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ICE’s Cyber Crimes Center takes down ‘Dreamboard’ child exploitation network

ICE arrests alleged
Dreamboard members

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in conjunction with the Department of Justice, announced on August 3 indictments against individuals on five continents who were involved with the “Dreamboard” child exploitation network, marking the largest child exploitation investigation in U.S. history. The investigation was called Operation Delego.

Members of the online network allegedly traded graphic images and videos of adults molesting children 12-years-old and younger. The members created a massive private library of child sexual abuse. Members also praised and encouraged each other to create new images and videos of children being sexually abused.

ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) team led the investigation, relying on the expertise of the agency's Cyber Crimes Center (C3). The center is home to ICE's Child Exploitation Section (CES), Cyber Crime Section (CCS), Computer Forensic Section (CFS) and Cyber Administration Section (CAS). It is tucked away in a non-descript office building in Fairfax, VA, but within those walls, special agents are in a fury investigating the country's toughest trans-border, Internet-related crimes, according to an ICE news release.

On any given day, special agents investigate cases involving international money laundering, counter proliferation investigations and narcotics trafficking -- or as in Operation Delego -- child exploitation and abuse. That's why it is necessary for C3 staff to have expertise on a variety of topics, highly sophisticated technology and computer forensics.

"Criminals will use whatever means necessary to commit their illegal acts, including the Internet," said Matthew Dunn, CES section chief. “This is why it is important for C3 to employ the latest technology and techniques, so that criminal organizations as uncovered in Operation Delego can be dismantled.”

In the case of the Dreamboard network, members employed a variety of measures designed to conceal their criminal activity from detection by law enforcement, ICE said. Members communicated using aliases or "screen names," rather than their actual names. Links to child pornography posted on Dreamboard were required to be encrypted with a password that was shared only with other members. Members also accessed the board via proxy servers, which routed Internet traffic through other computers so as to disguise a user's actual location and prevent law enforcement from tracing Internet activity.

Dreamboard members also encouraged the use of encryption programs on their computers, which password-protect computer files to prevent law enforcement from accessing them in the event of a court-authorized search.

The C3 offers a variety of courses in Fairfax, VA, and at the 69 ICE attaché offices across the globe. It also has a state-of-the-art laboratory to process and analyze unusual, non-standard or voluminous amounts of evidence seized by ICE field offices. From time to time, the center's computer forensic analysts must identify, research and write field office guidance for new storage devices, trends and technology.

"C3's mission is to provide the highest level of technical support and training to HSI; while employing the most sophisticated investigative techniques to combat today's cyber criminals," said Cardell Morant, the C3 unit chief.

Since its inception in 1997, the center has netted more than 1,656 criminal arrests, 937 indictments and 871 convictions. It has also seized more than 18,877 pounds of cocaine, $28 million in cash and $3.4 million in property/assets.