CRIME

Where Child Porn Lives Online

A new report says most of it comes from image hosting sites

CRIME
Apr 22, 2016 at 10:57 AM ET

Child pornography is increasingly being hidden away on image hosting sites and the dark web—and most of it is based in North America. That’s according to a new report from the U.K.-based Internet Watch Foundation, which investigates and fields reports of suspected child porn online. It offers a rare glimpse into how this shadowy domain actually works.

The IWF, a non-profit largely funded by the European Union and online companies, including internet service providers, social networks and trade organizations, runs a hotline for reports of suspected child porn and employs analysts that seek this stuff out. They then notify law enforcement and, at least for content hosted in the U.K., issue takedown requests.

More DARK NET: Your Brother Is A Pedophile — What Do You Do?

This all results in a large amount of data on how child porn works. Most of it—57 percent—is hosted in North America, according to the report. Europe is close behind, accounting for 41 percent of this content. Less than 1 percent of it comes from Australia, South America, Africa or is hidden such that the actual source can’t be determined. These numbers describe where the data is actually hosted on physical servers—not necessarily where the images were created.

By far, most of it shows up on image hosting sites, which let users freely upload content. In 2015, the organization found 53,218 child porn URLs on image hosting sites. Compare that to the 6,965 found in the next biggest category: cyberlockers, which are file hosting services that are typically password protected. Next up were banner websites, which host ads for different sites, then regular old websites and image boards, which are image-based forums. Then there were social networking sites, web archives, meaning versions of websites that are no longer live, and redirectors, which forward visitors from one URL to a different one, with under 1,000 cases each.

The report appears at first to also document a stunning rise in online child porn. It details a 417 percent increase in reports of images of minor sexual abuse since 2013, although those are just cases of suspected child porn. Last year, they saw 68,092 cases of confirmed child porn online, a 118 percent increase from 2014. But it’s important to note that both of these figures are likely dramatically buoyed by the fact that 2015 was the first year the group began actively looking for images, rather than just passively taking tips.

More DARK NET: The “Virtuous” Online Pedophile Forums

Of course, that might also play a role in the rise of more than 33,000 child porn cases seen on image hosting sites in 2015. Same goes for the 55 percent uptick in cases of child porn found on the dark web: They found just 51 websites hosting child porn within proxy networks in 2014, compared to 79 in 2015. (That’s still a very small number of cases, but they note that these are especially hard to investigate and that many of these sites regularly change their web addresses.)

So, it’s not a perfect measure of child porn trends over time—but the latest numbers do at least give a sense for where child porn thrives online.