The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has reported there has been an increase in the number of legitimate websites being hacked and used to distribute images of child abuse. Over the course of the past six weeks, the IWF has received over 227 reports of what has been described as “the worst images of sexual abuse” being discovered by unsuspecting victims.
The websites being targeted by hackers are of a legitimate nature, and range from mainstream retail, including a well-known furniture brand, to consensual pornographic websites. These hacked websites have been used as gateways to secret folders holding images, without the website owner’s knowledge.
“We hadn’t seen significant numbers of hacked websites for around two years, and then suddenly in June we started seeing this happening more and more” IWF Technical Researcher Sarah Smith said.
“It shows how someone, not looking for child sexual abuse images, can stumble across it. The original adult content the Internet user is viewing is far removed from anything related to young people or children.”
The hack manifests itself as a link on a legitimate website, which is designed to unknowingly redirect users to the illegal content. After the user clicks the hacked link, they are sent to a folder filled with images of child abuse held on a separate website. Because these folders are not held on the hacked website, the existence of such links will be unknown to website administrators.
The IWF report follows in the wake of David Cameron’s recent proposal for a nationwide Internet pornography block, which will be applied to UK homes by default and will require users to specifically opt-out should they wish to access filtered content. The government’s plans have come under fire from the tech community however, who have argued such a block would be easy to bypass, even by those it is intended to protect.
It is unlikely that these hacks are intended as a response to Cameron’s plans, and the IWF believes these hacks have been designed with the intention of spreading malware across the web, infecting user’s computers and mainstream websites. Regardless, this news will be seen as a setback by government forces pushing for Internet filters. The news has made it clear that blocking pornographic websites wont necessarily stop the spread of indecent images, and will do nothing to prevent hackers from hiding such material on mainstream, non-pornographic websites.