encryption methods is also taken advantage of for criminal activities. Child sex offenders often use end-to-end encryption applications to communicate with their victim which prevents anyone, including Internet Service Providers to access and see their activities online.
Watch this video by ESET to learn more about Encryption and how it works
Encryption therefore serves as a major problem for law enforcement as collection of evidence of the online abuse becomes extremely difficult, particularly with live streaming sexual abuse of children. Sometimes the only thing that law enforcement is able to trace is money transfers and call times, while no evidence will remain from the actual crime that has happened.
The Onion Router – TOR
One of the ways child sex offenders conceal their identity during their online activities is by the use of The Onion Router. TOR encrypts your online connection making your online activities untraceable by hiding your metadata. Instead of sending your online information directly to its destination, it will use a dynamic route making it almost impossible to distinguish where the original data was originated.
By using TOR, online child sex offenders make it difficult for ISPs and law enforcement to detect their online activities, which enables them to continue sexually exploiting children with less fear of being caught.
Watch this video by Mashable to learn more about TOR and how it works
The Dark web
Most of the population only know the internet as the use of popular websites such as Google, YouTube, Facebook etc. However, the web contains a vast number of websites which many of them cannot be accessed via popular web browsers. These websites are designed to stay anonymous with their content intentionally concealed. This area of the web is often referred to as ‘the Dark web’ and the material there is usually accessed by TOR.
Watch this video by Kaspersky to learn more about Dark Web and how it works
The most violent and abusive forms of CSAM with younger victims will be found more often on the Dark web as it is much harder for law enforcement to trace the activities which happen there. This is opposed to CSAM found on social media and other common platforms where usually less aggressive forms of CSAM and older victims will be found.