In an internationally coordinated operation, the world’s largest child pornography website operating in darknet was taken down and its 337 users were arrested worldwide, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.

What was this website? The website, named “Welcome to Video”, made child pornography available on payment by bitcoins. As authorities discovered later, the website was operated by 23-year-old Jong Woo Son in South Korea. 

Each user received a different bitcoin address for payment. The website had over a million bitcoin addresses, implying that it had at least one million users. IRS-CI special agents traced the bitcoin transactions, and located the darknet server and ultimately Woo Son’s location. The website servers were seized and its data was shared with law enforcement agencies worldwide to assist in identifying and indicting users of the site. 

The website’s operator: Woo Son is now serving an 18-month prison term in South Korea. He also has federal criminal charges against him in the District of Columbia. Parallel civil forfeiture proceedings have also been initiated against him in America.

Who else was behind this? The operation resulted in the framing of charges against 337 users from 38 countries. Some of these arrested persons have also pleaded guilty. The users were arrested from various states of U.S. as well as from U.K., South Korea, Germany, Saudi Arabia, UAE, the Czech Republic, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Brazil, and Australia.

Scale: The largest pornography site: The seized website servers had approximately 8 terabytes of child pornography with over 250,000 unique videos – one of the largest seizures of its kind. The material is currently being analyzed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). 45% of the videos analyzed so far contained new images.

At the same time, at least 23 minor victims residing in the U.S., Spain, and U.K., who were abused by the website users, were rescued. U.S. law enforcement agencies have moved forfeiture complaint to recover the amount from virtual currency accounts operated by 24 individuals from 5 countries to fund the website and exploit children – so that this amount can be used for rehabilitation of victims.

Who all were involved in this operation?

  • The international investigations were led by the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) and Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) of U.S. and the National Crime Agency (NCA) of U.K.
  • Other agencies that coordinated the operation and conducted parallel investigations were: Korean National Police of South Korea and the German Federal Criminal Police.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs of the Criminal Division also provided notable assistance.

Why this matters: 

Some experts claim that the operation debunked the perception that cryptocurrency transactions are completely anonymous. This operation is seen by them as a classic example of successful law enforcement in the face of encryption hurdle.