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Illustration by Security Management

Bye-Bye to Welcome to Video

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia unsealed indictments on 16 October that were filed against the operator and several users of Welcome to Video, a child pornography website on the Darknet. The site offered its members downloadable exploitation videos.

According to a press release issued by the U.S. Department of Justice, Jong Woo Son, a South Korean citizen, faces nine criminal charges related to operation of the website. The U.S. federal government also simultaneously filed a civil forfeiture action against Son, seeking to reclaim the site's earnings and restore the funds to victims of the site. He is currently in custody in South Korea, where he also faces charges. The criminal charges filed against Jong in the United States include conspiracy to advertise child pornography, production of sexually explicit depictions of a minor for importation into the U.S., distribution of child pornography, money laundering, and other associated acts.

The Justice Department also noted that 337 site users were arrested and charged. The users were from all around the world, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and various states in the U.S. A number of those users were found to have also conspired with Jong to maintain the success of the website, with the U.S. executing five search warrants and eight arrests in the Washington, D.C. area. Other arrests occurred in Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Sweden. A list of some of the alleged users and conspirators can be found in the Justice Department's press release, as well as the disclaimer that all those indicted are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Federal investigators, specifically ones from from the U.S. IRS Criminal Investigation department, determined the ultimate location and administrator of the website's Darknet server by tracing bitcoin transactions that were funding the site.

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The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) is presently analyzing the images from roughly eight terabytes of videos. Welcome to Video claimed to have over a million downloadeds, and the seized data yielded approximately 250,000 unique videos, NCMEC found that at least 45 percent of the videos feature new images, previously unknown. The investigation and seizure also led to the rescue of at least 23 minors from site users or members in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Spain. According to court documents, the Tor network-based site was up and running by around June 2015, and emphasized that users not upload adult porn.

The investigation was coordinated between the U.S. IRS Criminal Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, the UK's National Crime Agency, the Korean National Police of the Republic of Korea, the German Federal Criminal Police, and the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of International Affairs of the Criminal Division.