In early 2009, an unsuspecting grandmother looking for gifts for her grandchildren online was suddenly redirected to a website containing child-pornography. She alerted the Italian Postal and Communications Police (PPC), who began monitoring the activity of the illicit pages. Their investigation would eventually uncover a massive, global child-pornography operation.
Initially, they discovered that the illegal content was being hosted on an Italian Web server. With the help of Europol, the European Union law enforcement agency that handles criminal intelligence, all EU law-enforcement agencies and other countries and agencies such as Interpol were notified about the threat.
Further investigation revealed that this wasn’t the only server that had been hijacked. In fact, a number of servers around the world had been intentionally infected with malware that automatically redirects innocent Web surfers to offensive child-pornography sites. The criminals were able to hijack several businesses’ websites that were lacking in adequate malware defense. In most cases, the owners of the infected servers—typically hotels and health clubs—were completely unaware of the malware’s presence.
While it appears to originate in Eastern Europe, the child-pornography operation is linked to a ring of criminals worldwide. Authorities suspect that the International crime ring is responsible for producing the child-pornography itself and also for commercially distributing it. An investigation led by the PPC and Europol exposed over 1,000 web servers worldwide that had been infected.
Fortunately, with the help of the server owners, the infected Web servers have since been cleaned, but the investigation to find those responsible for producing and distributing the child pornography, as well as the end-users who purchased it, goes on.