02:32 GMT30 October 2020
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    Pedophiles looking to groom young children are becoming more aware of technology and using techniques known as "masking" and "breadcrumbing" to hide illegal materials from regular web users, while allowing others to track down criminal images and film young children being abused.

    The trend, which was exposed by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), who work internationally to make the internet a safer place, uncovered new information on how child sex abuse images and videos are being hosted and distributed online. A system which is normally used by cybercriminals is now utilized by pedophiles to hide illegal material in plain sight.

    The IWF annual report highlights some of the ways in which online abusers are becoming more aware of technology and how best to use it when grooming young children.

    The IWF have said that the majority of content they deal with is available on the web browsers such as Google Chrome and Safari, as well as the open web.

    "If you access the site directly, you just get legitimate content. If you follow the pathway through links from other sites, then it unlocks the child sexual abuse imagery," said Sarah Smith, IWF's technical researcher.

    "It's stored in the browser, and it drops a cookie into the browser, so it can see the trail that you've come along to actually access the site. Once you've followed that pathway through, you can see the child sexual abuse imagery," she added.

    The illegal content can be hidden behind what appears to be a legitimate blog site or news site. This new approach, being adopted by child abusers, was originally discovered in 2011 by the IWF, who claim it makes the detection and removal of child sexual abuse imagery from the internet a lot more difficult.

    In 2016, 1572 websites were found to be using this method to hide sexual images of children, and according to the IWF this is an increase of 112 percent since 2015. 

    There were just 353 websites found to be using the technique in 2013.

    So why has this method become so popular? The IWF have said there are two reasons for its rise in usage.

    The referring websites can change rapidly and the cookies do expire; by the time IWF have got their reports out to law enforcement in other countries, the information may have changed.

    In addition to this, the IWF are seeing users who have a higher knowledge about technology and how it works. This means they are able to do much more than they were previously able to.

    "Every single one of these images depicts a child being sexually abused and knowing that this content is being reviewed really can have a terrible impact on a victim's recovery," Smith said.

    The IWF are currently working with law enforcement agencies in various countries to ensure the pictures and websites they are hosted on are removed.

    Suspected child sexual abuse images and videos can be reported anonymously through the IWF website.


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