Software enables investigators to delve deeper into child-porn file-sharing
By Bill Vidonic
Published: Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
State investigators searching for people who trade child porn online are conducting broader, deeper sweeps of file-sharing networks. They're using software that better spots videos and pictures moving between computers, law enforcement officials say.
“We are now able to delve into areas we never previously were able to search,” said Deputy Attorney General Anthony Marmo, who is based Downtown.
The state Attorney General's Office made its first arrest last week using software and training provided by the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, operated by the Department of Justice.
The software scans peer-to-peer, file-sharing networks that users enter with a password. Once in, they can search and download material from other users.
That's how an investigator spotted child pornography in the file of an Armstrong Cable user, according to court documents.
The cable company, under subpoena, identified the user as Todd Carbonara, 29, of Connellsville, who authorities charged with possessing and distributing child pornography, both felonies.
“It does illustrate the misconception that people have that this is all very confidential, because they open up their collection to other people,” said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.
Carbonara is in the Fayette County Jail awaiting a Feb. 14 hearing.
“Technology is ever-changing,” said Dave Peifer, commander of the Pennsylvania Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and an investigator in the child abuse unit for the Delaware County district attorney. He joins the Attorney General's Office on Monday. “We're learning new software and learning how we can better protect children.”
A state police investigation that started in a peer-to-peer network led to the home of Seven Fields Mayor Edward Bayne. Troopers served a search warrant on the Bayne residence last month but filed no charges. Bayne declined to comment.
Court documents show that a trooper scanning a file-sharing network spotted someone in the Bayne home sharing child pornography files.
State police Cpl. John O'Neill said his agency is adding five forensic analysts to a computer crimes unit that investigates child pornography and other electronic crimes, bringing that unit up to 35 members.
“We now use Facebook, where we didn't before,” O'Neill said. “There's a lot of information out there. Technology is changing, and we're educating ourselves.”
In 2011, O'Neill said, the computer crimes unit and affiliated law enforcement conducted more than 2,900 forensic examinations and filed child pornography charges in 242 cases. O'Neill would not talk about software programs state police use, saying it could compromise investigations.
Finkelhor said one program, Roundup, allows investigators to search for phrases commonly used in child pornography files. In the Carbonara case, an investigator searched in the Gnutella network, which uses software including Limewire and Frostwire to share digital media files.
The state task force received $466,000 in federal funding to cover training and salaries of four staffers from July 1, 2012, through June 30, Peifer said.
“We need more personnel,” he said. “The more we have, the quicker we can get to cases in a timely manner.”
In 2011, investigations led to more than 5,700 arrests nationwide, more than 40 percent of which resulted in plea deals, according to the Justice Department.
Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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