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Finance

New blockchain tech partnership aims to trace child porn peddlers

“We simply don’t know what proportion of child sex abuse is currently associated with Bitcoin use,” Sarah Smith, Technical Research at the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) tells IDG Connect.

IWF is dedicated to eliminating child sexual abuse content worldwide. While Smith is author of a ‘Preliminary analysis into commercial child sexual abuse material distributor accepting Bitcoin payment’ published in 2014 [PDF].

It was this research that helped that lead to last week’s partnership with Elliptic – an organisation which identifies illicit activity on the Bitcoin blockchain. This partnerships spells “a real opportunity to start tackling the misuse of this payment method in aid of the fight against online child sexual abuse imagery,” explains Smith.

“We have no idea how much illegal imagery is actually out there on the web, so it’s impossible for us to determine what proportion of it is associated with Bitcoin,” she adds. "What we do know, from our own operations and what we see in our hotline, is that it’s a steadily increasing trend."

In practice IWF has provided its database of Bitcoin addresses associated with child sexual abuse content to Elliptic. It will now integrate this data set into its “transaction monitoring and investigation products”.

Dr James Smith, CEO of Elliptic explains: “Elliptic products automatically alerts clients to all Bitcoin addresses that are linked to illicit activity, including dark marketplaces, thefts, ransom and extortion.

“The IWF's unique data set is an important addition to our existing database, which links millions of Bitcoin addresses to thousands of clear and dark web entities, and has been trusted to asses risk on more than $5 billion in Bitcoin transactions.”

A recently published a peer-reviewed paper discusses how Elliptic applies its technology to link real world entities with Bitcoin addresses in more detail.  

But what about cryptocurrencies outside Bitcoin which are, after all, springing up all the time? Smith of IWF explains everyone is equally in the dark about the other currencies used in child exploitation. While Smith of Elliptic says:

“Our focus is on providing the best technology to our clients. If law enforcement agencies and large companies develop a pressing need for analysis on cryptocurrencies outside of Bitcoin, we would certainly look to meet that demand.”

Smith concludes he is definitely open to similar new partnerships to target other particular areas of crime – but only if he can be absolutely certain the evidence supplied is of the highest quality.  

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