“This hidden site has been seized,” says the marketplace’s homepage.
The Dark Web’s largest and most profitable child pornography website dubbed “Welcome to Video” has been seized and its operator charged by a federal grand jury in the United States. According to the Department of Justice’s (DoJ) press release, the site hosted 8 terabytes of child pornography content.
Apart from the website’s South Korean native operator Jong Woo Son, law enforcement has arrested 337 suspected pedophiles from 23 states, the District of Columbia and eleven different countries. Moreover, 23 minors have been rescued by the feds during the operation; the children belong to the US, the UK, and Spain and were being actively abused by the site users.
The investigation and subsequent arrests are the results of a joint investigation carried out by law enforcement teams from around the world. It was a large-scale operation against child predators, stated DoJ’s Criminal Division Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski.
“Darknet sites that profit from the sexual exploitation of children are among the vilest and reprehensible forms of criminal behavior. This Administration will not allow child predators to use lawless online spaces as a shield. Today’s announcement demonstrates that the Department of Justice remains firmly committed to working closely with our partners in South Korea and around the world to rescue child victims and bring to justice the perpetrators of these abhorrent crimes,” added Benczkowski.
The 23-year old Son is charged with 9 counts including two counts of distribution of child porn content, one count of advertising child porn, and three counts of laundering money. The rest of the arrested individuals are claimed to be users of the site Welcome to Video.
The investigators used Chainalysis software to track down Bitcoin payments made to the website via blockchain and find the operators of the website. What made their task less challenging is that Son, the site administrator, used bad opsec; that is, he ran payments through a US-based Bitcoin exchange using his real name, email ID, and cell phone number.
The press release from the DoJ further revealed that the website has been active since June 2015 and until late 2018 the website hosted over a quarter million videos containing objectionable child abuse footages. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is analyzing the website’s content, which includes more than 250,000 unique video footage. Only 45% of the videos have been analyzed so far and concluded to be unique.
Users of the website had so far downloaded over 8 terabytes of pornographic content and site members paid approx. $350 in Bitcoin for six months membership to the site, which lets them download unlimited content. The majority of the footage/images depicted “prepubescent children, toddlers, and infants engaged in sexual conduct,” and the seizure is perhaps the largest of its kind stated the federal prosecutor for the Washington DC district Jessie Liu.
The investigation team included the DoJ, ICE, and the IRS while their counterparts in the UK and South Korea also participated in the operation. 53 suspected pedophiles were arrested from the US while the rest have been arrested from Brazil, South Korea, Czech Republic, Ireland, Spain, the UAE, and other countries.
It is worth noting that Son was arrested by the UK and South Korean investigators on March 5, 2018, and also seized the server Son used to operate the website. Son is currently detained in a South Korean prison.