“Trailblazing” partnership takes aim at criminals profiting from child sexual abuse online

Published:  Wed 7 Feb 2024

Criminals running commercial child sexual abuse ‘brands’ are taking advantage of a ‘loophole’ to remain online. This new partnership aims to shut them down for good.  

  • New partnership takes aim at criminals exploiting ‘Domain Hopping’ to continue profiting from the sexual abuse of children.
  • PIR and IWF announce a new Extended Domain Name System Community Sponsorship - giving registries access to powerful tools to disrupt this practice and the distribution of child sexual abuse materials online.
  • The sponsorship will allow IWF services to be deployed far more widely, at no additional cost to Domain Name Registries.

Criminal child sexual abuse ‘brands’ are the target of a new “first-of-its-kind" partnership aiming to stop illegal sites from relying on a practice they exploit to evade detection and remain online.

Public Interest Registry (PIR), the US non-profit that operates the .ORG Top-Level Domain, and the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) have today announced a new partnership which will empower all Domain Name Registries to disrupt sites dedicated to the commercial distribution and exploitation of online child sexual abuse material. 

The new partnership includes a “trailblazing” sponsorship agreement through which PIR will sponsor other registries and registry service providers with free access to two important IWF services, Domain Alerts and the TLD (Top-Level Domain) Hopping List. 

The increased access to these services will allow for faster, more streamlined disruption to child sexual abuse imagery identified by the IWF and enable quick action to be taken to stop criminals hopping from one domain to another to keep their content online. 

How will this stop the spread of child sexual abuse imagery online?  

Some of the very worst child sexual abuse imagery the IWF sees is found on commercial sites, with criminals attempting to profit from the abusive material. The PIR and IWF partnership seeks to amplify the impact of IWF’s work to protect children online by enabling all TLD registries – organizations that manage domains like .org, .com, and more – with new tools to identify and remove child sexual abuse material more quickly: TLD Hopping Lists and Domain Alerts.

TLD Hopping is a practice by which criminal sites are taken offline, only to reappear, often with the same content and same name, but under a different top-level domain. For example “BadAbuseSite[.]com” is suspended, only for “BadAbuseSite[.]de” to appear in its place. The new program makes the TLD Hopping List – which targets the criminal sites that the IWF identified as recognisable abuse “brands” – available free of charge for the first time to all registries. With more registries having access to the lists, there will be fewer places for criminals running abuse “brands” to try to register their sites.

The IWF Domain Alerts program provides real-time alerts to participating registries if child sexual abuse content is detected on a domain they operate to allow for fast removal of content before it is further spread online. For domains flagged as having sites dedicated to the distribution of the abusive content, the registry can act directly and suspend the domain. Other sites identified as having harmful content possibly added by third-parties, but not dedicated to the distribution of the abuse materials, will be notified and can remove the harmful content to avoid suspension of the domain.

Currently, only a dozen registries receive IWF Domain Alerts. PIR’s sponsorship will extend access to Domain Alerts to over a thousand TLDs at no cost to participating registries. PIR is providing this sponsorship in furtherance of its non-profit mission to serve as an exemplary Domain Name Registry.

To learn more about how your business can get involved, visit iwf.org.uk/membership. Interested Domain Name Registries can contact the membership team directly at [email protected] 

Susie Hargreaves OBE, IWF CEO
Susie Hargreaves OBE, IWF CEO

Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the Internet Watch Foundation, said: “The internet is so much bigger than any one of us, and it is still growing. To truly get a grip on the spread of child sexual abuse imagery, we need as many allies in the fight as we possibly can.
“That is why this trailblazing move from PIR is so important. They are making an investment in the future safety of the internet. It will help us continue our vital non-profit work, and provide important services to smaller companies which may not have the financial means to make sure their platforms are not being abused.
“Our world-leading protection against the spread of child sexual abuse can now be shared even more widely, sending the strong message that there is nowhere safe for criminals to target to spread child sexual abuse imagery.  
“We thank PIR for their foresight and commitment here – it is a really important piece of the jigsaw and a message that we are all committed to working together to keep children safe."

Jon Nevett, President and CEO Public Interest Registry
Jon Nevett, President and CEO Public Interest Registry

Jon Nevett, President and CEO Public Interest Registry said, “PIR is proud to have worked with the Internet Watch Foundation since 2018 to identify and disrupt the spread of child sexual abuse materials in our TLDs.

"Before we started working with the IWF, we did not have the tools necessary to identify child sexual abuse materials on sites in our TLDs. IWF's Domain Alerts have enabled us to ensure that more than 5,700 instances of child sexual abuse content have been removed across our TLDs over the last five years.

"In furtherance of PIR's nonprofit mission, we want to provide other registries with that same tool and protect even more children."

About Public Interest Registry

Public Interest Registry (PIR) is a nonprofit that operates the .ORG top-level domain—one of the world’s largest generic top-level domains with more than 10.8 million domain names registered worldwide. .ORG is open to everyone, providing a global platform for organizations, associations, clubs, businesses and individuals to bring their ideas to life. 

PIR has been a champion for a free and open Internet for two decades with a clear mission to be an exemplary domain name registry, provide a trusted digital identity and help educate those who dedicate themselves to improving our world. PIR was founded by the Internet Society (internetsociety.org) in 2002 and is based in Reston, Virginia, USA. Visit www.pir.org for more information.

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