Porn site sharing pictures of young Australian girls may never really be gone

By Nina Funnell

Can a porn ring sharing pictures of schoolgirls really be shut down? Photo / Getty Images
Can a porn ring sharing pictures of schoolgirls really be shut down? Photo / Getty Images

A Porn ring targeting more than 70 Australian high schools has been taken down as the Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner confirmed the site contained child pornography material featuring underage girls.

But news.com.au can now reveal that there are around "a dozen" very similar websites targeting Australian high school students, and that according to experts, once sites are pulled down they often resurface under a different name a week or so later.

Ajoy Ghosh, who is widely recognised as one of Australia's leading computer forensic experts says that this most recent website is "just one of a number of similar websites [which] contain child pornography and the names of Australian high schools".

"There are about a dozen. The [website that has been reported on this week] is one of a number of similar websites, each are moderated by different people or groups of people but they are all reasonably like-minded."

"The tone and culture, the trading of pornography, and the targeting of particular categories of people is the same. They all contain child pornography and the names of schools"

Having previously worked for the NSW Police before heading up cyber security for Westpac bank, Ghosh now works as a computer forensic consultant and is engaged by both prosecution and defence teams to assist with complex cybercrimes including child pornography and terrorism matters.

Text messages with a girl who had her picture posted on the site. Photo / Supplied
Text messages with a girl who had her picture posted on the site. Photo / Supplied

"There are a bit over a dozen websites that operate in pretty much the same way ... They all involve child pornography and they all involve [Australian] schools, but they are not exclusively aimed at schools.

"They [are organised around] different communities or different conversations and there are a number of different conversations running [on each site].

"One or two are currently the subject of prosecutions [for child pornography related offences], and some of these have been going on for several years."

Formerly a sworn police officer reporting to Andrew Scipione, Ghosh helped establish the NSW Police's Special Electronic Evidence Branch (SEEB) in the early 1990s.

He is now one of a select minority of experts who is permitted to review child pornography material in order to assist the prosecution in those matters.

According to Ghosh, a number of his previous cases involved sites that were hosted on the same bank of webservers that this most recent website is also hosted on, and the server contains dozens of other websites, all of which are still running.

Worse still, Ghosh says that while the site might have been temporarily taken down in Australia, it is possible that "the site itself is still running and accessible outside of Australia and anyone with a little bit of technical knowledge can circumvent the block."

Indeed, prior to being taken down the site was already operating in at least 18 different countries and it is not yet clear if users in other countries can still access the Australian material.

"Even if it has been taken down [in Australia], most likely it's already been copied somewhere else first. And if it hasn't already been republished it probably soon will be."

"Sometimes this is almost instantaneous other times they might take it offline for a few days or weeks to let the ruckus settle and then quietly put it back up again."

Porn Victim, Sarah, trusted a guy when she was 15 and sent him images. He then shared them around school. Now her underage photos are all over the porn-ring website. Photo / Chris Pavlich, News Corp
Porn Victim, Sarah, trusted a guy when she was 15 and sent him images. He then shared them around school. Now her underage photos are all over the porn-ring website. Photo / Chris Pavlich, News Corp

Similarly, an analysis of the site by news.com.au has found that users frequently talk about making duplicate copies of images, saving them to their own hard-drives.

The site contained a maximum of 150 active threads per country and older, less active threads would 'expire' once newer threads were added, prompting many users to save copies of nude photos to their own hard-drives so that they could re-upload any images that disappeared once older threads were deleted.

Sarah was one of the teenage victims of the online pornography ring and she told the Daily Telegraph she trusted a guy with intimate photos when she was 15-years-old.

He shared the photos with his friends and she was suspended from Mount View High School in the Hunter Valley and was "slut-shamed".

She saw the images online in July last year.

A mother of one thirteen-year-old girl targeted by the website says she is worried that the images on the website might still be out there and that users may have saved copies.

The mother, who is from Melbourne says she is angry at the Queensland Police who released a statement earlier this week saying that there "does not appear to contain any child exploitation material" on the site.

The highly premature claim has since been directly contradicted by the eSafety Commissioner who has confirmed that the site contained child exploitation material.

"[The Queensland Police] were belittling it and minimising the crime against these girls. You have to question what their agenda would be to do that," the mother said.

"Maybe they were ill-informed or maybe they didn't understand how bad it was. Maybe they were trying to contain public panic because it was inconvenient for them. But that makes them part of the problem.

"Do they still not get how bad this is? [Even] now that the site has been shut down these girls still have the scars that need to heal as a result of that exploitation.

"This is not the end."

Ghosh has a slightly different take and explains that while media reporting this week has focused on just one forum, the police receive "dozens of reports every week and have to be quite particular in how they triage [and prioritise] them."

"If I were in their position I would be dedicating resources to the one I know I have more of a chance of having shut down ... [Australian authorities] do a good job of governing what we can, remembering we can only control what is within our boarders," he said.

"[There are a] whole bunch of other countries that govern the internet less well or who take a strong stance on free speech.

"The Nordic countries for example take a very strong stance on free speech. They are generally actually quite good at policing the net, but don't want to be seen to be censoring the net. They will be very good at acting when there is [overt] child pornography but where the line blurs [they may not be]."

At the time of being pulled down in Australia, the website also featured image boards specific to Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Canada, the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Russia.

The site is believed to be hosted in Russia.

An analysis of the activity of users found that the boards are most active in the UK and Canada, followed by Australia and Germany.

At the time of being pulled down in Australia, the site contained 18,797 images posted in total, along with 34,235 vile and demeaning comments, including comments listing names of girls being hunted.

The Australian image board was the third most active image board and contained 2071 images.

The UK board was the most active image of all boards, containing 5434 images followed closely by Canada, with 5121 images.

Country Number of Image Replies

• UK 5434
• Canada 5121
• Australia 2071
• Germany 1792
• Italy 961
• Norway 687
• France 619
• Belgium 550
• Netherlands 481
• Spain 311
• Sweden 186
• Switzerland 162
• Mexico 125
• Romania 122
• Denmark 101
• Russia 57
• Poland 13
• Finland 4

- news.com.au

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