After High Profile Busts, Dozens of Dark Web Child Porn Sites Remain

Even after several successful law enforcement operations, a high number of dark web child pornography sites are still active.

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Nov 11 2016, 4:12pm

Image: Parinya Feungchan/Shutterstock/Shutterstock

The FBI and other law enforcement have a daunting task when it comes to the problem of dark web child pornography. Despite recent successes at shutting sites down, just under 30 related Tor hidden services remain up and running, according to a researcher who focuses on the dark web.

That figure reveals something of a constant whack-a-mole game for law enforcement: that even when one or several sites are shut down and many of their operators and users arrested, other sites spring up in their place.

Out of 4,000 Tor hidden services discovered in August of this year, 29 were related to child pornography, according to Sarah Jamie Lewis, an independent security researcher and creator of the tool OnionScan. OnionScan automatically probes dark web sites for de-anonymization vulnerabilities, which may reveal their real IP address, and in turn their owner.

Lewis regularly scans the dark web en masse, collecting data about exposed sites and, in this case, information about site content. As of last week, many of the child pornography sites were still operational.

Not all of the sites were necessarily distributing child pornography, but include support forums and other related materials.

In 2014, Australian police took over and eventually shut down a site called The Love Zone, arresting its administrator and a number of users too. The following year, the FBI closed Playpen, which was, at the time, the largest dark web child abuse site in existence.

The FBI has also had success at tackling multiple sites at once: according to recently unsealed court documents, the FBI was authorized to deploy malware from 23 dark web child pornography sites that we're sharing a hosting provider.

But, even after these operations plenty of sites remain, and likely will do for some time to come.