The increase of live streaming child abuse services originating in South East Asia is leading to legislative problems for EU countries.
A report produced by the European Cybercrime Centre looking at the current trends in production, distribution and access to commercial child abuse material (CAM), has highlighted a growing trend of live streaming child sexual abuse, which in one instance saw an EU-based abuser instructing young girls in a village in South East Asia via webcam on the particular type of abuse he wanted to watch.
Investigations of crimes such as this in some EU countries have resulted in successful prosecution of citizens for "hands on sexual offences conducted through live web streaming" with landmark rulings saying that the direction of child sexual exploitation via the Internet is tantamount to rape of a child.
However legislative problems do arise with the increased popularity of live streaming child abuse online as access to this content does not constitute an offence of possession or making if the offender does not record the stream and keep a copy of it.
The European Financial Coalition against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Online (EFC), the group that commissioned the report, believes this trend is of "particular concern" and warrants "greater enforcement attention, systematic intelligence gathering and effective collaboration of prevention measures."
In one case study cited in the report, one perpetrator located in one of the 28 EU member states, ordered child sexual abuse online in South-Eastern Asian country, using chat services and webcams to instruct women on the particular type of abuse he wanted to watch - paying $25-30 for a 30 minute session.
The same person paid an annual fee of $5,500 for camera shots of young children in the same village. An investigation discovered that most of the women in the village where the abuse took place were involved in the crimes; sometimes abusing children who were not their own.
The report also looks at the way this material is distributed, highlighting the fact that more and more transactions - both commercial and non-commercial - were taking place on the deep web.
While Peer-to-peer (P2P) networks such as Gnutella, eDonkey and eMule remain popular more sophisticated offenders have moved to the deep web however, taking advantage of the anonymity provided by the likes of Tor, which made the news recently when one of its largest and most infamous websites, Silk Road, was shut down.
Investigators have found a higher proportion of new, homemade material on Tor, as this is higher-risk material and therefore requires more security.
Development of the technology on which Tor is built has also meant it is being used by a much broader group or people. The system is now much faster than a couple of years ago and easy-to-understand, online guides on how to access the Tor network mean even low level offenders have become informed as to how to protect themselves.
Traditionally targeting the transfer of money in exchange for child abuse material has been a valuable route to prosecution for law enforcement agencies, but the economics of the industry have changed significantly in recent years.
"Whilst targeting the commercial structure that supports the exchange of child sexual abuse material is a way to trace abusers, and some of the more entrepreneurial distributors, money is not the only currency at play here," said Christian Berg, found and CEO of NetClean, a company which produces technology to track illegal images of child sexual abuse.
Berg continues: "In the world of child exploitation different economics are at work. Abusive content itself is a form of currency, valued based on how new it may be or its extremity. Criminals exchange images like-for-like, and the provision of new content can serve as a step up into exclusive rings that share select abuse content or even meet to commit abuse crimes in person."
The EFC's report claims that the amount of child abuse material which is paid for is as low as 7.5%, with new material exchanged in non-commercial environments becoming a currency all of its own, with the value being in the novelty of the image.
The report says the value of "new material" is very evident with typical video clips costing as little as $10 each, one video file of new material on demand can cost up to $1,200.
Berg says: "As more anonymised payment systems emerge and as use of anonymised browsers like Tor becomes more prevalent, we may see more financial systems evolving around the exchange of CSA material. This makes it more important than ever to put systems in place to prevent and disrupt the exchange of this material, as well as supporting international and national police forces in sharing information and solving cases."
The reports says greater focus has been put on non-commercial distribution of CAM this years because "from an investigative prospective, new material means ongoing abuse and unidentified victims."