Our research

We are in a unique position to carry out research on online criminal content, and in particular child sexual abuse content. The aim is to improve the effectiveness of our Hotline through providing intelligence into people’s online behaviour and use of technology. This will help us to reach our vision of eliminating online child sexual abuse images and videos.

How AI is being abused to create child sexual abuse imagery

IWF research into how artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly being used to create child sexual abuse imagery online.

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Trends in Online Child Sexual Exploitation: Examining the Distribution of Captures of Live-streamed Child Sexual Abuse

Published 15 May 2018

This Study aimed to examine characteristics of captures of live-streamed child sexual abuse in distribution online. 

IWF is in an almost unique position in being able to provide data about the volume and characteristics of captures of live-streamed child sexual abuse in distribution online, including the websites where this content is being displayed.  Due to the legal issues inherent in viewing this imagery, there is a lack of research into its online availability, the individuals depicted, the methods of production of the content or the way in which it is being distributed online.  As such, the purpose of this Study was to enhance the existing evidence-base, enabling stakeholders working in all aspects of online child protection to facilitate improved service provision. 

The questions this Study sought to address were:

  1. How do the methods of creation/distribution of captures of live-streamed child sexual abuse, the characteristics of the individuals depicted and the category of the sexual activity depicted vary in relation to the age ranges depicted?
  2. What can be learned from an examination of the characteristics of the individuals depicted and/or the distribution methods of this content which may inform strategies for disruption/intervention?

The research was conducted over a three-month period (August to October 2017) with funding support from Microsoft.

Trends in Online Child Sexual Exploitation: Examining the Distribution of Captures of Live-streamed Child Sexual Abuse (PDF 719KB)

Online-Produced Sexual Content

Published 10 March 2015

This Paper introduces the key findings of a quantitative study of youth-produced sexual content online (“the Study”).

The Study took place over a three month period between September and November 2014 and used a combination of proactively sourced content from search engines, historic IWF data and leads from public reports to locate “youth-produced sexual content” depicting “young people”.

The Study was carried out by Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) in partnership with Microsoft and was initially designed to expand upon an earlier study carried out by IWF in 2012 which provided a snapshot of the availability of self-generated sexual content featuring young people online and the extent to which control over that content is lost once it has appeared online.

Emerging Patterns and Trends Report #1 - Online Produced Sexual Content - 10 March 2015 (PDF, 750KB)

Rogue Affiliates Distribution CSAM using 'Disguised Websites'

This paper discusses in more detail the technique of distributing child sexual abuse material using “disguised websites”.  In late 2011, the IWF identified a rising trend in websites which use a referrer-based content method of distributing CSAI. Such websites present different content based on the website (or “digital pathway”) via which the visitor is coming to the site. 

During the course of 2013, the IWF increasingly saw a specific sub-network of these disguised websites providing a “digital pathway” not only to seemingly legitimate websites providing adult content but also to the most prolific commercial child sexual abuse sites identified as part of IWF’s ongoing Website Brand Project.

Briefing Paper: Rogue Affiliates Distributing CSAM using "Disguised Websites" (Public version) - April 2014 (PDF, 355KB)

Preliminary analysis into commercial child sexual abuse material distributor accepting Bitcoin payment

This paper discusses the re-emergence of hacked websites as a method for distributing commercial child sexual abuse websites. In January 2014 the IWF identified a trend whereby spam emails were used to distribute links (web addresses) to internet users. These links led to a hacked website (a legitimate business) and would further re-direct the user to commercial child sexual abuse images on a second hacked website. This commercial child sexual abuse website is unique amongst other such commercial websites identified by IWF in that it purports to accept payment only in bitcoins.

Briefing Paper: Preliminary Analysis of New Commercial CSAM Website Accepting Payment by Bitcoin  - January 2014 (328KB)

Self generated sexually explicit images & videos featuring young people online

Published November 2012

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has published a study into self-generated, sexually explicit content of young people on the internet.

It was conducted in September 2012 over 47 working hours. where the IWF's Analysts looked at the amount of content they could find which was sexually explicit, of young people which appeared to be self-generated either by themselves or someone else.

It revealed that most of the content catalogued by the analysts – in fact a whopping 88% - had been taken from its original upload source and put somewhere else. Often this would be in collections.

Study of Self-Generated Sexually Explicit Images & Videos Featuring Young People Online self gen - 2012 (PDF, 222KB)

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Our research

Research from the Internet Watch Foundation on online criminal content and in particular child sexual abuse imagery.

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