Wednesday, October 30, 2013



Throughout the world today, there has arisen a new (or not so new) form of human degradation from the newly traversed trenches of criminal fiefdom. In the battle to overcome, many new forms of combat are becoming revealed with the advent of the newest technologies and the almost magical devices that are being uncovered almost daily. These devices and technologies, when they are in the hands of those who wish to compromise the safety of others, can be used to turn the most innocent, unassuming young boys and girls into terrified, tortured and tattered victims just by offering them promising messages of fame, fortune and riches. These types of messages are not new by any means; they have been used to lure young victims through out history. However, the method used today by those who seek to entrap others has been rapidly changing and the challenges that are faced by those seeking to stop them have remained constant.

When investigating crimes that use the devices and technologies of today, there are three basic types of data that can be used to build a case against a suspected perpetrator. These are active data, archival data and latent data. The difference between the three is: active data is data that can be seen without needing any special tools to obtain, such as data files, operating files and program files, archival data consists of data which has been backed up on storage mediums such as hard drives, CDs, tapes or floppy disks and latent data is the type of data which can only be accessed by using specialized tools such as computer software programs dedicated to recovering data from damaged or deleted files.


The criminal use of technology was never more evident than during the three-day nationwide enforcement action called Operation Cross Country. Part of the FBI’s Innocence Lost National Initiative, Operation Cross Country is a partnership of law enforcement officers from 76 cities across the U.S and this year ended up being the largest enforcement action since its inception in 2003. During this three day initiative, the FBI and other partnering agencies made contact with young women who had become involved in prostitution. By using undercover agents and detectives and also canvassing areas where prostitution is known to occur, the initiative was able to offer the victims community services like job training, housing, counseling, and medical and education assistance. So far, the Innocence Lost National Initiative has identified and recovered more than 2,700 s.exually exploited children from across the country (FBI, 2013).

Sexual predators tend to use social media websites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, SnapChat, and Tumblr to entice their victims and to advertise for future recruits around the world. Therefore, the use of mobile tracking technology and other forensic software such as AccessData FTK have become essential tools to investigators aimed at stopping this heinous criminal activity. It is by using the active, archival and even latent data that these software programs can retrieve from the victims' electronic devices, investigators are able to use the information received to bring the perpetrators to justice and bring assistance to the victims.

Not only are computers and mobile devices which connect to the internet frequently used to lure victims, but also the use of prepaid cell phones in also on the rise by traffickers. These prepaid cell phones are optimal for them to use due to the privacy inherently given to the purchaser. The trafficker can simply walk into any Dollar General or Wal-Mart and purchase one of these low cost phones. When he (or she) is finished with the phone, it is simply tossed away. There has been no contract signed, no personal information given… they simply purchase the phone, a card with minutes on it and presto! They are good to go!

Investigating s.ex Trafficking

Investigating s.ex trafficking cases can be difficult. Not only are the perpetrators normal looking people, like you and I. Their victims seem to be normal teenagers and young adults. The majorities of them appear to be runaways from troubled homes and are simply looking for a way to survive. The men who prey on these types of children tend to portray themselves as generous, fun and upstanding, whereas in reality they are selfish, mean and nasty. They use their victims as their own personal slaves and force them to perform degrading, immoral and many times, dangerous tasks for their own enjoyment and financial gain. Many times, the victims end up so ravaged that they have to make up cover stories to hide the fact that they have been abused.

They are unable to get out of their situations. The men who have taken them captive keep them locked up, like animals and many times they are kept drugged, underfed, under-clothed and in unsanitary conditions. If they do happen to escape, their captors find them, beat them and keep them chained up, refusing to give them the drugs that they have become so dependent on until such time as they have a client that "needs" their services.
On a positive note, there are task forces dedicated to finding these poor, lost souls and bringing them up out of the pit that they have been thrown into. The "angels" who make up these groups all come from various organizations and police departments from across the country. They go undercover, into the crime infested areas of cities looking for those young people who, while they may appear to be fine on the outside, are crying out for help on the inside.

One such case is outlined in the May 28, 2011 issue of Vanity Fair Magazine. In the article, "s.ex Trafficking of Americans: The Girls Next Door", author Amy Fine Collins goes into detail about the abuse and degradation that many children today are experiencing from society. She writes about how two girls are promised love, attention, and "the good life" only to be imprisoned, drugged, tortured and prostituted out (Collins, 2012).

These girls were eventually given justice for what they endured, yet there are hundreds of cases across the country which do not end up with such happy endings. Many times, the young victims end up being horribly murdered or even take their own lives.

Anti-Trafficking Technology

Human s.ex traffickers have begun to develop different ways to use the internet as a recruitment tool. Going on social media sites, using online classifieds sites and posing as a legitimate business, such as a modeling agency i.e. posting ads looking for potential clients, using online media to threaten to post nude photos of the victim if they don't do what they are told, are all ways that predators are able to procure victims. Craigslist and BackPage were two of the more popular classified ads sites until recently when the discontinued their adult services section.

While it may be difficult to discern between a legitimate ad and a s.ex ad, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) has made it a bit easier, stating that “all minors engaged in commercial s.ex acts are treated as victims of trafficking” (Major, 2012, p. 5). This has brought about new ways to screen for keywords used in the interpretation of ads to include all types of trafficking, be it s.ex or labor. However, much still needs to be done to develop a sure fire way of deciphering online ads and finding the trafficked victims.

One example of how law enforcement departments have succeeded in their ongoing attempts to thwart the s.ex traffickers’ game involved the arrest and conviction of 18 individuals for the s.ex trafficking of children and adult women to and from the truck stops of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In this case, over 150 victims were identified as having been exploited; 45 of whom had been underage at the time of their kidnapping. "In December 2005, eighteen individuals were indicted for the s.ex trafficking of children, conspiracy, transportation, and money laundering. In December 2008, Terrance Williams, aka “Sleazy T” was sentenced to 45 years for his role in the enterprise; Eric Hayes, aka “International Ross” to 35 years; and multiple other defendants to sentences exceeding 25 years in length (Smith, 2011).”

Recently, there has been the unveiling of internationally shared anti-trafficking databases. INTERPOL's database for Stolen and Lost Travel Documents, as well as their numerous other databases can be used to identify false documentation, send out notices of suspicious persons or wanted persons that need to be intercepted. Because of this, the advancement in international cooperation within the past few years has been unprecedented. However, there still remains a huge disconnect between different agencies and the ability to communicate between themselves (Major, 2012, p.6).
Another program that had been developed in 2009 by The FBI’s Special Technologies and Applications Office was nicknamed FANTOM and uses digital information, such as suspects’ emails, phone calls, text messages, etc., that is input into the program and the program then analyzes it, to create a “visual, 3-dimensional representation of significant discovered relationships. This technology could be potentially used to discover patterns in tracking, and the relationships between suspected trafficking organizations (Major, 2011, p. 7)." This technology, if used to trace a victim’s or predator’s online movements, could potentially allow for a more rapid response time and subsequently more captures, arrests and rescues.

Facial recognition software has also recently been developed to assist in the finding of victims and their captors’ since many of the online solicitations include a posting of a picture. However, there is still a long way to go before this type of software is proven to be error free. There is a newly developed program on the market released by Microsoft called PhotoDNA, which can track an image across the internet, and even identify a photo which has been altered from the original. This software has a huge potential, as it can help to find photographs of trafficked persons (Major 2011, p. 8).

Investigative Challenges

The largest challenge that computer forensics investigators face when combatting this type of crime is the new push throughout the online world for privacy. With the new types of software that can be installed on systems that will block any type of tracking system, it seems that all bets are off when attempting to track a persons' whereabouts. Using anonymizer software, encryption technology, hot spot connections and remote storage systems, it seems that we have almost stabbed ourselves in the foot when it comes to stopping those who seek to cause harm.

There are several different types of anonymizers, from those who simply block your personal information from being accessed, to those who block your IP address and more. There are "onion routers" such as Tor which encrypts routing information as to prevent linking the origin and destination, proxies (servers that act as go-betweens when someone looks for resources from other servers), andI2P which allows applications to send messages to each other anonymously and securely (Wikipedia, 2013). Many of these are free for anyone to download from sites such as

Trafficking is becoming more and more difficult to track due to the new 'hot spot' technology. A "Hot spot" is a wireless internet connection, or hub, that can be taken anywhere and used to allow someone to connect to the internet. Traffickers love this sort of technology, as it allows them to "work" from anywhere. Inexpensive and easy to use, Wi-Fi hotspots are small and compact. This means that they do not need to be in a fixed location to find their clients and "schedule an appointment". Just by doing a search on ‘WI-FI HotSpot’, you will come up with pages of results for various types of software for you to use to connect to the internet from anywhere. There are even many free hotspots available.

With the newest wireless technology having reached the consumer market, traffickers can now even drive down the street with their Wi-Fi device scanning the area for an open, unprotected hub. Once they have found one, all they have to do is park, log into the wireless internet account and go about their business. When they are finished making their deals, they simply drive away… off to find a new network that they can “piggyback” off of.

Since many human traffickers use electronic means of detailing their crimes, keeping records of johns, financial records, etc.; the necessity of procuring these incriminating records becomes highly necessary to the success of the investigation. However, some traffickers have discovered a way to keep others from discovering this information by using what is called encryption. The definition of encryption is “the conversion of data into a form, called a “ciphertext” that cannot be easily understood by unauthorized people (Rouse, 2006)”.

The ability to encrypt information has since become easier and faster with the onslaught of new encryption software programs available on the internet. Many of these programs are, like the previously mentioned programs, free for anyone to download. The good thing is that there are also many ‘decryption’ software programs available that will allow you to find out what the encrypted information is. Another form of encryption that is popular with s.ex traffickers is the hiding of pornographic images inside of other files.
The last problem area that we are going to discuss is the remote storage issue. Remote storage is defined as preserving your data is a remote location such as a server in another state or city, or simply on another computer. This becomes a problem in a s.ex trafficking case because the trafficker can keep any incriminating files or other digital evidence outside of his normal file tree. Tracking these files can be almost impossible without computer forensic software that can search for hidden files. There could be image files stored on one device, while the client list and the financial records could be on another device. It could be like finding a needle in a haystack, so to speak.


Collins, A. F., FINK, P. B. L., & EXCLUSIVE, W. (2011). s.ex trafficking of Americans: The girls next door. Vanity Fair, May. Accessed January, 11, 2012.

FBI. (2013). Operation Cross Country. Accessed 2013.

Major, Maxine M. (2012). Technology and Human Trafficking. Retrieved from

Rouse, Margaret. (10 Jul 2006). ENCRYPTION. Accessed October 17, 2013.

Smith, L., & Vardaman, S. (2011). A LEGISLATIVE FRAMEWORK FOR COMBATING DOMESTIC MINOR s.ex TRAFFICKING. Regent University Law Review, 23(2), 265.

Wikipedia. (2013). Anonymizer. Retrieved from

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