Dr Gareth Owenson, CTO and Co-Founder of Searchlight Security

We were proud to sponsor and speak at the National Child Protection Task Force (NCPTF)’s annual conference, which took place in the last week of June.

The NCPTF is a not-for-profit organization that was created to provide law enforcement in the U.S. with every means possible to investigate and prosecute human trafficking, child exploitation and missing persons cases.

One of the biggest challenges for law enforcement working on these cases is how to tackle criminals that are operating anonymously on the dark web. 

Child Exploitation on Tor

Tor, a privacy network and free browser software, is one of the best known dark webs (others include the Invisible Internet Project (I2P), Zeronet, Freenet). It works by encrypting internet traffic and then directing it through thousands of relays around the world, which is known as onion routing. This, in theory, allows a user to browse the web anonymously. Tor also allows users to host sites that are inaccessible through standard web browsers, known as hidden services or onions.

You can read more about how Tor works in our previous blog.

While the not-for-profit organization that manages Tor - The Tor Project - cites privacy and human rights as the key motivations behind its services, anonymity always attracts a criminal element. Worthy causes - such as providing safe forums for communication under repressive regimes, or facilitating whistleblowers with anonymity to avoid persecution - sadly account for a very small proportion of the search traffic on Tor. Meanwhile, it is our estimate that 65 percent of searches are for illicit criminal activity. 

Child exploitation alone accounts for a horrifying 42.5 percent of searches on Tor. Not only does this dwarf “good” uses, it also surpasses all other - often more publicized - criminal uses of Tor, such as the sale of drugs, arms, and hacking tools. Child abuse forums receive tens of thousands of posts a day.

Tackling Child Exploitation on the Dark Web

The anonymity of Tor has historically made it incredibly difficult for law enforcement to identify the individuals who post on these sites, investigate them, and collect the evidence they need to bring them to justice. 

Dark web intelligence gives law enforcement the means to change this status quo. It allows law enforcement to gain a greater understanding of the scale of the problem, so they can allocate resources accordingly. It is also a means of investigation that allows law enforcement to gather evidence on actors, marketplaces, aliases and pseudonyms, create a case, and bring them to justice.

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to find out more about how our dark web investigation platform Cerberus is helping law enforcement shine a light on criminal activity in the dark web, or book a demo now.