The Challenges of Investigating Live Streamed Child Sexual Abuse

A nice cheerful topic to start us off on a Monday morning.

I wrote a thing for Forensic Focus about how it’s quite difficult to investigate the live streaming of child sexual abuse online, but how we should do it anyway.


Among the challenges facing digital forensic investigators today, the instantaneous nature of online communication is arguably one of the most persistent. Trying to investigate whether a crime has occurred, and if so to bring its perpetrators to justice in a space that is constantly changing, is no simple task. With the Apple App Store alone reportedly growing by up to 1,000 applications per day, keeping up to date with the necessary methods of communication becomes increasingly difficult.

Just in the past twelve months, there have been instances of paedophiles using within-game messaging services to groom youngsters, as well as the wave of recent discussion regarding Isis’ purported use of encrypted messaging app Telegram to communicate.

For those whose specialism is investigating crimes against children, there is another element of online life that makes the job even more challenging: live streaming.

In a report published by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) in early 2013, the live streaming of images and videos depicting children being abused in real time was described as an emerging trend. The report attributes this to a number of factors, including increasing high-speed internet penetration in developing nations; the availability of relatively cheap hardware such as webcams; and a “vast and comparatively wealthy overseas client base.”

The demand for images and videos of child abuse existed long before the internet entered our homes, but there is no denying that the speed of modern communications and the proliferation of cheap, easy to use devices through which relatively anonymous files and messages can be shared is providing easier access to child abuse images and spreading the problem quicker and further afield than ever before.

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