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Sam Forsdick


Paedophile rings “one step ahead of cyber criminals” claims former head of NCCU

Perpetrators of online child sex abuse are often early adopters of technology and tactics to avoid detection from the National Cyber Crime Unit according to its former chief.

Speaking at a Cloudsec 2018 panel on cyber criminals, Charlie McMurdie, former head of police at the NCCU, said that “paedophile rings were often one step ahead of cyber criminals”.

The comments follow a speech made by the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, which called on tech companies to do more to tackle online child sex abuse as well as pledging an extra £21.5m investment in law enforcement to track down offenders online and “in the dark corners of the web”.

Nicole van der Meulen, senior strategic analyst at Europol, backed up McMurdie’s claim, explaining that “live streaming is unfortunately being used in child sex abuse cases as the ‘client’ can make requests. It leaves less forensic evidence for authorities to find and no files saved to the hard drive.”

McMurdie added that she had seen similar techniques used in smuggling and poaching operations as more organised crime adopted a “cyber arm”.

Rik Fergusson, vice president of security research at Trend Micro, who chaired the event added: “I’ve had conversations with law enforcement in the past and we spoke about the fact that online child sexual exploitation is moving away from traditional file sharing and into live-streaming because it reduces the forensic evidence that is left behind after the event.

“It didn’t surprise me to hear all of the panel in agreement that these people are early adopters of certain types of technology. I guess some of that will be driven by the fact that they feel more under active investigation and targeted by law enforcement – and justifiably so.”

During the panel discussion McMurdie also argued law enforcement would benefit from more government funding “without a shadow of a doubt” and explained that the top talent talent in cyber security was too often poached by the big private companies such as Trend Micro and Microsoft that can offer higher salaries.

However Paul Hoare, the current head of Incident handling at the NCCU, believed there was more nuance to it.

He said: “The government has put a lot of money into cyber specialist law enforcement and it is actually pretty well resourced. We now need to roll that capability out to the wider police force.”

Although Hoare did acknowledge it would be “difficult for police constables” as they face declining budgets.

During his speech at the headquarters of child protection charity the NSPCC Javid said: “I’ve been impressed by the progress the likes of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and Apple have made on counter-terrorism.

“Now I want to see the same level of commitment for child sexual exploitation. In recent years there has been some good work in this area. But the reality is that the threat has evolved quicker than industry’s response and industry has not kept up… I am not just asking for change, I am demanding it. And the people are demanding it too.”

The National Crime Agency revealed that there had been a 700 per cent increase in the number of images of child abuse being reported to it in the past five years and claimed that as many as 80,000 people in the UK were involved in the online crime.

Google has been one of the first tech companies to act and announced it will be using artificial intelligence to help identify images of child abuse on a larger scale in a bid to keep up with offenders.