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Countering the Threats of AI-Based Crimes Against Children

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Alongside its many social and economic benefits, the internet also provides a massive venue for people to commit, or be victimized by, online crime. From financial fraud to stalking, many of these transgressions are much older than the technology used to perpetrate them, but digitization helps criminals offend more efficiently, as with scam emails or recruiting ad hoc groups of people to attack others online.

The rapid growth of AI adds to that reality, fueling both the crimes themselves and the law-enforcement response to them. Generative AI, with its ability to spontaneously create realistic language, photos, and video, takes this trend to a dangerous new level. As is often the case, the most vulnerable in society – particularly children – suffer a disturbingly large share of the harm.

Grooming Children with a Systematic Violation of Trust

Online crimes against children often begin with the perpetrator deceiving victims to build rapport and gain their trust, posing as another child with shared interests, for example. This “grooming” often convinces the victimized child to post indecent photos or videos of themselves that are eventually traded or sold online. That distribution may occur on the dark web or be thinly disguised beneath the surface of legitimate venues such as social media.

Regrettably, technologies and techniques created for legitimate marketing functions can be adapted for this purpose. For example, AI chatbots can carry on lifelike conversations with potential victims, and those tools are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Intended for usages such as automated cold-calling or customer support, this software can provide realistic, compelling written conversation and even speak directly to victims using a range of selectable voices and personalities.

Automating this part of the grooming process makes criminals much more dangerous by increasing the scale of their reach. Traditionally, these bad actors were limited by the need to interact directly with the children they targeted, which might require many conversations and substantial effort. AI and related technologies can reduce that effort significantly, from machine learning that identifies potential grooming victims based on their online presence to generative AI bots that carry on illicit conversations with them.

The Terrible New Frontier of “Deepfake” CSAM

A new generation of computer-generated child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) can be created by generative AI. These pictures and media could potentially be an even greater threat to society than “authentic” materials because they can be generated at massive scale and limited only by perverse imaginations. Deepfake CSAM does not require grooming and is created using legitimate images from social media or other lawful online venues – an extremely common practice.

Deepfake CSAM campaigns that feature celebrities and other publicly recognizable personalities –which would likely be impossible to generate otherwise – could be especially desirable and/or lucrative for criminals as well. The potential for such materials to receive increased public attention could make them more traumatic to victims.

Whether deepfake CSAM depicts real people or not, it has the potential to extend the toll these crimes take on individuals and society. Moreover, it reduces the need for violators to interact with their victims, making their actions more difficult to detect. Rather than spending months establishing contact with and manipulating a victim, perpetrators can act rapidly and independently. This leaves fewer clues and less potential for detection by law enforcement and others committed to protecting children.

The Complexity and Hope of Mustering a Response

As is too often the case, law enforcement agencies (LEAs) find themselves in a struggle with criminals for technological dominance. Identifying potential violators (as well as their potential victims) is challenging because of the technological scope and complexity and building a case to stop the harm and prosecute the perpetrators is even more difficult. As these crimes evolve by means of AI and more, LEAs must rise to the challenge with similar technologies and corresponding tactics.

For example, an LEA could create a decoy site that appears to be run by a child or pose as a potential grooming victim. These measures are well-suited to the use of AI to increase reach, but the skills required to execute such an operation are in short supply within the LEA community, just as elsewhere. Budgetary considerations add to the difficulty. Usability of these tools will increase, but in a head-to-head escalation of skills and tactics, criminals may sometimes have the upper hand.

In response, the struggle to prevent AI-assisted crimes against children will continue on many fronts, including by dozens of not-for-profit organizations. For example, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has developed mechanisms to digitally and automatically identify CSAM using MD5 hashing. SS8 draws on this work, incorporating the IWF CSAM hash list in its next-generation Intellego XT lawful monitoring center to help LEAs counter the potential harm to children, the investigators who must review CSAM material, and society at large.

About Kevin McTiernan

Kevin McTiernan headshot - SS8 Networks

Kevin has over 20 years of extensive experience in the telecommunications and network security industries. At SS8, Kevin is the VP of Government Solutions and is responsible for leading the vision, design, and delivery of SS8’s government solutions, including the Xcipio® compliance portfolio. You can learn more about Kevin on his LinkedIn profile by clicking here.


About SS8 Networks

As a leader in Lawful and Location Intelligence, SS8 helps make societies safer. Our commitment is to extract, analyze, and visualize the critical intelligence that gives law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and emergency services the real-time insights that help save lives. Our high performance, flexible, and future-proof solutions also enable mobile network operators to achieve regulatory compliance with minimum disruption, time, and cost. SS8 is trusted by the largest government agencies, communications providers, and systems integrators globally.

Intellego® XT monitoring and data analytics portfolio is optimized for Law Enforcement Agencies to capture, analyze, and visualize complex data sets for real-time investigative intelligence.

LocationWise delivers the highest audited network location accuracy worldwide, providing active and passive location intelligence for emergency services, law enforcement, and mobile network operators.

Xcipio® mediation platform meets the demands of lawful intercept in any network type and provides the ability to transcode (convert) between lawful intercept handover versions and standard families.

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