Following a cross-border multiagency operation, German police have shut down a massive child abuse platform, known as Boystown. It was one of the biggest and most active child sexual abuse networks on the dark web, with some half a million registered users. In total, four suspects have been arrested thus far.
Child Porn Site Boystown Shutdown
Boystown has been active on the dark web, a hidden part of the internet, since June 2019. According to the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany, the platform was split between a forum area and two chat services, LoliPub and BoysPub. Screenshots shared by the police show different categories of child pornographic material, including “hardcore”, “kindergarten” and “toddler”.
The platform contained millions of photos of young children. Furthermore, various language channels were setup to facilitate communication between members of different countries. Most recently, it had more than 400,000 users worldwide.
Prosecutors said the platform was “one of the world’s biggest child pornography darknet platforms”. And that they found images showing the “most severe sexual abuse of toddlers”. The German Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, hailed the operation as a huge success. He also confirmed that authorities would continue to do everything in their power to protect children from these disgusting crimes.
Four Suspects Apprehended
The German police extensively investigated the child pornography network for months. Law enforcement authorities from the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, Canada, and the United States participated in the German investigation. Europol played a coordinating role.
Authorities arrested four suspects in total, all German nationals: three in Germany and one in Paraguay. German police have submitted an extradition request for the latter. The 58-year-old suspect residing in Paraguay, a 40-year-old man from Paderborn, and a 49-year-old man from Munich are reportedly responsible for maintaining the network.
The fourth suspect is a 64-year-old man from Hamburg. According to the police, he is one of the most active users of the platform. Between June 2019 and early April 2021, he allegedly posted more than 3,500 posts on the network. The four men were taken from their beds on the night of the 14 to 15 April during a search operation.
More Arrests to Follow
Europol explained that the case illustrates what Europol is seeing with regards to child sexual abuse offences: “Online child offender communities on the dark web exhibit considerable resilience in response to law enforcement actions targeting them. Their reactions include resurrecting old communities, establishing new communities, and making strong efforts to organize and administer them.”
During the investigation, law enforcement authorities seized image and video material. Special victim identification software will help identify young victims. Victim identification involves the detailed analysis of images to locate and hopefully rescue children. Interpol’s child sexual exploitation database currently holds more than 2.7 million images and videos and has helped identify 23,500 victims worldwide.
Europol expects more arrests to follow in the coming weeks and months, as police worldwide examine the intelligence packages compiled by Europol. 64 countries are connected to Europol’s database.
Not the First Criminal Network Taken Offline
Boystown is not the first criminal network taken offline by German police and also not the first platform of its kind to be shutdown. In January, German authorities took down the largest illegal marketplace on the dark web called DarkMarket. The forum had nearly half a million members and over 2,400 vendors. In total, more than 140 million Euros in cryptocurrency had been traded on the platform. The marketplace’s suspected owner is a 34-year-old Australian.
German police uncovered the illegal dark web marketplace while investigating a “cyber bunker”. In an old, underground NATO bunker in Germany, they discovered more than 400 servers. These servers were being used to communicate via the dark web. The center had also been hosting DarkMarket for some time. A 60-year-old Dutchman allegedly ran the complex. He was arrested in September 2019, along with seven others. The prime suspect is currently on trial.
In June 2015, the FBI took down another massive child pornography website called Playpen. The platform had over 215,000 registered users. At first, the FBI couldn’t do much about the network, because the platform used Tor network’s hidden services. However, in December 2014, Chase slipped up and revealed Playpen’s unique IP address. The case sparked hundreds of child porn investigations and arrests in countries far and wide. In 2017, the creator and lead administrator, the then 58-year-old Steven Chase from Florida, was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.