The police and the Public Prosecutions Department have been working on the complex cyber-crime investigation for more than a year, and in that period three suspects were detained. Their computers and telephones contained enormous amounts of women’s personal data and images. The police seized digital data from a fourth and a fifth suspect. These persons have not yet been arrested.
The case was triggered in March 2017 when a young woman discovered that images from her cloud - an external storage site for digital data - had been stolen and made available on internet. The woman reported this. An investigation by the Amsterdam police cyber-crime team led to a 31-year-old man from Culemborg. He was arrested on suspicion of hacking and distributing nude photographs of the woman.
The suspect’s computer and telephone appeared to contain large amounts of images of the victim and many other women. The investigation also led the cyber-crime team to a 35-year-old man from Groningen, who was also in possession of a large number of images of women.
The two suspects were in contact with a third, unknown person. The Limburg cyber-crime team was able to identify him as a 28-year-old man from Heerlen, who was arrested in January. The suspect had a so-called cryptocontainer on his computer containing images of many hundreds of Dutch women.
The police later identified two further suspects: a 19-year-old man from the area around Terneuzen and a 26-year-old man from Geleen. The data on their telephones and the have been seized.
The data obtained from the man from Geleen still has to be investigated. The other four suspects were in possession of personal data from a large number of women they targeted. The suspects managed to access email boxes, social media accounts and digital repositories, such as clouds, belonging to hundreds of women. These were not properly secured and thus were relatively easy to hack. The suspects managed to obtain sexual images of a few hundred women without the victims noticing.
The suspects knew each other via an online forum, Anon-ib, where they asked one another and other visitors for help in obtaining images of specific girls. As soon as the first contact was made, visitors to the forum withdrew in smaller groups to more hidden places on the web, such as private groups. There they shared stolen images.
The forum that was taken offline today was also mentioned in RTL News on 12 April. Through this forum, RTL was able to access a cloud on a New Zealand server and discovered a large number of images and videos of girls and young women. The Belgian police are in possession of the images and will share them with the Dutch police.
In the coming period, police cyber-crime teams will be closely examining the server seized today and the images provided by the Belgian police. Detectives will look for additional evidence against the five suspects in the investigation and against possible new suspects. The investigation must also reveal the extent to which stolen images have been distributed. This is an enormous task that may take months.
As soon as the investigation has been completed, the police will personally notify all women whose identities they know. This does not only concern women from whom images have been stolen and possibly distributed, but also persons who have emerged from the investigation in a different way, for example because their personal details have been found in the possession of the suspects.
Women who are victims of hacking or from whom images have actually been stolen and distributed can therefore report this to the police. The police may also refer the matter to support agencies.
Because the police and the Public Prosecutions Department do not accept that criminals can operate with impunity in the digital domain, each unit has a cyber-crime team. In addition to tracking down suspects, the police also try to reduce cybercrime by means of prevention and disruption, such as taking forums offline.