The FBI took over one of the Internet’s largest child pornography websites last year, allowing users to download thousands of images and videos in an effort to identify the culprits.
The USA Today reports that the FBI has taken control of at least three child pornography sites while keeping them online to capture the users who have hidden behind behind an encrypted and anonymous computer network.
The FBI was able to identify hundreds of users by infecting the sites with security-busting software.
The Justice Department confirmed that the FBI operated a site known as Playpen from Feb. 20 to March 4, 2015. During that time, more than 215,000 registered users were able to access more than 23000 sexually explicit videos and pictures of children.
Authorities said the new tactic of maintaining the sites allowed them to identify people who otherwise couldn’t be tracked.
“We had a window of opportunity to get into one of the darkest places on Earth, and not a lot of other options except to not do it,” said Ron Hosko, a former senior FBI official who was involved in planning one of the agency’s first efforts to take over a child porn site. “There was no other way we could identify as many players.”