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Whatsapp Child Porn Ring Taken Down

Dozens of arrests leads to the end of a child exploitation network on the popular IM service.

A total of 39 suspects from Europe and South America have been apprehended in connection with a child porn sharing network on the popular messaging app Whatsapp. This follows an investigation into the dark web by Spanish police last year, which lead to a combined effort to shut it down by the Spanish authorities, Europol, and Interpol. In total, five European countries and 13 South- and Central American countries were involved in the takedown, which is being called Operation Tantalio.

The initial investigation uncovered websites on the dark web which linked to private whatsapp groups. The investigators then confirmed that these groups were indeed sharing illegal images. During the arrests, house searches uncovered hundreds of devices containing terabytes of child pornography, said Europol. Spanish police have added that the seizures include over 360,000 files.

Access to the Whatsapp groups was made by invitation only, from websites that can only be reached by TOR protocol. TOR, or ‘Onion Routing’ is a free network of relays around the world which bounce your signal around and thus mask your location online. It can be used for legitimate purposes and is often used to access the internet in parts of the world with severe restrictions to freedom of information or freedom of press. However, it is also a haven for criminal activity, including drugs trade and child porn, since it is more difficult to track TOR users. Currently, police are investigating a total of 25 Whatsapp groups.

TOR works by bouncing the signal through several encrypted relays, making it difficult to connect it with the client it’s originating from

“These offenders are pushing the boundaries of modern technologies to try to avoid being caught by law enforcement,” said Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol. “This case is an excellent example of global law enforcement cooperation, led by the Spanish National Police. We need to continue to combine our joint resources and skills to tackle this threat to our children and bring these offenders to justice.”

The police action goes beyond simply removing child porn from the web. The seized files will be added to Interpol’s  International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) database, which catalogs the material and tries to find links between victims, abusers and locations by “analyzing the digital, visual and audio content”. Currently, the seized files are being analyzed in the hopes of identifying the victims and rescuing them from the harmful situation they’re in.

“Criminals will continue to exploit new technologies to share videos and images of child abuse around the world at the push of a button. But actions like Operation Tantalio send a strong message: police worldwide remain united in their efforts to identify, locate and bring you to justice for engaging in or benefiting from these heinous crimes,” said Bjorn Sellstrom, Interpol’s Crimes Against Children operations coordinator.

source: Europol

David F.
A grad student in experimental physics, David is fascinated by science, space and technology. When not buried in lecture books, he enjoys movies, gaming and mountainbiking

One thought on “Whatsapp Child Porn Ring Taken Down

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