The United States’ Department of Justice (DOJ) has recently revealed how it had followed a trail of bitcoin transactions to find the 23-year-old South Korean man named Jong Woo Son, the suspected administrator of the site.
For almost three years, “Welcome To Video” a covert den for people, traded in clips of children being sexually assaulted. It is darknet‘s largest-known site of child exploitation videos, where hundreds of users from around the world accessed materials that showed the sexual abuse of children as young as six months old, CNN reported.
But according to CNN, the case is much bigger than just one man. Over almost three years that the site was online, users downloaded files more than one million times, according to a newly unsealed DOJ indictment.
At least 23 children in the US, Spain and the United Kingdom who were being abused by the users of the site have been rescued, the DOJ said in a press release.
“Children around the world are safer because of the actions taken by US and foreign law enforcement to prosecute this case and recover funds for victims,” said Jessie K. Liu, an attorney for District of Columbia where the US case was filed.
“We will continue to pursue such criminals on and off the darknet in the United States and abroad, to ensure they receive the punishment their terrible crimes deserve,“ Liu added.
In total, 337 people from at least 18 countries who used Welcome To Video have been arrested and charged, the DOJ said.
South Korea’s National Police Agency (NPA) said 223 of the suspects were South Korean.
Welcome To Video was on the darknet, the underbelly of the deep web which cannot be accessed by a regular browser. According to authorities, some customers paid for the explicit images of child sexual abuse in bitcoin, a digital currency that can be spent without users disclosing their true identity.
But the downfall of Welcome To Video shows that bitcoin isn’t as private as some cybercriminals might have thought, authorities said.
According to the indictment released recently by the DOJ, Welcome to Video began operating around June 2015. At the time, bitcoin still wasn’t a widely used payment method.
Authorities said anyone could create a free account and users could download the videos if they paid in bitcoin, or if they earned points by referring new customers, or uploading their own videos.
According to the indictment, the upload page on Welcome To Video stated: “Do not upload adult porn.”
The non-profit Internet Watch Foundation, which works to remove images and videos of child sexual abuse from the web, found that some of the most prolific commercial child sexual abuse sites first started accepting bitcoin as payment in 2014. According to the DOJ, Welcome To Video was “among the first of its kind to monetize child exploitation videos using bitcoin.”
From about June 2015 to March 2018, Welcome To Video received at least 420 bitcoin through 7,300 transactions with users in numerous countries including the US, the UK and South Korea, the indictment released Wednesday shows. Those transactions were worth over $370,000 at the time.
Some of those transactions would ultimately help bring about the site’s collapse.
Bitcoin can be attractive for people hoping to slip under the radar. Bitcoin is decentralized, meaning there is no company or official bank which oversees transactions. Users store their bitcoin in a virtual account — known as a digital wallet — without having to prove their real identity, as they might for a regular brick-and-mortar bank. (Source: CNN)