The Tor network boasts an excess of 170, 000 active addresses, some of which have been identified as criminal hotbeds where child sex abuse masterminds thrive.
Law enforcement agents note that the main reason why Tor has become very popular is due to its support of the hidden services. Hidden services, also referred to as onion services, ensure that users and websites achieve anonymity by Tor.
Essentially, the IP addresses belonging to hidden services found on the Tor network are effectively concealed – all sets of information about the host, location and content of hidden websites are not identifiable.
Point to note, Tor itself is not a hidden service, but the online platforms hosted on the Tor network constitute the hidden services. Cybersecurity experts acknowledge the legitimate uses of the Tor network, but have also lifted the lid on rampant cases of illicit activities being supported by hidden services.
What’s the Evidence?
According to the 2019 Global Threat Assessment Report by the WeProtect Alliance (a global movement that combats online-facilitated child sex abuse), more than 2.88 million users are found across multiple child sex abuse forums hosted by Tor’s onion services.
Another empirical study on the Tor hidden services made shocking revelations about a thriving child sex abuse environment on the world’s most popular anonymity network. From a single data capture, the researchers reported that about 80 percent of traffic to Tor’s hidden services was headed to platforms supporting child sex abuse material and other forms of illicit porn.
The study also expressed how easy it was to identify the child sex abuse sites from the metadata, which points to the fact that the criminals behind these platforms have solid confidence in the anonymity promised by Tor.
Commercial Aspects of Child Sex Abuse Material
The difference between child sex abuse websites and other illegal platforms lies in the commercialization of content.
Dark web threat intelligence researchers have found that only 7.5 percent of child sex abuse material is commercial. This finding is reflected on the reality that a vast majority of child sex abuse criminals depend on a barter system to receive and distribute the illicit content – it involves the collection and trading of images and videos within peer-to-peer (P2P) networks.
Nonetheless, some hidden sites have managed to profit from child sex abuse material. The commercial aspect of the illicit content mimics a pay-per-view or pay-per-download service where users can pay a sum of money to download or view child sex abuse material.
Revenue can also be generated via third party affiliate platforms where child sex abuse sites can run advertisements for different clientele. In some cases, users may be redirected to third party websites with child sex abuse material when attempting to click on legitimate porn links.
Overall, the nature of Tor’s hidden services has made it difficult for law enforcement agencies to combat dark web child sex abuse successfully. Darknet users continue to benefit from Tor’s anonymity tools in evading the police radar whilst endangering the lives of children every day.