Can Child Pornography on Gnutella Be Stopped?

Much has been done over the past thirteen years to stop the proliferation of child pornography online. Sites like ASACP.org and perverted-justice.com have put up massive efforts to shutdown websites advocating child pornography and convict child predators. But one of the biggest distributors of child pornography online has been largely overlooked, the peer-to-peer file sharing network known as Gnutella.

 

Using simple downloading software like LimeWire, BearShare and Gtk-Gnutella, users can easily share thousands of videos and images containing child pornography. These networks are unmonitored and offer the greatest potential threat to the safety of the children who are being abused because of its services. However, tracking down file sharers on this network has become nearly impossible due to their anonymity. The problem lies in the fact that Gnutella servers are powered by end user PCs rather than dedicated machines on registered networks.

A few individuals have tried to call attention to this problem. Individuals like Jorge Gonzalez, owner of the Zeropaid.com who set up a fake Gnutella server hosting hundreds of bogus child pornographic images. The purpose of the server was to catch those who attempted to download these images by recording their IP addresses, and then listing them on Zeropaid.com’s “Wall of Shame” page. It’s an interesting approach, but herein lies the problem. Most Gnutella users connect to the network using high-speed internet services such as ADSL. Internet Service Providers who offer these high speed services employ DHCP to issue new IP addresses to their customers every 24 to 48 hours. With this in mind, you can record all the IP addresses you want, but posting them online for the entire world to see does very little to catch those who are abusing children to produce this material. Once DHCP comes into play, the IP address that belongs to a potential child predator today might very well belong to an online child protection group tomorrow. I don’t think I need to go any further for you to see how this could be a problem. This is probably why the “Wall of Shame” page no longer exists. Waiting around with a list of IP addresses that shun the downloader’s of child pornography does nothing to protect the children affected by this activity.

Lack of censorship on Gnutella has also added to the networks wide spread distribution of child pornography. Gnutella is monitored by its users only. There are no moderators to kick users off of the network or report suspicious activity to local authorities. Gnutella is a free highway for users to upload and download anything they want without getting caught in the process. This has turned the network into a breading ground for child pornography.

So why are authorities and Internet Service Providers not responding to this problem? The current understanding is that the anonymity of Gnutella users makes them impossible to track, but my research shows otherwise. The IP addresses of anyone attempting to download files from a computer using a Gnutella program can be clearly seen in the software’s network monitor. Further more, these addresses can be tracked fairly accurately as long as the process begins immediately, before DHCP has had a chance to change them. In fact, websites such as ip-adress.com can pinpoint the exact location of IP addresses all over the world. I used the service myself back in February to track a login attempt to my own home server. With services like this in place, local authorities on stand by and a dedicated team of individuals to monitor the activity of Gnutella users, child pornography on this network could become a thing of the past.

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