FBI Used Playpen Servers to Host Child Porn on the Dark Web For 13 Days, Here’s Why!

By the time it was shut down last year, Playpen had become one of the largest destinations for hundreds of thousands of pedophiles across the world.

Law enforcement agencies in the United States was aware and had been keeping an eye on Playpen for some time, but the fact that the website was on the Dark Web had made their task even more difficult than it would otherwise be.

How FBI cracked the Playpen case by hosting site porn for 13 days

However, a breakthrough emerged when the Feds discovered that the Tor-based website was basically operating from a misconfigured web server that exposed its real IP addresses.

The FBI tracked down the IP address to a web hosting company in the US and examined its financial records of the recent past. The investigation eventually led to a guy named Steven W. Chase, 57, of Naples, Florida, who was arrested on February 19, 2015.

Chase was the admin of the website that hosted sexually explicit images and videos of young children including even toddlers.

Thereafter, the FBI used its influence to migrate the Playpen website to its own data center and continued to run the website from February 20 to March 4, 2015, for 13 days, without raising any suspicion among most users.

What happened during those 13 days when the FBI ran Playpen servers?

Following the migration of the website, the FBI began hosting malware on the server targeting anyone that visited Playpen during those 13 days. This gave them the IP addresses and other details of thousands of users that could be used to track down their identity and locations.

The FBI says by the time it closed Playpen, the website had over 215,000 users and hosted more than 23,000 sexually explicit images and videos of children.

Over 100,000 visitors that accessed the website in that period, the FBI managed to find the real identities of over 1,300 users.

In addition to indicating 137 suspects in the US, the agency also shared their findings with other law enforcement agencies across the world.

What happened to those caught?

Despite the success of the operation, the FBI later came under criticism for not sharing the details of the malware used to infect the suspects’ computers.

As it turned out, the suspects are now trying to bank on the FBI’s reluctance to share those details for the dismissal of the charges against them.

Meanwhile, Chase, the admin of the site, has been found guilty on six counts – one each of engaging in a child exploitation enterprise, possession of child pornography, advertising child pornography, and three counts of transportation of child pornography. He now awaits his sentence

Two of Chase’s colleagues on Playpen, site moderator Lynn Browning, 47, of Wooton, Kentucky, and co-administrator Michael Fluckiger, 46, of Portland, Indiana, pleaded guilty in December 2015.