Published on May 10th, 2022 | by Kevin McTiernan & Kevin Metcalf
Child abduction and trafficking is one of the most shocking crimes against society. Every parent has unfortunately had to consider the potential for their child to be a victim of deception and exploitation, but today that reality is accentuated by children’s use of online resources. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCEMC) reports nearly a twofold increase in online enticement of children in 2020, largely because of the increased use of connective technologies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of children now have access to one or more personal phones or other smart devices. If not carefully monitored by parents or others, messaging apps, social media, chat platforms, and even online games may hold hidden dangers for children, who might connect with malicious individuals adept at grooming and earning their trust. Victims may be enticed by praise, false empathy, financial incentives, or sexually explicit conversation and content, with criminals seeking to convince them to provide exploitive images or videos or run away from home and into the arms of predators.
Digital Measures and Countermeasures
As the use of online technologies in child exploitation, abduction, and trafficking crimes becomes more common, the role of lawful intelligence in preventing and resolving them is more important than ever. Perpetrators are skilled at covering their tracks by using false online identities, fake accounts, burner phones, swapped-out SIM cards, and more in communications with potential victims. Likewise, many of the illicit transactions made by criminals in these cases—from distributing Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) to selling the victims themselves—takes place on the dark web, further obscuring criminal individuals and organizations. Advances in lawful intelligence technologies help illuminate these activities. With a court ordered warrant or subpoena, investigators can access information about a child’s communications leading up to an abduction or other disappearance, such as text messages, emails, and social media activity. Communication service providers (CSPs) may be able to reconstruct details about victims’ use of applications and messaging platforms, for example, and metadata can be analyzed to gain insight into encrypted communications. In some cases, it is also possible to obtain past or even present location information for a victim’s and/or person of interest’s devices. Together, these and other data sources help establish patterns of life and timelines that lead to the identification and prosecution of child traffickers and the safe return of missing children.
Assembling a Comprehensive Basis for Investigations
Child predators are well aware of the investigative value of digital footprints, often convincing victims to delete messages from devices or confiscating the devices themselves. Navigating privacy laws and regulations can further delay or limit LEA access to critical information. As such, investigators need to consider all data sources available to them. And investigators need to take advantage of the most sophisticated lawful intelligence tools to intercept and analyze communications between people and devices of interest. In addition to the measures that are commonly used across other types of investigations, such as call detail record analysis and security or traffic camera video feeds, LEAs should draw on additional data sources in missing children cases, which may include the following:
- Mobile advertising IDs: used to personalize ad placement, these unique ID’s can identify a device within a geofenced area of interest, for example.
- Mobile Device Identifiers: a child may be coerced into swapping the SIM card in their device, but law enforcement can still track the mobile by using the phone’s identifier.
- Social media or messaging accounts: tracking activity on known accounts may reveal the IP address or cell phone tower used to login.
SS8’s platform is ideally suited to ingesting, normalizing, monitoring, and analyzing these diverse types of information to advance investigations. Xcipio collects data that can reveal who a suspect is calling and who is calling them, as well as the audio, call duration, cell ID, and Internet Protocol Detail Records (IPDRs). It even captures metadata to give investigators insights into encrypted OTT platforms commonly used by traffickers. Our accurate, precise location solution not only provides GPS coordinates, but it can also tell officers which floor a device is on within a building. Intellego XT monitors these streams; contextualizes them with OSINT, location, and other sources; and provides powerful querying capabilities. Its easy-to-use dashboards help officers and intelligence analysts visualize results to discover actionable intelligence. The company is also actively engaged with LEAs and other relevant organizations around the globe to develop tools and techniques that protect children and is a thought leader in this important area, publishing papers on the methods and technologies used in investigations and practices for more effectively recovering missing and exploited children.
Preventing and responding to child exploitation, abduction, and trafficking is a vital part of SS8’s mission to protect society. Powerful abilities to lawfully intercept relevant communications and location data combined with advanced data fusion and analytics capabilities make SS8’s Xcipio and Intellego XT platforms invaluable to LEAs and victims, helping solve these horrifying crimes more quickly and efficiently
About Kevin McTiernan
Kevin has over 20 years of extensive experience in the telecommunications and network security industries. At SS8, Kevin is the VP of Government Solutions and is responsible for leading the vision, design, and delivery of SS8’s government solutions, including the Xcipio® compliance portfolio. You can learn more about Kevin on his LinkedIn profile by clicking here.
About Kevin Metcalf
Kevin Metcalf is currently the Director of Product Enablement at SS8. He is a former federal agent turned prosecutor and is the founder of the National Child Protection Task Force (NCPTF). The NCPTF brings together recognized experts in legal strategy, OSINT, cellular mapping and analysis, dark web investigations, and cryptocurrency to aid law enforcement agencies everywhere. His law enforcement experience ranges from local to federal, and spans over 20 years. More about Kevin can be found here.
About SS8 Networks
SS8 provides Lawful Intelligence platforms. They work closely with leading intelligence agencies, communication providers, law enforcement agencies and standards bodies. Their technology incorporates the methodologies discussed in this blog and the Xcipio® and Intellego® XT product portfolios are used worldwide for the capture, analysis, and delivery of data for the purposes of criminal investigations.