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Protecting Children from Online Predators with Lawful Intelligence

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A persistent and terrible reality is that child sexual abuse is alarmingly common. A 2023 assessment by the UK National Crime Agency (NCA) estimates that one in six girls and one in twenty boys experience sexual abuse before the age of 16. A substantial portion of this abuse occurs partly or completely over the internet, in a shocking variety of forms.

Indecent imagery involving children is pervasive, with the majority of images generated by the exploited children themselves, often elicited by offenders through manipulation or coercion. Online spaces such as social media and online gaming networks can make juveniles vulnerable to predators of any age—including other children and adults who may pose as children with false online personas. Livestreaming and emerging technologies such as deepfakes and extended reality will continue to create novel dangers.

Lawful intelligence is a powerful mechanism to help protect children from exploitation by malicious parties. SS8 regards safeguarding children as a high priority within its larger mission of protecting society, reflected in the company’s status as a silver sponsor of the 2023 National Child Protection Task Force Annual Conference (NCPTF). Providing leadership in subscriber identification as networks evolve to 5G and beyond, SS8 helps ensure that lawful intelligence keeps pace with the changing digital landscape.

Automated Detection of Explicit Child Abuse Sexual Material (CSAM)

Online sexual predation is often perpetrated by habitual offenders whose crimes over the course of many years may injure and traumatize hundreds or thousands of children. The NCA assessment reports on the case of Ian Wynter, a serial abuser who targeted financially vulnerable individuals and induced them to livestream sexual abuse against young children. Law enforcement recovered thousands of online chat logs that documented that abuse and advised other perpetrators about how to avoid detection. Officers seized more than 17,000 indecent images of children stored on this single individual’s devices.

The sheer scope of these crimes makes them complex to detect and investigate. Moreover, examining massive amounts of toxic content places an extreme burden on human analysts. Manually parsing repositories of child pornography is traumatic for investigators, leaving law enforcement agencies (LEAs) with an imperative to protect their officers in addition to the public. Accordingly, measures have been developed to reveal the properties of such materials without requiring analysts to view the images themselves. An automated approach also tends to scale more effectively than human discernment.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has developed a tool called IntelliGrade that creates digital fingerprints to identify specific CSAM images. SS8 collaborates with IWF to incorporate these image identifiers into its Intellego XT lawful intelligence platform. The toolset enables LEAs to automatically identify the images so they can be blocked and removed from hosting sites and facilitate investigations of the individuals responsible for them.

IntelliGrade draws on the checksums that are generated using MD5 hashing to verify successful transmission of images. The list of those hashes provides cryptographic identifiers of specific images that can be used to identify them in other contexts. Investigators can therefore use the SS8 platform to detect CSAM content while minimizing or eliminating the need to examine it directly, which accelerates analysis while protecting human operators.

Visibility Into Online Gaming Networks

Online gaming is an important form of social interaction for many children—even at the preschool level—and competing or otherwise interacting with strangers is common. These settings can be ripe for abuse, including technology-assisted grooming where anonymous offenders may build rapport with victims over many hours of interaction and a purported shared interest. Integrated chat and livestreaming are deeply woven into the online gaming experience, exposing users to their dangers as well. Online gaming networks provide live, real-time audio-visual interaction that can be exploited by offenders against children, creating an important use case for the SS8 lawful intelligence platform.

Networks operated by console gaming providers have unique topology, in terms of connected groups of users. For example, matches among remote participants are often initiated through a central server but then proceed peer-to-peer, with no further connection to that server. Users often believe that their chat and streaming communications over encrypted channels are secret. In reality, lawful intelligence can draw on a significant amount of information that is transmitted in the clear over those peer-to-peer connections.

Establishment of the peer-to-peer connection itself (which may have many participants) will be visible on the network, including the IP addresses of each connection, which can be used to identify the individuals involved. Other readily available metadata reveals information such as the user IDs of each party, the game being played, and timestamps of network events. Patterns in this data can contribute to broader investigations, building out patterns of behavior and supporting warrants or other authorization to draw in additional evidence to help disrupt harm to young victims.

About David Anstiss

David Anstiss Blog Head Shot - SS8 Networks David Anstiss is Director of Solution Engineering at SS8 Networks. He has been with SS8 since 2015 and has significant experience in critical network architecture technology and advanced data analytics. He currently works as part of the Technical CTO Group under the leadership of Dr. Cemal Dikmen and is responsible for leading engagement with both intelligence agencies and Communication Service Providers (CSPs) around the world. He has been instrumental in helping them transition to 5G, defining system requirements to meet regulatory compliance. As a member of ETSI, he represents SS8 to ensure the adoption of cloud-native infrastructure is met with industry best practices and to guarantee that compliance of lawful interception is maintained. Learn more about David here on his LinkedIn profile.

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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