Justice Department shuts down the dark web's largest known child porn site.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice held a press conference announcing that it shut down what it described as the world’s “[l]argest dark web child porn marketplace.” Called “Welcome to Video,” the site hosted more than 200,000 videos, eight terabytes worth, of content featuring child exploitation and abuse. The government’s indictments, filed in August 2018 and unsealed two days ago, noted that the site processed $730,000 worth of Bitcoin transactions.

The agency notes that authorities arrested 337 individuals suspected of using the English-language site worldwide.

Details of the Investigation

According to documents filed by the Justice Department, Welcome to Video began operating in June 2015. A South Korean man named Jong Woo Son hosted the marketplace on a server he maintained in his home. Son charged users an annual fee of $300 in Bitcoin for access to the site, in which they could upload and buy illegal clips.

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Investigators noted that the site’s configuration supported more than one million users.

Sometime in 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) received an anonymous tip about the dark web marketplace. Subsequently, the agency teamed with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations division to bring down the Tor-based site. In September 2017, an IRS agent working on the case discovered a configuration error that revealed the operator’s IP address.

U.S. authorities further tied Son to the illicit site by sending him Bitcoin payments that he moved to his digital wallet. Investigators also worked with blockchain analyst group Chainalysis to track down the marketplace’s user base to their electronic payment services. Thanks to various know your customer laws, officials could trace the online accounts to their owners.

TechCrunch reports that an unidentified group of hackers also found Welcome to Video in late 2017. The organization contacted then-ZDNet editor Zach Whittaker regarding the illegal marketplace and noted that they had compromised its security. As such, the rogue operators accessed the site’s user logs and compiled a database allegedly comprised of 100,000 IP addresses.

Arrests and Rescues

In a press conference, the Justice Department revealed that it worked with authorities in the United Kingdom and South Korea to shut down Welcome to Video in March 2018. Subsequently, regional authorities arrested Son and he is now serving an 18-month prison sentence. The South Korean police also charged 156 locals with downloading or uploading content to the site.

Wired confirmed that the Justice Department had filed charges against marketplace users in 23 states and the District of Columbia. While some defendants are still pending sentencing, the others have received prison terms ranging from 42 months to 15 years. One man convicted of receiving child pornography, Richard Gratkowski, formerly worked as a Homeland Security Investigations agent.

The U.K.’s National Crime Agency revealed that it also pursued investigations into 18 Welcome to Video users. So far, the law enforcement organization has secured seven convictions related to the case. TechCrunch connected IP addresses of the site’s visitors to networks maintained by Apple, Google, U.S. Army Intelligence, the U.S. Senate, and several universities.

Investigators also rescued 23 children who had been abused by the illegal marketplace’s customers. Though the Justice Department has unveiled the investigation’s initial wave of charges, the case is still ongoing. Authorities are working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to identify victims and perpetrators featured in the site’s videos.

At the Justice Department’s press conference, the deputy district attorney general Richard Downing issued a warning to Welcome to Video’s former subscribers. “Let today’s announcement send a message: If you were involved in these crimes we are coming for you.”

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