Watchdog Group: Child Porn Increasingly 'Hidden in Plain Sight'

Child pornographers are increasingly hiding abusive content on seemingly legitimate websites.

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A British online watchdog group warned Monday that child pornographers are increasingly using "disguised websites" that look like adult porn sites to upload child abuse photos and videos.

When users visit the site, it will appear as if it contains legal, adult pornography. But if a pedophile in the know uses a certain link to access the site, images and videos of child abuse will appear.

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"It's hiding in plain sight," says Emma Lowther, director of communications for the Internet Watch Foundation. "Most people who click on the site will see legal content, but if you follow the digital breadcrumbs, it will give you access to the [illegal] content."

Lowther says child pornographers use a variety of online techniques, including anonymous message boards, to let each other know how to access the hidden content.

The technique is most commonly used by commercial child pornography sites. Because the URL appears to be from a legal site, they are able to collect online credit card payments without raising suspicions of law enforcement.

Disguised websites also make it harder for watchdog groups to find the illegal content, because uncovering the hidden content can be difficult. Lowther says that the organization received tips from Internet users who stumbled upon the hidden content, but when the group tried to confirm the abuse, it was hidden.

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"We received reports that people had seen child sexual abuse imagines, but when we went there, we'd just see legal adult porn," she says. "Then we realized what was happening—they were hiding the content."

The content on the sites is shocking. According to the Internet Watch Foundation, nearly 75 percent of child victims appear to be 10 years old or younger, and nearly two-thirds involve the rape or sexual torture of children by adults. The agency works closely with British law enforcement to remove the sites and prosecute the perpetrators. In 2011, the IWF found more than 13,000 sites that contained illegal child pornography.

Lowther says the agency has developed a workaround to reveal the hidden images, which it has shared with more than 40 other groups in other countries around the world. According to the agency, more than 500 sites used the technique in 2011.

"Our analysts have become adept at spotting these sites and have developed a technique to circumvent the digital footpath to gain access to them," the agency's report says.