Hyderabad: They say technology has made life easier. However, if the Europol’s latest Internet Organized Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA) is anything to go by, it has made life easier for criminals as well, and at the same, made it tougher for parents and children.
The assessment, released late last year, says that the growing number of increasingly younger children with access to internet-enabled devices and social media has enabled offenders to reach out to children in ways that are impossible in an offline environment. And because of this, online child sexual exploitation (CSE) continues to be the most disturbing aspect of cybercrime, with last year’s concerns and fears getting bigger this year.
Child sexual abuse existed before the advent of the internet but the online dimension of this crime has enabled offenders to interact with each other online and obtain Child Sexual Exploitation Material (CSEM) in volumes that were unimaginable ten years ago, the IOCTA says.
Stating that there is an increase in self-generated explicit material (SGEM) too, the report says easier access to the internet for children along with higher prevalence of smartphones among young people, the danger of SGEM ending up with online child sex offenders too has grown.
Peer-to-peer sharing platforms such as Gigatribe, BitTorrent and eDonkey remain the most common communication channels for the dissemination of CSEM, it says, pointing out that one of the most important threats in the online distribution of CSEM is the continuous increase in the use of the Darknet.
“Although most CSEM is still found on the surface internet, some of the more extreme material tends to be found on hidden services that can only be accessed via Tor,” it says.
With technologies becoming easier to access and use, the use of tools for anonymity and encryption tools by offenders to avoid law enforcement detection is more common, simultaneously resulting in a growing number of cases of online sexual coercion and extortion of minors.
Another threat the IOCTA points out is that online child sexual offenders, who are often lone actors, are now organising themselves.
“They congregate on online forums, where they not only distribute and share CSEM but also discuss techniques and teach each other how to avoid law enforcement detection,” it says.
“As children increasingly have access to internet and social media platforms, typically in the relatively unmonitored environment of their smartphone, the risk of being approached by child sex offenders has increased considerably,” says The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol). This risk is further amplified by a lack of parental control on use of devices and lack of awareness among children about the risks of their online behaviour.