Internet, Usenet News and

Mats Wiklund
Department of Computer and Systems Sciences
Stockholm University
Forum 100
SE-164 40 Kista Sweden
+46 8 161614

Version date 1996-feb-05

Internet is a global network of computers, that at the time of writing is implemented by the interconnection of more than 50000 local networks with more than 2 miljon connected computers in 92 countries [1]. In addition, at the time of writing at least 45 other countries have a limited access to internet, so that at basic and much used internet services like electronic mail are in use in at least 137 countries [1]. Since many of the over 2 miljon connected computers are either multi-user mainframes or personal computers shared by several persons, the total number of persons that have access to internet is much larger. In early 1994 it was estimated that internet was growing at a rate of 12% each month [1].

After having had its core in the academic world, there has been a gradual shift of which groups in the community that are using internet. During earlier conditions only, universities, collages, and research departments at large corporations and governments had access to internet. Recently, many companies without any research activities have begun to use internet to communicate with their customers, which in turn has been made possible by a large number of telecommunication companys selling internet connections to private citizens, at prices acceptable to the ecenomic situation of people in general.

Through the internet, different services can be implemented, for instance electronic mail to send person-to-person messages, WWW (World Wide Web) to display information to many in a structured way with possibilities to mix various types of content like text an images, or FTP (File Transfer Protocol) to transfer whole files containing computer programs and other types of content.

The conference system Usenet News (News Groups)
An internet service that almost all internet connections gives access to is the conference system Usenet News, sometimes refered to as just "news groups". Through this service, any user can write his or her own postings, that can then be read by and commented on by any other user. The users of this type of service can be said to take part in computer mediated discussions without the need to be present together, neither geografically or in time.

The Usenet News service is subdivided into several thousand news groups, corresponding to the different subjects discussed. Some news groups are more scientific in nature, while others more deal with subjets more related to hobbies and recreation. A very large number of news groups deal with subjects related to computers on computer programs of various kinds. Also, some news groups are dedicated to the subject sex and erotica, including pornographic pictures. Even though Usenet News was not originally designed to transfer images (but just textual information), images can still be transfered by encoding them in a form that is percieved by Usenet news as text, and the decoded after the transfer to reproduce the image again.

Some computers, running appropriate programs, works as news servers, storing the postings that the individual users make. Every user connects to one of these news servers to get and/or post information through the Usenet News, often a geographically close server is used. The posted information is then automatically passed on to other news servers in a cascading way, so that after a while the posted information is available on all news servers that carry the news group in question. There is no guarantee though, that all news servers carry every existing news group. It is up to the organization (or in rare cases the private person) that runs the news server to decide which news groups to carry on that news server. Therefore the number of news groups available may vary between different news servers.

Some news server operators have adopted a very restrictive policy, and does not carry any news groups dedicated to pornographical pictures at all, not even the legal ones. This may not have anything to do with moral values, but may simply be caused by the fact that there is no room on the serves hard disks for the relatively large image files.

Other news servers operators draw the line at illegal material: legal erotica is allowed but a news group dedicated to child pornography is not carried. This is a common policy. (Please note though, that it is still technically possible to post a child pornographic picture in a news group dedicated to regular, legal pictures. The users of that group may be upset and report it after it has happened, but there is no computer program that can automatically distinguish between regular and child pornography and thus stop the posting from being done.)

Finally, there are news servers that carry all existing news groups (exept perhaps some that have explicitelly ben set to have local distribution in certain regions only), among those a small number of news groups dedicated to illegal material such as child pornography. A user that wishes to have access to a news group that is not carried on his/her usual news server, can get access to it by using another news server that carries it. Some news servers does not allow anyone to connect to them, while others allow incoming connections from anyone with an internet connection (and, in some cases, pay a special fee).

Normally, the identity of the author of a posting in Usenet News is shown in the header of the posting. The authors user name is normally shown, as well as the computer system used to post. There are, however, several ways to become anonymous, one by letting the posting pass through an anonymity server (sometimes refered to as an "anonymous remailer"). The anonymity srver strips the senders identity from the posting, and replaces it with a code or a nic-name. The sender becomes anonymous, but can still be reached through his/her code or nic-name. The anonymity server takes care of email messages adressed to the code/nic-name in question and translates the code/nic-name back to the real identity and then resends the email. Using an anonymity server two persons can communicating with each other (including sending pictures) each without knowing the others true identity.

It should be noted that the anonymity server contains a data base that is used to translate back and forth between real identities and codes/nic-names. The level of anonymity achieved in this way is totally dependent on the person or organization running the anonymity server and the legislation in the country where the anonymity server resides.

It is also possible to become anonymous by simple manipulation of the client software used to post information to Usenet News. If this method is used, the sender is not reachable through email, but posts under a completely fake identity. Several anonymity server operators have tried to stop abuse of their servers by adding limitations to the file size (letting the smaller text postings pass but stopping the larger image files) or by prohibiting the sending to certain news groups explicitely dedicated to the distribution of illegal material. These actions makes it likely that the client software manipulation method is the dominant way of becoming anonymous in the case of child pornography posting.

Even though most news servers does not give access to a news group dedicated to child pornography, access to such a news group can still be obtained through some news servers. Since internet is not limited by geographical or political boundaries and is used to implement services for person-to-person as well as many-to-many communication like electronic mail and Usenet News, it can be used to transfer information that is illegal to distribute and/or to bring into a country. Under Swedish legislation, the distribution of child pornography is criminalized [2]. The potentially large possibilities of distribution that the global internet posess, in combination with the fact that it is possible (by changing server) to gain access to harder-to-reach parts of Usenet News that is dedicated to child pornography makes it interesting to investigate if those parts of Usenet News is in fact used to transfer child pornography. Research in this area is lacking, for instance did the privious survey by this author only investigate the more easily accessible news groups within Usenet News [3].

The purpose of this survey is to establish if a news group in the Usenet News service that is explicitely dedicated to pedophilia and that is not accesible through most news servers, is used to transfer child pornographic pictures.

All postings in the news group (accessed through a news server specially set up to carry it) were examined during the time period from 1995-jul-13 at 15:00 hours Swedish time (GMT+1) to 1995-jul-20 at 15:00 hours Swedish time (GMT+1). To access the postings the program Gnu-Emacs version 19.19.17 was used in its "gnus"-mode (the mode to read Usenet News) on a DecStation 5000/20 computer running Unix. To decode the encoded pictures the program UUdecode was used.

Pictures where it is not absolutely clear that the persons shown are in fact children, are not concidered to show children. Only pictures where it is absolutely clear that the persons shown are children are concidered to show children. In practice, this means children with yet undeveloped sexual organs and other sexual caracteristica, such as absence of pubic hair, undeveloped breasts for girls etc, in combination with an ovarall posture concistent with that of a child.

During the time period from 1995-jul-13 15:00 hours Swedish time (GMT+1) to 1995-jul-20 15:00 hours Swedish time (GMT+1), 417 postings were made in the news group Of these, 389 consisted of texts that discussed image quality, requested different kinds of pictures, or were child pornographic novels. The remaining 28 postings consisted of pictures. Of these, 17 show children either in sexually explicit poses or involved in sexual axtivities. One of the 28 pictures simply show a nude child without any sexual activity (a so-called nudist camp picture), this picture has not been concidered child pornography. Four of the 28 pictures show obvious adults performing sexual activities dressed up to resemble children, something that is clearly not child pornography. Finally, in six of the 28 pictures it can not be completely ruled out that the possible child may in fact be conciderably older and possibly an adult, and therefore these six pictures have not been concidered child pornography.

When pictures of adults, nude children without sexual activities, and cases of uncertain age has been discarded, 17 child pornographic pictures remains, which is 60.7% of the pictures in the news group in question. The file names of the 17 pictures were as follows:

1-airina.jpg, 10yrpuss.jpg, 211.jpg, 214.jpg, 8suck.jpeg, adriane.jpg, b01.jpg, babyluv.jpg, babysit2.jpg, bs1.jpg, bs2.jpg, caitlin.jpg, child5b.jpg, dora-07.jpg, picc30-a.jpg, picc30-b.jpg, and yngfck.jpg.

Please note that the senders identities may easily be faked by fairly simple manipulation of the client programs used by the senders. The additional NNTP-Posting-Host field normally present in the headers of the postings is intended to show whe identity of the computer system or domain used by the sender. This field may be slightly less easy to fake (or to blank out), but faking it is still easy enough to make this information very unreliable, with almost as high probabilitity of being fake as the senders identity. The senders identities (and NNTP-Posting-Host fields) as the appeared in the postings were as follows:
Bild           Avsändare                       NNTP-Posting-Host
1-airina.jpg          [saknas]
adriane.jpg          [saknas]
babyluv.jpg          [saknas]
babysit2.jpg   100667,
caitlin.jpg          [saknas]
child5b.jpg          [saknas]
yngfck.jpg          [saknas]
Please note that the senders identities are most likely faked by the senders.

When compared to the results of this authors previous survey of more easily available news groups [3], it is clear that the overall number of pictures in is much smaller (28 in comparison to 807 in the previous survey). On the other hand, the majority of the pictures found in are child pornographic. This news group is in use through those relatively few news servers that does carry it, and when it is used the topic is more specifically focused on pedophilia.

The comparison to the previous survey of more wide-spread news groups shows a striking difference in the percentage of pictures showing nude children: approx. 1% in the previous survey compared to approx. 64% in the present survey. Also in absolute numbers there is a significant difference, 8 pictures of nude children in the previous survey compared to 18 pictures of nude children in the present survey.

The most important difference is perhaps that none of the images of nude children in the previous survey showed any sexual activities. In contrast, in the present survey, 17 of the 18 pictures of nude children were child pornographic, with either sexually explicit posing and touching, or actual sexual activities including oral sex and intercourse.

In the news group of the internet service Usenet News, child pornographic pctures are being distributed. In this news group a majority of the pictures are child pornography in the legal sense.

Even though the news group is not carried by most news servers, it is still in use through those news server that does carry it.

[1] Palme, Jacob: Course material used in a doctoral students course on internet issues, dept. of Computer- and Systems Sciences, Stockholm University, 1994

[2] Swedish Criminal law, chapter 16, paragraph 10a.

[3] Wiklund, Mats: Internet, Usenet News and the distribution of pictures of nude children, Stockholm University, Department of Computer and Systems Sciences, 1996.

Back to the home page of Mats Wiklunds