Security Market Segment LS
Sunday, 15 October 2017 21:17

Qld cops ran child porn site for 11 months to trap abusers Featured

By

The Queensland Police's Task Force Argos, a specialised unit responsible for investigating online child exploitation and abuse, ran a child pornography site on the dark Web for almost a year after infiltrating it in the search for those who were behind the site.

The Norwegian newspaper VG spoke to the head of the unit, Jon Rouse, and investigator Paul Griffiths after tracking them down in January as being the two people operating the site and posing as the administrators. The paper has a detailed report by Håkon Høydal, Einar Otto Stangvik and Natalie Remøe Hansen about the case.

The police unit itself shared photos of children who were abused in order to avoid letting members of the site, known as Childs Play, from finding out that it had been taken over by police.

In August last year, as iTWire reported, Argos was alleged to have hacked into the computers of Americans who were part of a child pornography ring, The Love Zone, on the dark Web, in order to find out their actual IP addresses.

The VG report said that between October 2016 and September this year the site, said to be the largest child abuse forum, was run by officers from Task Force Argos after they had infiltrated it. The site is said to have had more than a million registered accounts and thousands of active users.

The operation to take down the site was jointly carried out by Task Force Argos, the US Department of Homeland Security and police in Canada and Europe.

When VG met Rouse and Griffiths, Argos had been running the site for three months. "Under their supervision, thousands of members have shared photos and videos of children being sexually abused. A Norwegian member boasted of abusing children in his own family. Some members got together in person to commit abuse, which they filmed and shared on the forum," the newspaper said.

But the police denied that they were in any way responsible for the material that was shared on the site while they were running it.

VG quoted Rouse as saying: "We don't create these sites. We do not want them to exist. When we do find them, we infiltrate and get as high as possible in the network's administrative structure to destroy it. But we will never create a forum for child sex offenders."

The site was set up by Benjamin Faulkner of Ontario, Canada, who was working in Toronto at the time, and Patrick Falte, a resident of Nashville, Tennessee.

Both men were active on the dark Web in 2011, with Falte providing technical programming on the Pedo Support Community website. Faulkner left a message on the site, introducing himself.

In 2015, when Faulkner visited another site, Giftbox Exchange, Falte, who went by the moniker CrazyMonk, made contact with him and they got acquainted. The site Childs Play was set up in April 2016.

Faulkner was the administrator and went by the pseudonym WarHead. Elsewhere on the Web he was known as CuriousVendetta.

With Giftbox having 45,000 users at its peak and Childs Play, just before it was taken down, having more than a million registered users, it was only a matter of time before law enforcement authorities worldwide became aware of their sites.

VG said its resident tech guru, Stangvik, who tracked the Childs Play site, wrote his own programs to download, analyse and index all public messages on the forum.

After trying a variety of methods to track down the people behind the site, Stangvik found a weakness in the host of the site - the IP address of the site could be found.

Stangvik discovered that the site was hosted in Sydney by Digital Pacific.

When VG visited Sydney and met Digital Pacific founder Andrew Koloadin he was nothing but helpful. The newspaper quoted him as saying: "I’m as interested as you in clearing this up. We won’t turn off the server and we won’t do anything to compromise your work."

VG was thus able to find out that the server in question had been leased by Task Force Argos. Koloadin was taken aback, saying, "Storing material like this on our servers completely violates our terms. I wish the police had talked with us about this, but I understand why they didn’t. It’s a secret operation."

According to the report, when VG met Rouse and Griffith, the police initially refused to provide any details of the operation. They suggested that the VG journalists had done something illegal to find out who was running the site.

Rouse was quoted as telling VG: "Under Australian law, what you’ve done is the same as hacking. The police are allowed to hack to reveal criminal activity, but not you. So you have to be aware that what you have done can potentially have consequences."

But later Argos provided details to the Norwegian journalists and told them that Griffiths had been told in May 2016 by the police in an European country that they had arrested a moderator of the Giftbox Exchange. The European police asked if Argos would be interested in going undercover after assuming the identity of the moderator.

While Argos was looking for a way to take over Giftbox, Childs Play appeared on the dark Web and the Queensland police were able to conclude that they were being run from the same country.

In the US, the Homeland Security staff tracked a bitcoin payment made towards Web hosting charges and honed in on Falte. They found Faulkner after he posted a screenshot of code seeking help for a technical snafu with Giftbox; an investigator noticed that the site had technical issues, did a Web search and found the screenshot.

VG said that it realised that the Queensland police were running the site in order to shut it down for good, it decided to hold off on publishing the story in order not to interfere with a police operation aimed at doing good.

On 30 September 2016, Faulkner crossed from Toronto to northern Virginia in the US. Police were onto this; weeks earlier Homeland Security had put a tracking device on Falte's car and his movements were tracked as well.

The two men were arrested at a hotel in Virginia. Faulkner spilled his guts and provided passwords for Childs Play plus many other details. The usernames and passwords were tested by Argos and found to work.

The police knew that if the two administrators were missing for too long and did not respond to messages from members, then users of the websites would become suspicious.

VG said that the police in the European country in question and Australia wanted the Australians to run the site as local laws give them very broad powers to monitor suspicious activities online.

Griffiths told VG: "During a so-called 'controlled operation' we get permission from a judge to act in ways that normally would have been considered illegal. We are given the right to commit certain criminal actions and we are exempted from prosecution because we are investigating specific crimes."

After the European law enforcement authorities had given them the go-ahead, Task Force Argos took over Childs Play and copied it to the Sydney hosting provider.

From that point on, Griffiths posed as Faulkner. But the Argos detectives refused to tell VG about the methods they used to identify Childs Play members.

On 13 September, Task Force Argos shut down Childs Play. Now cases are being sent to police forces around the world. VG said Griffiths had a list of between 60 and 90 people who would be targets.

Falte and Faulkner were sentenced to life in prison on 15 September by a court in Richmond, Virginia.

Asked for his opinion on the legality of Task Force Argos' actions, criminal barrister and Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesman Greg Barns told iTWire that the conduct of Queensland Police was appalling and surely illegal.

"They have contributed to the abuse of children as much as those citizens who also host and view," Barns added.

Photo: courtesy VG

LEARN HOW TO REDUCE YOUR RISK OF A CYBER ATTACK

Australia is a cyber espionage hot spot.

As we automate, script and move to the cloud, more and more businesses are reliant on infrastructure that has high potential to be exposed to risk.

It only takes one awry email to expose an accounts payable process, and for cyber attackers to cost a business thousands of dollars.

In the free white paper ‘6 steps to improve your Business Cyber Security’ you will learn some simple steps you should be taking to prevent devastating malicious cyber attacks from destroying your business.

Cyber security can no longer be ignored, in this white paper you will learn:

· How does business security get breached?
· What can it cost to get it wrong?
· 6 actionable tips

DOWNLOAD NOW!

ADVERTISE ON ITWIRE NEWS SITE & NEWSLETTER

iTWire can help you promote your company, services, and products.

Get more LEADS & MORE SALES

Advertise on the iTWire News Site / Website

Advertise in the iTWire UPDATE / Newsletter

Promote your message via iTWire Sponsored Content/News

Guest Opinion for Home Page exposure

Contact Andrew on 0412 390 000 or email [email protected]

OR CLICK HERE!

Sam Varghese

website statistics

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

VENDOR NEWS & EVENTS

REVIEWS

Recent Comments