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World’s largest child porn bust: 100s arrested, ringleader charged after feds crack dark web bitcoin transactions

World’s largest child porn bust: 100s arrested, ringleader charged after feds crack dark web bitcoin transactions
A South Korean man has been charged with running the largest-ever dark web child porn ring, hosting nearly eight terabytes of vile videos depicting sexual exploitation of children and infants. Hundreds of users have been arrested.

Jong Woo Son is facing multiple federal child porn charges for running a massive trove of child sexual exploitation that investigators have called the “world’s largest dark web child porn marketplace,” a nine-count indictment unsealed on Wednesday has revealed. The charges include advertising and distributing child porn as well as money laundering.

US federal investigators were able to trace the site to Son’s home thanks to a computer glitch that revealed his IP address. Servers that were home to some 200,000 different videos, uploaded by members of the site in exchange for “points” allowing them to view more of the depraved content, were kept in his own bedroom.

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Browsers hunting for legal porn were warned away with a red-lettered notice on the site’s front page: “Do not upload adult porn.” The site’s location on the dark web meant accidental viewers were unlikely, as it could only be accessed with the exact address. Users paid for the abhorrent clips in points they bought with Bitcoin, which – despite its reputation for anonymity – helped investigators track them down.

You may try to hide behind technology, but we will find you and arrest you and prosecute you,” US Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie Liu said during a press conference on Wednesday.

The scale of this crime is eye-popping and sickening,” John Fort, chief of IRS criminal investigations, told reporters, crediting “our agency’s ability to analyze the blockchain and de-anonymize Bitcoin transactions” with the “identification of hundreds of predators around the world.”

Among the hundreds of suspects arrested since the site’s seizure in March 2018 were several former US government employees. Richard Gratkowski, a former Homeland Security Investigations agent, was sentenced to 70 months in prison in May, after using his own government passport as identification to open an account with Bitcoin wallet company Coinbase, which he used to pay for his sick entertainment. 

US Army veteran Stephen Langlois received 42 months in prison that same month for downloading 114 videos. Another unidentified former federal law enforcement agent had the equivalent of 50 hours of child porn footage downloaded from the site. 

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South Korean authorities have arrested over 300 suspects in addition to Son, noting that most were unmarried office workers in their 20s, though some had sex crimes on their record. UK authorities have also nabbed some of the site’s users, including one man sentenced to 22 years in prison in March for repeatedly abusing two young children and uploading the footage to Welcome to Video. 

Investigators from the Center for Missing and Exploited Children examining the footage were shocked to find that nearly half of it had not previously been encountered and depicted children unknown to authorities.

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