Commercial disguised websites

What are commercial disguised websites?

Since 2011, we have been monitoring commercial child sexual abuse websites which display child sexual abuse imagery only when accessed by a ‘digital pathway’ of links from other websites. When the pathway is not followed, or the website is accessed directly through a browser, legal content is displayed. This means it is more difficult to locate and investigate the criminal imagery. This trend for concealing the distribution of criminal imagery has increased in 2020.

In 2020, we uncovered 4,100 websites using a “digital pathway” to hide child sexual abuse imagery. This is 17 times every working day. It represents an increase of 6% on the 3,882 disguised websites identified in 2019.

What can we do about this?

We actively monitor the techniques used by these websites and share intelligence with our partners.

We have noticed that these types of websites are changing format more frequently than usual, making them harder to detect and manipulate.

Disguised websites have also been reappearing in a new, slightly modified form soon after being taken down, often with completely different hosting (see Top-level domain hopping). This has required increased vigilance and we have adapted our techniques to identify and remove these sites effectively.

Top-level domain hopping


UK data