Pirated shows and porn could give children access to a criminal underworld here in Northamptonshire

Simon Clifford says the dark web can become a gateway for youngsters to get involved in crime.
Simon Clifford says the dark web can become a gateway for youngsters to get involved in crime.

Youngsters seeking out pirated copies of hit US TV shows and accessing pornography could be opening themselves up to extortion according Northampotnshire Police’s cyber crime guru.

The man leading the force’s transformation towards tackling digital crime has warned that ‘benign’ searches for ripped-off versions of hit shows using the so-called “dark web” and Tor - a browser that allows people to access encrypted websites not available on Google - are opening young people up to a disturbing criminal underworld.

He said: “Kids will learn that from their peers. What some kids do is they have a laissez’ faire approach to law through watching say TV shows that aren’t available in their country.

“Even though anti-copyright legislation has really tightened up what appears on Google, the TOR browser doesn’t care.

“Even if you just want to watch some benign TV show that isn’t available legally in your jurisdiction, that is just the simple first step.

“That opens up the entire complexity of the dark web to you, which is a real concern.”

Johnston Press Investigations launched a major cyber crime study in March.

Johnston Press Investigations launched a major cyber crime study in March.

Simple searches of Tor reveal why its relatively easy access is worrying forces up and down the country.

A hit man offering services out of Birmingham, an Ebay-styled site allowing bulk purchase of Paypal accounts, a lone-hacker promising ‘ruining’ services, all accessible through a simple search on the Tor browser.

Johnston Press Investigations found hackers as young as 12 are being investigated by police and a recent National Crime Agency (NCA) in a sign that accessing the dark web can become a gateway to crime for impressionable young minds.

In a recent development through, criminal gangs are now actively using the wide spread of hardcore pornography to blackmail users.

“The ads will say things like ‘hey want a live chat?’” said Mr Clifford. “It looks like a video, but what it is doing is depositing some code onto your computer which is taking over your web cam, turning it on and filming you masturbate.

“This is then relayed to the users themselves by saying ‘we know who you are and we will then share it with your friends, with your workplace, unless you pay us £50’.”

But Mr Clifford said the one of the biggest challenges facing police tackling such rackets is under-reporting

“That’s a big area,” he said. “That sort of crime, we just don’t know how big that number is.

“Some people will come forward but they are often ashamed of their actions.

“If you were faced with the option of paying 50 quid or going to tell the police about what has happened to you, many see the ransom as the easier option.”