Homeland Security busts child porn ring on Tor network

An underground Web site, with more than 27,000 members and hosting more than 2,000 explicit videos of minors, is shuttered with 14 of its alleged operators arrested.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announces results of operation that dismantled underground child exploitation enterprise on Tor network. Kelly Lowery/Department of Homeland Security

The US Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday that it has arrested 14 men who were allegedly operating a child pornography Web site on the anonymous Tor network.

The arrests were the culmination of one of the agency's largest ever online child exploitation investigations -- dubbed "Operation Round Table." The authorities have identified 251 victims who were exploited on the site. The majority of the victims, 243, were male and their ages ranged from 3 to 17; they were identified as being from 39 US states and five foreign countries.

The underground subscription-based Web site was allegedly led by Jonathan Johnson, 27, of Abita Springs, La. According to Homeland Security, he admitted to creating fake female personas on social networks to lure in male children and convince them to record explicit videos of themselves.

"Never before in the history of this agency have we identified and located this many minor victims in the course of a single child exploitation investigation," US Immigration and Customs Enforcement deputy director Daniel Ragsdale said in a statement. "Our agency is seeing a growing trend where children are being enticed, tricked and coerced online by adults to produce sexually explicit material of themselves."

According to Homeland Security, the site was up from June 2012 to June 2013 and had more than 27,000 members and 2,000 videos. These members were able to share videos of the minors freely because of Tor's ability to conceal online users' identity and location.

The Tor network is known for being used by criminals to conduct online transactions. In 2012, the Feds shuttered an online drug market known as "The Farmers Market" that used Tor to allow dealers to anonymously sell LSD, ecstasy, and narcotics to buyers. And, just last fall, US authorities seized the infamous Silk Road online black market bazaar that also used Tor.

All of the 14 men arrested in Operation Round Table are in federal custody. Johnson was arrested on June 13, 2013, and if found guilty faces 20 years to life in prison. Homeland Security said it anticipates more arrests, along with further identification of victims, as investigators continue to sort through and analyze the more than 40 terabytes of data seized in the bust.

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About the author

Dara Kerr, a freelance journalist based in the Bay Area, is fascinated by robots, supercomputers and Internet memes. When not writing about technology and modernity, she likes to travel to far-off countries.

 

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