Law enforcement officials have infiltrated a South Korea-based child pornography website, leading to arrests in 12 countries, including Australia.
Hundreds of people have been arrested worldwide, including in Australia, after police knocked out a South Korea-based dark web child pornography site that sold gruesome videos for digital cash.
Law enforcement officials from the US, Britain and South Korea described the network as one of the largest child pornography operations they have encountered to date.
The website relied on the bitcoin cryptocurrency to sell access to 250,000 videos depicting child sexual abuse, including footage of extremely young children being raped, authorities said.
US Assistant Attorney General Brian A Benczkowski said such sites that profit from the sexual exploitation of children were among "the most vile and reprehensible forms of criminal behaviour".
The site's operator, a South Korean named Jong Woo Son, and 337 users in 12 different countries have been charged so far, authorities said.
People have been charged in the US, the UK, South Korea, Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Czech Republic, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Brazil and Australia, the US Justice Department said.
Officials have rescued at least 23 underage victims in the US, Britain and Spain who were being actively abused by users of the site, the Justice Department said.
Many children in the videos have not yet been identified.
The site's vast library - nearly half of it consisting of images never seen before by law enforcement - is an illustration of what authorities say is an explosion of sexual abuse content online.
In a statement, Britain's National Crime Agency said officials were seeing "increases in severity, scale and complexity".
Son, currently serving an 18-month sentence in South Korea, was also indicted on federal charges in Washington.
Several other people charged in the case have already been convicted and are serving prison sentences of up to 15 years, according to the US Justice Department.
The online space is one of the first websites to monetise child pornography using bitcoin, which allows users to hide their identities during financial transactions.
Users were able to redeem the digital currency in return for "points" that they could spend downloading videos or buying all-you-can watch "VIP" accounts.
Points could also be earned by uploading fresh child pornography.
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