International operation dismantled largest Dark Web Child abuse site

The United States Department of Justice announced the arrest of hundreds of criminals as part of a global operation against a dark web child abuse community.

The US Department of Justice announced the arrest of hundreds of criminals as part of a global operation conducted against the crime community operating the largest dark web child porn site, ‘Welcome to Video’.

The operation involved law enforcement agencies from several countries, including the IRS-CI, the US Homeland Security Investigations, the NCA, the Korean National Police of the Republic of Korea, and German Federal Criminal Police (the Bundeskriminalamt), 

Officials have arrested the administrator of the site, Jong Woo Son of South Korea (23), along with 337 suspects in 38 countries that have been charged for allegedly being users of the site.

Two former federal law enforcement officials were allegedly involved in the child porn site, Paul Casey Whipple and Richard Nikolai Gratkowski.

The US authorities issued a warrant for Son’s arrest on February 2018, and South Korean police arrested the man on March 5, 2018, and seized the server used to operate Welcome To Video.

According to the indictment, the ‘Welcome to Video’ child abuse site was launched in June 2015 and operated until March 2018. The site received at least 420 BTC in three years through at least 7300 transactions.

Experts from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) are currently analyzing over 250,000 unique videos hosted on the website, 45 percent of them contain new images that have not been previously known to exist.

“According to the indictment, on March 5, 2018, agents from the IRS-CI, HSI, National Crime Agency in the United Kingdom, and Korean National Police in South Korea arrested Son and seized the server that he used to operate a Darknet market that exclusively advertised child sexual exploitation videos available for download by members of the site.” reads a press release published by the DoJ.  “The operation resulted in the seizure of approximately eight terabytes of child sexual exploitation videos, which is one of the largest seizures of its kind.”

The great news is that the operation allowed to rescue tens of children living in the United States, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

According to the indictment, the law enforcement experts discovered the Child abuse website was hosted on the IP address and that was registered by a provider in South Korea and were registered with an account serviced at the defiant’s home.

Experts also identified more than one million unique bitcoin addresses that were used to receive payments from the users of the website. Two users of the Darknet market committed suicide subsequent to the execution of search warrants.

“Welcome To Video offered these videos for sale using the cryptocurrency bitcoin.  Typically, sites of this kind give users a forum to trade in these depictions.  This Darknet website is among the first of its kind to monetize child exploitation videos using bitcoin.  In fact, the site itself boasted over one million downloads of child exploitation videos by users.  Each user received a unique bitcoin address when the user created an account on the website.” continues the press release. “An analysis of the server revealed that the website had more than one million bitcoin addresses, signifying that the website had capacity for at least one million users.”

Though Son is currently serving an 18-month sentence in South Korea, a federal grand jury in Washington DC unsealed a 9-count indictment against him just yesterday, with the U.S. authorities seeking his extradition to face justice.

“Darknet sites that profit from the sexual exploitation of children are among the most vile and reprehensible forms of criminal behavior,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “This Administration will not allow child predators to use lawless online spaces as a shield. Today’s announcement demonstrates that the Department of Justice remains firmly committed to working closely with our partners in South Korea and around the world to rescue child victims and bring to justice the perpetrators of these abhorrent crimes.”

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – Child abuse, cybercrime)

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