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updated 3/26/2012 3:30:35 PM ET 2012-03-26T19:30:35

Pedophiles bent on hosting and spreading images of child pornography on the Web are using a new trick to make their offensive websites appear legitimate, depending on how they're accessed.

The online criminals are able to rig their sites, which host images and videos of child sexual abuse, to load "legal adult content" when the URL of the page is typed directly into the browser bar, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) explained in its 2011 Annual Report published today (March 26).

But when the same website is accessed via a specific gateway site, or a "digital path," the site, knowing where the redirect is coming from, is triggered to take its disguise off and display the child porn content.

"This is a legitimate Web development technique, commonly used, for example, on shopping websites which remember who you are when you return," the IWF wrote. Online pedophiles take advantage of this tactic to disguise their sites and make it harder for authorities to track them down, or even identify them in the first place.

When someone reports finding illegal child abuse content to the IWF and the analyst types in the URL, he or she will see a legitimate adult porn site, with no indication of the content the site is truly hosting. The IWF reported that this porn website masking technique was used 579 times in 2011.

This obfuscation technique also puts companies at risk of entering into business agreements with what they believe to be Web properties hosting legal content.

Mark Harris, vice present of Global Engineering Operations at the security firm Sophos, backs the IWF's work to battle "the inventiveness of child abusers."

"We intercept new methods of distributing images of abuse all too often," Harris wrote in a Sophos blog, "and we're committed to reporting all instances to the authorities that identify perpetrators and rescue victims." 

© 2012 SecurityNewsDaily. All rights reserved

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