Europe’s crime fighting agency has warned that paedophiles are increasingly using new and sophisticated techniques to target vulnerable children online.
Taking advantage of dark web technology, a younger generation of cyber-savvy child sex offenders are changing their behaviour in a bid to better avoid detection, using encrypted messaging services to share images of abuse, and crypto currencies such as bitcoin to pay for livestreams of child sex shows online, according to Europol.
Increasingly aware of the threat of being detected, offenders are using IP anonymisers, wiping software that can destroy evidence on hard drives, and virtualisation and cloud storage systems, along with encrypted messaging platforms.
In its recent cyber crime report, the European police force said these methods are becoming the norm, and that predators are contacting children on forums, social networks and gaming sites, before encouraging them to communicate on encrypted messaging services, where they are better able to groom their victims without fear of being caught.
Europol highlights a rise in the livestreaming of tailored child sexual abuse shows on encrypted messaging platforms, which cannot be accessed by internet service providers. These shows take place at prearranged times, and are often broadcast from poor countries in South East Asia such as the Philippines, where weak child protection laws allow organisers to act with near impunity.
Evidence suggests these types of live child sex shows encourage offenders to travel to the countries they are broadcast from in the hope of carrying out abuse themselves. Conversely, offenders who travel to commit actual abuse in these countries have been known to pay for the livestreaming of child sex shows when they return home.
This type of offending is becoming more popular as it leaves less evidence than more traditional forms of online child abuse, Europol said.
Going forward, the agency forecasts that the growing ownership of connected devices among children and young people, coupled with further advances in encryption techniques, will make it easier still for paedophiles to access and groom children online unless law enforcement agencies are given new powers to counter paedophiles’ use of anonymous networks.
Europol’s report was published just weeks after UK children’s charity the NSPCC warned that the internet can be a “playground for paedophiles”, and days before Police Scotland revealed it had recorded a three-fold increase in online child sexual abuse since 2010, which it put down to paedophiles increasingly using social media and smartphones.
“Most of us talk to people online and it’s a great way to stay connected and make new friends,” NSPCC CEO Peter Wanless said in a statement. “But it can be a playground for paedophiles, exposing young people to groomers who trawl social networks and online game forums exploiting any vulnerabilities they may find.”