Technological development means positive change
In the NetClean 2017 report we found that the use of anonymization technologies, encryption and cloud storage are increasingly being used to share online child sexual abuse material. Cloud storage was especially mentioned as an increasing trend. Of the surveyed, many pointed to advances in technology and the fact that information about hiding material in the cloud is readily available.
Analysing trends of criminal use of technology is difficult, however it is important to also view it in a different light and realise that technology is advancing detection and collaboration, which aids us in fighting this crime. Arnold Guerin elaborates below.
Arnold Guerin is a Sergeant at RCMP’ s Canadian Police Centre for Missing and Exploited Children/Behavioural Sciences Branch (CPCMEC/BSB).
By Arnold Guerin
It is hard to say whether the use of encryption, TOR, VPN and cloud storage is increasing, but it is something that we see in our investigations. TOR investigations are a huge challenge, leading us to spend large amounts of time analysing films and images. We know that we cannot turn back the clock, technology will keep evolving and we are primed to address this by collecting data from the dark web. In this we are not alone. Partnerships, like the one with Thorn* who do a lot of work on darknet, are improving our work.
Reports from cloud providers
One of the reasons that cloud storage is reported as increasing in the NetClean 2017 Report, may be that we have seen an increase in alerts from cloud providers. Even the less engaged cloud storage companies are quite proactive in reporting child sexual abuse films and images. This is because they aim to protect their reputation and not be known as a place where perpetrators store child sexual abuse material. The offenders who store material in the cloud are therefore operating in an increasingly hostile environment.
Live-streaming is a challenge
Increasingly social media and mobile chat apps are being used for sextortion and live-streaming. This is clearly a proactive effort to avoid evidence on devices, as it leaves very few traces. A lot of offenders are downloading peer-to-peer material, consume it, and then delete both the material and the app. Live-streaming is not going to go away, and it is a difficult challenge to tackle.
However, we also see some positive change in social media. Children are increasingly starting to report these sorts of crimes. In addition, more children are standing up for themselves, in chat logs for example, threatening to report perpetrators who contact them. Social media platforms are also starting to take the issue more seriously, and we are seeing good collaboration between law enforcement and some of these companies.
There is also a lot of positive development in technology. Moving intelligence applications into the cloud, i.e. collecting data in one national database, like CAID** in the UK, is going to make a big difference in Canada. Technology companies working together to integrate their tools is saving law enforcement a lot of time. There are major projects in the pipeline on machine learning, classifiers for child sexual exploitation material and chat sextortion that are going to assist us. With Project VIC Global Alerts***, USA, Canada and Australia will be joining forces with automatic sharing of hashes between countries. That will be a game changer.
* Thorn is a US based NGO that works to stop child sexual abuse and so called “child trafficking” through lobbying and development of technology.
** CAID (Child Abuse Image Database) is a UK Government initiative that stores all child sexual abuse material seized by law enforcement in the UK. CAID ensures that police can work more efficiently and has introduced new ways for police to identify children.
*** Project VIC Global Alerts is a new system that enables police officers connected to Project VIC to collaborate. The Alert system automatically notifies investigators if critical information is linked to several investigations, bringing the investigators together for further collaboration.