Child Pornography Web Sites: Techniques Used to Evade Law Enforcement
Luders, Wade, The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Illegal child pornography on the Internet is a huge industry. Recent studies estimate the number of child pornography Web sites at over 100,000, (1) capable of bringing in more than $3 billion annually. (2) While child pornography is predominantly illegal worldwide, many savvy pornographers make their content available to the Internet community, lacking fear of capture by law enforcement for several reasons.
First, child pornography Web sites often are so complex that efforts to identify the administrators become tedious and time consuming. Frequently, by the time investigators have taken the appropriate legal steps to track administrators, the suspect sites have moved from one place to another on the Internet. (3) Such movement hinders law enforcement efforts because locating Web sites a second time in the vast, virtual world of the Internet proves difficult. And, if they can locate it again, the legal process usually must start over.
Second, Web site administrators use methods to make their sites appear as though they are hosted overseas when, in fact, they are not. This technique often results in investigators ignoring these sites and searching for others they more easily can locate in their own country.
Finally, the manner in which people pay for child pornography Web site memberships often involves stolen credit cards, identity theft, and online financial transactions. Tracking these payment methods involves complex paper trails, spin-off investigations, and tedious legal processes that bog down and divert investigators' attention from the primary focus of the child pornography investigation. Armed with information about the technology and various techniques that child pornography Web site administrators use, investigators can better prepare to combat this international problem that targets the most precious and defenseless victims--children.
Each Internet user and Web site is identified by an Internet protocol (IP) address, such as 126.96.36.199, which is one of the IP addresses for the FBI's Web site. (4) Readable text, or a domain name, often is displayed in lieu of this string of numbers for convenience and ease of Internet users. Since the beginning of cybercrime, law enforcement agencies have relied on this unique identifier to locate, and eventually prosecute, cybercriminals.
Clever pornographers, as well as anyone else wishing to conceal their online identity, use proxy servers to mask their true IP address on the Internet. A proxy server allows one computer on the Internet to act for another one or, in some cases, many others. Essentially, the proxy server shares its identifying IP address and allows other users to access the Internet through it. Therefore, any online act committed by someone using a proxy server appears as though the proxy server executed it. For investigators, this merely adds another step, usually in the form of an additional legal process, to obtain the true IP address of the end user. Whether investigators even can acquire it depends on if the proxy server keeps accurate logging information and if the proxy server's host will make the address available.
Online users who do not want anyone to trace them use an anonymous proxy server. Similarly, the proxy masks the IP address of potential offenders; however, no logs or other identifying information are kept. Therefore, they will not assist law enforcement agencies in determining the true identity of the original user.
Anonymous proxy servers are easy to use, and many are free, requiring no registration or identifying information from the end user. Also, many are located in other countries. While a typical proxy server may be available one day and offline the next, Web site administrators easily can locate another one to use.
Like all Web sites, child pornography sites must be hosted somewhere for Internet users to access. …