Europol Launched Operation Against Encrypted Chat Groups of Underage Abuse

Written by Bill Toulas
Last updated December 12, 2019

Europol published the details of an operation carrying the code name “Chemosh” and which targeted encrypted chat groups, the members of which exchanged child sexual abuse emoji “stickers”. The operation spanned across Spain, Italy, and France, and begun back in 2017, measuring a total of 33 individual but connected investigations. The cyber investigation was supported by Europol, carried out mainly by the Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce, while the arrests were performed by the Policia Nacional of Spain.

The shocking aspect of the Europol report is that these groups mostly consisted of minors, with the average age of those who were arrested in Spain is only 22. This brings up a complicated problem that underpins a wider range of demographic categories. The members created emoji “stickers” that depicted scenes of child sexual abuse and other extreme acts of violence and indignity, and then shared them with a large number of users. The Spanish Police learned about this after a public report that detailed how children were forming WhatsApp groups to create and exchange inappropriate material that caused trouble to other minors. Obviously, there’s nothing worse for a child to be sexually abused and then have the records of the acts shared with many thousands of people online. Such groups can lead to minors getting completely devastated and even suicidal.

Adult “infiltrators” with a sexual interest in this type of material joined in these groups, and downloaded the material or actively shared more from their “private collections”. Soon, smaller groups broke off the originals, forming smaller groups that were more targeted and more specific. Still, the majority of this activity remained in Spain, so most of the people who got arrested are from the Iberian country (26 out of the 33 in total). The Spanish Police have congratulated the citizens who brought this to their attention and managed to track down the abusers after their agents infiltrated the chat groups.

Besides the police, Europol’s cyber investigators, and ethical citizens, it is parents who need to undertake the primary role of the protector of their children. Online dangers lurk, and parents need to stay alert, educating their kids, trying to monitor what they’re doing on the internet, and even placing parental controls. Finally, Europol uses this chance to note that the law enforcing authorities should be able to tap into encrypted communications, but this is still a highly disputed proposal.

What is your opinion on encrypted communications and the provision of backdoors to the authorities? Let us know where you stand in the comments down below, or on our socials, on Facebook and Twitter.

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