'Bulletproof hosts' storing child porn, malware on Dutch servers

Dozens of often foreign hosting companies are storing child pornography, malware and stolen data on Dutch servers. The Public Prosecution Service is teaming up with the network of hosting companies in the Netherlands to address this problem, NOS reports.

Thanks fo the Netherlands' good digital infrastructure, the country is unintentionally popular with cyber criminals. An estimated 2 thousand hosting companies are active in the Netherlands, accounting for a turnover of billions of euros every year. They rent space on servers for running websites or to park large amounts of data. A long chain of international resellers and renters make use of this. 

Among all those intermediaries are a number of so-called 'bulletproof hosts', who focus specifically on a criminal clientele and offer space on servers for phishing, sending spam, or storing child pornography, among other things. They advertise in underground forums and promise anonymity to customers, who often pay for their services with cryptocurrency. 

That has to stop, the Public Prosecutor and Dutch hosting companies believe. The industry developed a new guideline to keep out illegal content. And the Public Prosecution Service is looking into whether companies that do not adhere to this new guideline can be prosecuted more quickly.

It is currently very difficult to prosecute bulletproof hosts, cyber crime prosecutor Martijn Egberts explained to NOS. "There is a European regulation that states that you cannot, in principle, hold companies responsible for the content they host", he said. "It is extremely difficult to prove that they are deliberately closing their eyes to what is stored with them or exchanged on their network."

Trade association for the Netherlands' digital infrastructure DINL recently agreed with the network- and hosting companies connected with it that they will do their best to remove illegal content from their servers. "They will therefore have to put pressure on their customers to take it off", DINL director Michiel Steltman said to the broadcaster. "And if it is pointed out to companies that there is junk in their network and they do nothing about it, they can end up on the investigating authorities' radar."

Egberts hopes that this will make it easier to tackle companies that knowingly host illegal content. "If you receive reports about child pornography but do nothing about it, wile the rest of the industry does take action, then we hope to be able to more easily prove that you deliberately look the other way and thus facilitate criminals", the prosecutor said. He compared it with investigations into money laundering. "It is not punishable in the Netherlands to walk around with 100,000 euros in your pocket, but it is an indication that you are involved with crime. A hosting company now has the freedom to ignore things, but it can also be an indication that it targets an audience involved with criminal offenses."

 

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