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Dark Web: GCHQ & NCA tag team on trapping online paedophiles

UK government joins forces with tech giants & law enforcers for massive online child abuse clampdown

Arresting the spread of child abuse images on the "Dark Web" is to be the subject of a joint clampdown between the National Crime Agency (NCA) and GCHQ.

The government agencies will join forces to create a specialist unit tasked with tackling the problem of online child sexual exploitation and root out the most prolific offenders.

These individuals tend to rely on the anonymity afforded to them by the Dark Web to share encrypted images depicting child abuse to help them evade detection.

The two organisations claim they have successfully managed to pick apart the Dark Web to uncover paedophiles, including one who used it to pass on information to others about how to hide their behaviour online.

This individual also ran chat services and websites that shared child abuse images before his arrest and subsequent three-year prison sentence.

According to figures from the NCA, the number of UK Dark Web users has increased by two thirds in recent times, with people taking to it for privacy protection reasons as well as for nefarious purposes.

Meanwhile, new figures released by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) show there has been a marked rise in the number of web pages featuring child abuse imagery in the past year.

The organisation said the total number of URLs featuring child abuse content that have been targeted for removal between 1 January and 30 November 2014 stands at 27,850. This is 109 per cent higher than last year.   

After dark

The Dark Web clampdown is sure to be welcomed by charities and campaigners who have repeatedly berated the government for failing to adequately address this area during previous attempts curb the spread of child abuse images online.

In addition to this, the government has also unveiled a package of technology measures designed to support law enforcement efforts to track down paedophiles online across social networks and popular internet services.

As part of this, the IWF is to share the "digital fingerprints" of thousands of known child sex abuse images with the likes of Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Twitter to prevent them being viewed or shared on their platforms.

Search giant Google has also developed a form of hashing technology that aids the identification of known child abuse videos, which will be made available to other technology firms in due course.

Furthermore, Microsoft, Google and Mozilla have also vowed to investigate the possibility of introducing blocking restrictions in their respective web browsers that would stop people accessing URLs linked to the spread of child abuse material.

Prime Minister David Cameron, described the introduction of these new measures as a "watershed moment" in the ongoing fight against online child abuse.

"Every time someone chooses to view an online image or video of a child being abused, they are choosing to participate in a horrific crime," he said.

"I want them to hear loud and clear, we are shining a light on the web's darkest corners; if you are thinking of offending there will be nowhere for you to hide."  

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