In a significant victory for global cyber law enforcement agencies, the United States Department of Justice has announced the recent takedown of ‘Welcome to Video’, believed to be the biggest repository of child pornography content on the Dark Web. The website, which has now been taken down, has led to agencies seizing nearly 8TB of unique and gravely disturbing data. Subsequently, the raid has also led to the arrest of 23-year-old South Korean citizen Jong Woo Son, who was the administrator of the website.
‘Welcome to Video’ is believed to have been operational from June 2015 to March 2018, using the Tor framework — a popular choice for miscreants, despite its security advantages. In this duration, the website hosted over 2,50,000 videos that portrayed sexual exploitation of children, toddlers and even infants, in various ways. What is even more disturbing is the outreach of Welcome to Video’s child pornography content — over 45 percent of the videos are said to have been unique.
“Darknet sites that profit from the sexual exploitation of children are among the most vile and reprehensible forms of criminal behavior. This Administration will not allow child predators to use lawless online spaces as a shield. The announcement demonstrates that the Department of Justice remains firmly committed to working closely with our partners in South Korea and around the world to rescue child victims and bring to justice the perpetrators of these abhorrent crimes,” said Brian Benczkowski, assistant attorney general of the US-DoJ’s criminal division.
The crackdown has further led to the arrest of 337 individuals, who are believed to have either been users, contributors or allies with the website, in some way or another. These arrests subsequently led to the release of 23 children across USA, UK and Spain, who were being serial-abused by allies of Son and his website.
As part of the raid, the website was identified as being hosted on a private server located inside Son’s bedroom in South Korea. Further inspection revealed logs containing over one million Bitcoin addresses. In order to keep the website running, Son allowed his site’s users to download any video they pleased by either making a Bitcoin payment, or by uploading new videos of children being sexually abused. Even referring new users allowed “privileged” access to the content.
The US-DoJ has reported over 7,300 known Bitcoin transactions to the website, amounting to over $370,000 (~Rs 2.6 crore). Despite the highly disturbing details surfacing about the website, the coup can be regarded as a necessary one, breaking down the perpetrators of a heinous crime that also used the Dark Web’s infrastructural design to monetise its content.
The full report, along with the list of all perpetrators of the website, can be found in the US-DoJ’s official press disclosure, here.