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05 Aug 2013

The charity said legal pornographic sites had also been attacked to redirect visitors to the illegal material.

It said the offending material was sometimes accompanied by malware.

The IWF told BBC Radio 5 Live that it had received 227 reports about the trend over the past six weeks.

Some of the complaints were about the same examples.

Hijacked links
Cambridge-based IWF described the images as showing "the worst of the worst" sexual abuse.

They included images of newborn babies and the rape and violent sexual abuse of very young children, it said.

The charity gave the example of one case in which a furniture business had had the servers it used breached.

It said the attackers had created an "orphan folder" on the computers and then uploaded hundreds of offending images to it - effectively creating a new section on the retailer's website which was not linked to any of its other pages.

The charity said the hackers then hijacked links on "adult" sites so that if a visitor clicked on one of the affected pornographic images or videos they would be directed to the offending material.

The IWF said more than two dozen businesses across the world had had the servers they used compromised, in addition to the furniture seller.

Administrators of the sites involved might be unaware of the problem until someone complained, the charity said.

The IWF said it did not know what had motivated the perpetrators to do this.

"We hadn't seen significant numbers of hacked websites for around two years, and then suddenly in June we started seeing this happening more and more," said the IWF's technical researcher Sarah Smith.

"It shows how someone, not looking for child sexual abuse images, can stumble across it. The original adult content the internet user is viewing is far removed from anything related to young people or children.

"We've received reports from people distressed about what they've seen. Our reporters have been extremely diligent in explaining exactly what happened, enabling our analysts to retrace their steps and take action against the child sexual abuse images."

She added that the charity had passed on the information to the police and sister hotlines in other countries.

Rise in reports
The issue of online images showing the sexual abuse of children has made headlines in recent months after the convictions of Stuart Hazell and Mark Bridger for the murders of Tia Sharp and April Jones.

Both Hazell and Bridger were known to have sought out and viewed child abuse images online.

The IWF said the Hazell and Bridger cases had led to a 42% increase in the number of reports it had received in the past three months compared with the same period last year.

In June, representatives of a number of internet companies, including Google, Microsoft and Twitter, were summoned to a meeting in Whitehall by Culture Secretary Maria Miller and urged to do more to clamp down on child abuse images on the web.


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