Websites hacked to host “the worst of the worst” child sexual abuse images

05 August 2013

Businesses’ websites are being hacked and internet users are being confronted with some of the worst images of child sexual abuse, an internet charity has announced today (Monday 5 August).

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) explains how in one example, a furniture website was hacked and a folder containing hundreds of child sexual abuse images was uploaded. These images were of the youngest children and the most severe levels of abuse*.

This technique of hacking websites also means online surfers are being tricked into seeing some of the worst images of child sexual abuse.

The folder containing criminal images isn’t accessible directly from the hacked website, but from other websites containing adult content.

It works like this:

  • An internet user would be surfing adult content (website A).
  • Upon clicking an image or video on the adult site they would unknowingly be redirected to a folder containing the child sexual abuse images – which had been placed on the hacked website (website B).
  • The administrators of the adult site and the hacked site would not know this is happening – a third party has set up the‘diversion’ from one site to another and planted the folder of images.

The IWF has received 227 reports regarding this trend over the past six weeks.

IWF Technical Researcher Sarah Smith said: “We hadn’t seen significant numbers of hacked websites for around two years, and then suddenly in June we started seeing this happening more and more.

“It shows how someone, not looking for child sexual abuse images, can stumble across it. The original adult content the internet user is viewing is far removed from anything related to young people or children.

“We’ve received reports from people distressed about what they’ve seen. Our reporters have been extremely diligent in explaining exactly what happened, enabling our analysts to re-trace their steps and take action against the child sexual abuse images.

“Since identifying this trend we’ve been tracking it and feeding into police forces and our sister Hotlines abroad.”

In all cases the IWF has worked with partners to remove the folder of child sexual abuse images.

*typically children aged 0-2 years, being raped and sexually tortured (levels four and five on the Sentencing Guideline’s Council’s scale of child sexual abuse). Read more here.

Notes to editors:

Contact Emma Lowther or Kristof Claesen on +44 (0) 1223203030 or +44 (0) 7929 553679.

About the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF)
The IWF is a charity and was established in 1996 by the internet industry to provide the UK internet Hotline for the public and IT professionals to report criminal online content in a secure and confidential way. The Hotline service can be used anonymously to report content within our remit:

  • child sexual abuse images hosted anywhere in the world;
  • criminally obscene adult content hosted in the UK;
  • non-photographic child sexual abuse images hosted in the UK.

To be kept up to date with our activities throughout the year you can

The IWF is a not-for-profit self-regulatory body and is part of the UK Safer Internet Centre.

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