Incident Response with loved ones
You may have seen a poster going around what feels like forever ago, there was debate on who's responsible for it. I don't quite remember what the final say was, but to me, it was equal parts silly and frustrating.
“..let us know so we can give advice and engage them into positive diversions.”
This sentence implying the only persons who would use the listed software are engaging in harmful and/or illegal activities. However, in truth we know that simply isn't the case, and worth covering in a future post, but, that’s not what I am interested in discussing today.
Whilst I do not agree with the implications, there is one positive take away from this; your children have access to another world through their devices. The opportunities to connect, collaborate, and learn are almost limitless. However, the ability for misuse is there as well.
It is important to talk to your kids and loved ones, regarding the interactions they have online. Be it through a game, online shop, forum, or social media platform. Provide a safe environment to ask questions, and educate them regarding online and physical security, such as when it comes to locational data and posting images. Additionally, and unfortunately what is often forgotten is covering what to do when something happens.
"Abusers and predators love the internet for the same reason many of us do - you can be anyone you want to be. But while many of us find that liberating, predators use that same ability to target vulnerable individuals. Knowing what to look for, and what to do if you find it, can help protect those you care about and those they may target next." – Operation Safe Escape
A contact notified me recently, that their child had been approached through messages on a game they play, another member was looking to share Child Abuse Imagery (CAI) and Non-Consensual Pornography (NCP). The child blocked this user, and told their parent – my contact. However, my contact wasn’t sure what else to do.
The first point of note is a successful one, whilst it isn’t a positive experience the child felt safe talking to their parent. If you find yourself in a similar situation, take a moment to acknowledge the person reaching out, reassure them you are listening, want to help, and do not blame them.
Further below we discuss a short summary of collecting relevant information, resources on reporting, and reducing the shame and embarrassment of the reporter. This doesn't cover everything, but is a general thought process to follow. Just as businesses write up incident response plans prior to incidents and running table top exercises to test them, it may be worth generating some steps, documenting contacts, and discussing with your family prior to an incident occurring. If that sounds foolish consider, in an emergency would you rather have a drafted guide to look at, or figure it out as it happens?
Identify possible connections
Ask yourself, what triggered this this incident?
At times we stumble upon information, images, and content we were not expecting. As many of the Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) community I'm sure can attest to, there is more out there than we might initially believe.
As noted by Operation Safe Escape, often predators target/groom their contacts in order to normalise this behaviour and isolate them from others that may stop it. It could be previous interactions that may have seemed odd, now stand out as massive red flags.
In the case that you came across something on your own, if it’s still available take a screenshot. It is vital to note, if this includes CAI, you must not share this to another party outside of the authorities. If you need support in reporting it is ok to ask, but do not share the images directly. Additionally, if it's content that requires being downloaded, I would seek legal advice prior to downloading and/or duplicating it.
Record the location, i.e. the website, these images were found on and how you came across it. Another example is possibly a statement made by an individual. If you can take a screenshot that will be helpful – but otherwise make note of the username, date and time, where it was stated.
In situations where you or your family member are being targeted in stalking and/or harassment - whilst you may wish to delete the awful messages, it is important to instead document these, in order to be used as evidence if required later on. When it comes to stalking cases, from personal experience and contacts experience, authorities will not become involved until it is considered life threatening, and therefore documenting escalation does require the historic messages. From an investigator's point of view, often I find failures in operational security (OPSEC), essentially they fail to cover their tracks, in early on messages or initial contact.
In the example above, someone reached out to my contacts' child - username, game, date/time, and historic interactions were documented. When speaking with my contact, I asked the following:
What is the identifying information you have on them? I.e. handle, location, previous interactions, what led up to them reaching out.
Did this account provide location information? On some platforms, users are able to provide a location, other times you interact this a person enough during the same time that investigators can make educated decisions – if you have seen this person around often at the same time, make note of this.
Was there any historic interactions that stood out to you? What might have seemed slightly odd previously, now is starting to make more sense - as we cover above. Have you interacted with this person a lot, it may be worth including this as well.
Have you taken any further actions? Such as blocking the person, telling them to leave you alone, notifying them you would report their behaviour, and so on.
Whilst I am not qualified to discuss the legal side of things, from experience working with people who are, it is often required to prove you did your best to notify the contact to stop. However, each situation is different, and I would highly recommend talking to an expert prior to taking action.
Online it can be difficult to know the definite location of a person, but when a location is shown, you can begin investigating local authorities. From my personal experience, there are typically non-emergency and even anonymous tip sites that you can submit evidence to. I have also called the non-emergency line previously, left a message, and they returned the call and sent officers to take a statement. If you are able to submit to a local authority, take note of the case and/or reference number.
In the case of CAI, I would attempt to report to local authorities, then contact an appropriate resource below – making note of the above case/reference number if able.
Canadian Centre for Child Protection in Canada
National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States
Links to 31 EU members of Missing Children Europe
There are many other resources out there, type into your favourite search engine: centre for missing and exploited children in [location], and you will find relevant organisations to contact. Whilst unpleasant, it is important to report all the information you can find when dealing with abuse against children.
Important piece to note: do not share child abuse imagery with any other parties outside of the authorities. The reason for this consistent reminder is, exampled article, warning this is not a pleasant read by any means: My search for the boy in a child abuse video.
Once you have gathered information and provided it to the relevant parties, it’s time to talk to your child or contact again. I like to begin by saying clearly I am thankful they reached out, and I’m sorry they had to go through this experience. I explain that whilst it isn’t a pleasant situation, it is good thing they did reach out, and how important getting help is.
I talk about personal security and privacy, appropriate use of social media and keeping devices secure. Along with answering any questions they may have regarding this situation or any other. In the case of young or vulnerable persons, I also discuss the unfortunate reality of persons attempting to manipulate, and how it’s important to know not everyone’s motivations are positive – in an age appropriate way.
My goal, is for my loved on to go away feeling reassured, have a plan to protect themselves, and know that they did a good thing by coming to me.
“More and more predators are flocking to niche platforms like steam or interactive video games, in order to access potential victims. Parents should monitoring children’s usage of these platforms or games as closely as they would a child using social media, as well as teaching their kids what to do in situations like this, and how to stay safe online.” – The Badass Army
Abuse of any kind is not ok, abuse that involves a child must be reported to the appropriate authorities no matter how it was obtained or gathered. We must protect those whom cannot protect themselves.
NOTE: The information presented is not legal advice, is not to be acted on as such, may not be current - always seek advice from appropriate authority. Additionally, due to different regulations throughout the world, it is advisable to seek advice for local authorities prior to an incident taking place. Protection of others begins with protecting yourself.