Hackers Sending Illegal Images to Harmless Sites

IWF Internet Watch Foundation hackersFilters or not, hackers will find a way. Nothing demonstrates that better than a recent story out of the UK, on the heels of the mandatory ISP filters for pornography their government is talking about imposing. The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), supportive of the filters, recently pointed out the rise of the practice of hacking seemingly harmless websites to display what they called “the worst images of sexual abuse.”

The IWF works hard to remove illegal content found online. They brought to light 227 separate reports of these hacking incidents by hackers in the past six weeks alone. Oddly enough, it coincides with the pornography filter discussion and ultimately the moment PM David Cameron announced all ISPs must begin implementation of the pornography filters from the first moment service is activated to safeguard from hackers.

Hackers Sending Illegal Images: Government Control?

Some say the filters will lead to a higher level of government surveillance, probably because of the recent stories regarding the NSA's Prism surveillance program. To add fuel to the fire, at the end of July, some said the filters might even make anorexia websites, what was referred to as “extremist related content,” and even websites related to smoking censored out. It certainly does seem that this would be more of a censorship problem than a surveillance problem.

However, are these attacks a way of fighting back against the government? That just doesn't seem to be the case here, and that's due to the graphic and disturbing content of the images by hackers. The IWF calls the content the worst and most severe it's seen, as according to the Sentencing Guidelines Council. Why? Images included on the site portray numerous sexual assaults on children, some under the age of two.

Hackers Sending Illegal Images: The Hack

Accessing a legitimate cheap hosting website, a visitor attempts to view adult content. They click on an image or video, and are then redirected to a folder containing child pornography and sex abuse images, the hackers website. One of the website victims, a furniture website that is very popular in the UK, demonstrates that they belong to very legitimate businesses.

“We hadn't seen significant numbers of hacked websites by hackers for around two years, and then suddenly in June we started seeing this happening more and more,” according to Sarah Smith, IWF Technical Researcher. “It shows how someone not looking for child sexual abuse images, can stumble across it…Since identifying this trend we've been tracking it and feeding into police forces and our sister Hotlines abroad.”

Hackers Sending Illegal Images: IWF On The Job

Thanks to the extensive IWF worldwide network that includes tech giant Google, these links to illegal cheap hosting content by hackers are removed most of the time as soon as they are discovered. Google complies with these requests to remove links.

So what is the purpose of the hacker? Digital forensics expert and Visiting Professor at de Montfort University (Cyber Security Center) Peter Sommer to Wired.co.uk. said, “One of the oldest methods for covert web publishing is to set up a website on a suitably boring anodyne topic, for example a tribute to a minor soap actor or ‘beermats of north east England' — but have the main covert material only accessible via an unindexed absolute URL…The disadvantage is that you will still be traceable via your contract with the ISP supplying you with webspace and your whois data. But if you can find someone else's poorly secured webserver, you can pull off the same trick.”

It can't be said at this time what the goal of the hacker is, but so many people have come forward, IWF is on the job to put a stop to it. The question remains: filter or not, can child pornography be stopped?

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