WARNING: Today’s topic is a little heavy, but it is incredibly important. The subject matter is disturbing, but it concerns a serious problem that we face, and the organization that we’re shedding a light on today is a beacon of hope for some of our society’s most vulnerable. We hope you read today’s post about the Innocent Lives Foundation, and consider what you can do to help, even in your own home.
What is the Innocent Lives Foundation?
One of the talks that J.D. and I attended at DEF CON last month celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Innocent Lives Foundation (ILF for short). In 2017, Chris Hadnagy, founder and CEO of Social-Engineer, LLC, announced the creation of an organization whose mission was to “unmask anonymous online child predators to assist in bringing them to justice.” In this video, Hadnagy explains how he got involved with this issue, and how he created the ILF. He gives a very moving talk, and I highly recommend you carve out some time to listen if you can. (I know, we’re all crazy busy, but Hadnagy is a superhero without a cape. How often do you get the chance to listen to a real life superhero talk about how he got into saving lives?)
If you don’t have time to listen to the whole video, the gist is this–in the course of Hadnagy’s work for his company, Social-Engineer, LLC, he had the opportunity to work on cases that helped track and capture predators who trafficked and exploited children. These cases affected him deeply, and he wanted to do something more. The Innocent Lives Foundation was born.
The ILF is a donation-based 503(c)(3) that uses a team of volunteer white hat hackers to investigate and find anonymous online child predators. They use technology and social engineering techniques to reveal these predators’ true identities, and deliver the results of their work to law enforcement.
How Do They Do It?
The ILF uses OSINT (Open Source Intelligence), legal hacking, and social engineering methods to track down child predators online. Open Source Intelligence, for those who aren’t “in the know,” is data collected from publicly available sources to be used in an intelligence context. Basically, the information they gather isn’t necessarily anything private. It’s information that can be gathered easily if you know how and where to find it.
They may do some social engineering calls, similar to the Capture the Flag competition that we discussed last week, and gather as much information as they can on the suspected child predator, their activities, and their movements. When they have gathered their intelligence, the ILF then turns over their findings to Law Enforcement, who can then open formal investigations and pursue a case.
Why don’t the police do all this instead? The truth is, a lot of local law enforcement agencies are stretched thin, and either don’t have the budget, time, or resources to do this kind of research. And unfortunately, they may lack the skills that the ILF has to research suspects. So the ILF partners with law enforcement agencies to help out where they can.
Does It Work?
The ILF has been active for just a little over a year now. In that year, volunteers have managed to unmask thirteen (13) child predators, and have closed four (4) cases. They currently have eight (8) active cases as of the time of this writing. That may not sound like much, but that is thirteen people who have been revealed for their dark deeds. And if you have any experience with our court system, you may know that in many cases, the wheels of justice turn slowly. Very slowly. Closing four cases in one year is remarkable.
How Can I Help?
If you have children, one of the best things you can do is watch what they’re doing online. It may not be “cool” to be the helicopter parent, cramping your kid’s style, but you’re the parent, not a friend. It is your job to do everything you can to keep them safe. Know who they’re talking to, what websites they’re on, and keep the computer in an open area where it’s easy to monitor its use. Teach them to protect their privacy. Make sure they know never to give out their real names, addresses, phone numbers, schools, anything that someone could use to track them down in the real world. And that they know not to get together in real life with anyone they “meet” online.
If you’re looking for online safety tips, we’ve got a few links here that may help. A lot of these links suggest many of the same techniques, such as keeping open communication with your kids and keeping the computer in a central area where everyone can see it, but they bear repeating.
The A-B-C’s Of Keeping Your Kids Safe Online (wired.com)
Keeping Your Child Safe on the Internet (parenting.com)
Cyber Safety for Kids (from the folks at Norton)
Keeping Kids Safe Online (from Scholastic)
If you’d like to get involved with the Innocent Lives Foundation and help their noble cause, there are a few ways you can do so.
1. Volunteer. They aren’t just looking for tech-savvy social engineers. The ILF is a charity that has administrative work that needs to get done. If you are a white hat hacker with a knack for finding people online, that’s great, but they also need front and back office helpers that can help plan for the future.
2. Donate. Just like with any organization, the Innocent Lives Foundation has a budget to keep things running. Since they’re a charitable organization, most of their budget relies on donations from people like you. Because the ILF is a 501(c)(3), donations may be tax-deductible. (Always check with your accountant, of course, because the Wordsmith is terrible with numbers.)
3. Tell your friends. The ILF has only been in existence for a year at this point, and while they’re doing great work, they need support. Tell your Mom Cons, your mommy groups, and your PTA or homeschool groups. The more you spread the word, the more they’re able to help.
Light casts out darkness–if we keep shedding light on this situation, the better we’re able to bring the predators out of the shadows and combat child exploitation.