Threat 2.0: How to protect your children in 2009

As if the prospect of your child being targeted by a paedophile wasn’t already horrific enough, the grim reality is that the latest tactics being employed by online child abusers are – almost unimaginably – an order of magnitude worse than before.

Threat 2.0: How to protect your children in 2009

With internet providers barring access to the majority of child-abuse sites, and children becoming aware of traditional grooming methods, paedophiles are resorting to more extreme strategies.”A trend that has developed over the past year is the increasing level of threatening behaviour used as part of grooming techniques.” That’s the stark assessment of a recent strategic review from the police’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).

Blackmailing children by hacking into their social-networking accounts and threatening to publish indecent images of them is just one of the new methods by which paedophiles operate. Attacks orchestrated through virtual worlds or online games are increasingly prevalent.

Paedophiles are also finding new ways to avoid detection. Images are freely traded on peer-to-peer file-sharing services, with no incriminating credit card details for police to trace. Hijacking open Wi-Fi connections means it isn’t the paedophile’s door that police come knocking on when illegal activity is linked to a connection – and raises the chilling prospect of false convictions.

We’re going to expose the full range of tactics used by today’s child sex offenders and reveal the threats that experts believe are most likely to occur in the future. We’ll also provide advice for parents who are both trying to head off and deal with the consequences of a paedophile’s acts. It’s a disturbing subject, but one that has to be covered.

How to protect your child… and yourself

Social blackmailing

Social-networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo have been a cause of concern for parents for some time, although previous fears have largely focused on the quantity of personal data children share on such sites. But CEOP’s strategic review suggests paedophiles are using social networks for more than a data-harvesting tool.

“The more traditional grooming approaches, such as already claiming tobe known [to children on a social network] doesn’t work as much with young people,” Dr Victoria Baines, CEOP’s strategic analyst tells PC Pro. “We’re seeing a move into more insidious behaviour to get hold of someone online.”

One such tactic is to hijack a child’s social-networking account – usually by hacking the child’s password, which is rarely strong enough to withstand a brute-force dictionary attack. Once inside, the attacker can pose as the account holder in order to groom their contacts. From there, the attacker can encourage a child to transfer their conversations to instant-messaging software, such as Windows Messenger, which not only offers a higher degree of privacy, but allows the attacker to interact with the child on webcam.

“Children and young people are encouraged to switch on their webcams as a prelude to being asked to perform sexual acts, and/or to witness an adult exposing themselves or masturbating,” CEOP’s strategic report claims. But if a child baulks at a direct request to engage in sexual activity, the attacker can resort to intimidation.

The police have received reports of children being threatened with physical violence if they don’t agree to pose for images. Others threaten to send viruses or delete all the files on their PC in a bid to scare children into conforming. Odd as it might seem, the most serious threat is to wipe content from their social-networking account. “Children are constructing social identities online,” says Baines. “A threat to delete someone’s content – it’s quite a powerful hold over them. They convince children to engage in sexual acts on webcam and maintain relationships they might otherwise not.”

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