Biggest threat to Children online, and it’s growing fast

Abusive images of children online is not a new thing, traditionally it has been paedophiles swapping images amongst themselves.

My only professional involvement was after putting together a case for a photographer client over image thefts from his online library, to the point of getting a court order, when the police carried out the raid, we were informed that our case would have to take a backseat as they found thousands of child abuse images on his computer, he was convicted and suitably sentenced. That was 15 years ago, and I understand it’s becoming more common that while investigating some unrelated matter forensics will turn up such evidence.

Victim Daniel Perry
Victim Daniel Perry

This story on the BBC has highlighted a shocking new exploit, that’s what it is, an exploit of a vulnerability (using social engineering), and now there is financial motive, I expect this will become a much bigger issue. In summary, the predators are tricking children into performing embarrassing and humiliating sex acts on webcam, then either escalating the demand for ever increasing abusive acts, both online and off, or just straight forward blackmailing them financially. Quite a growing number of these victims have now committed suicide, solely caused by these predator attacks.

It’s a classic IT security issue, and the first line of defense, controls in security speak, have to be online education of the children, schools in some cases are doing just that, but parents need to understand the threat, meaning how the social engineering aspect works, and be able to educate their own children.

I have browsed around authoritative advice to parents such as this article here from Microsoft “Online predators: Help minimize the risk” while I find it is good at identifying the threat, like others I find it lacking in useful advice in the reducing the risk, even posting quite arguably useless advice such as:

“never downloading images from an unknown source” what’s an unknown source, do you know?
“Using email filters” it’s quite clear this is all happening over social media.
“Choosing a gender-neutral screen name” most of the targets have been boys, and these criminals aren’t bothered about the child’s sex.

Something that is often forgotten in the advice I have seen is to remind us that it is not just computers that are internet connected and have cameras, so thought should be given to mobile phones and game consoles which also have chat capabilities and discussion forums.

I did find this advice useful for parents, but just showing this to a child would maybe not mean that much to them, I think you need to understand why they are vulnerable, say if appropriate “a boy going through puberty might do a lot to please what he thinks is a suitable girl online”, and be honest with them that these predators will take advantage given the chance.

There is plenty of advice online, but unlike traditional IT threats, and there are simple controls to reduce risk, this is far more complex, while the predators are blackmailing them now, I can see them chasing up some of their victims in the future when they are able to pay larger sums. Of course if you see this happening, you’re first action must be taking it to the police and assuring the child that they are not in trouble, and they will get over any embarrassment.

I should mention that while I admit that admirable as they are, vigilantes such as Stinson Hunter although controversial I believe are likely to have an impact on our local online predators, the predator groups motivated by financial gain are international and likely beyond the reach of any law enforcement, so all controls need to be placed our end, by educating and protecting the children.

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