Huge Child Porn Ring Busted as Authorities Cite Ability to Crack Bitcoin Privacy

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Federal authorities in the U.S. have unsealed charges against the South Korean operator of a child porn ring that’s been billed as the world’s “largest dark web child porn marketplace.” The child porn site, known as Welcome to Video, charged some users in Bitcoin and authorities say they successfully unmasked those Bitcoin transactions in order to catch the perpetrators. An additional 337 people from around the world have been charged in relation to the Tor-based site.

Welcome to Video contained over 200,000 videos of child sexual abuse and had users from countries like the U.S., UK, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Brazil, and Australia, according to the indictment, which was uploaded by NBC News reporter Cyrus Farivar. Users could download videos through a system of credits that could be gained by referring new users or by buying those credits with Bitcoin.

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Charges in the U.S. against the site’s operator Jong Woo Son were only unveiled today, but the 23-year-old Korean national was arrested in March of 2018 and is already behind bars in South Korea. The operation was a joint investigation by numerous law enforcement agencies around the globe.

Between June 2015 and March 2018, Welcome to Video received Bitcoin transactions totaling over $370,000 in U.S currency. Undercover agents in Washington D.C. monitored the site, filled with images of child rape, and were able to deanonymize the Bitcoin transactions, something that average users often believe is impossible.

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The investigation uncovered at least two former federal law enforcement officials allegedly involved in the child porn site, a 35-year-old U.S. Border Patrol Agent from Texas, and a former HSI special agent, also from Texas.

“Darknet sites that profit from the sexual exploitation of children are among the most vile and reprehensible forms of criminal behavior,” Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said in a statement published to the DOJ website.

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“This Administration will not allow child predators to use lawless online spaces as a shield. Today’s 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.”

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About the author

Matt Novak

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog