Elite Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau also played key role in cracking ‘Mr Moonlight’ murder case
The work of the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau (GNCCB) in these cases was highlighted by Detective Chief Superintendent Barry Walsh, the officer in charge of the unit who closed a total of 672 cases this year involving dozens of separate crime categories.
In an interview at the bureau’s new base at Military Road in Dublin, the senior officer said all the identified children were the subject of “appropriate safety intervention”, meaning that they were moved to a place of safety after being identified by the highly trained members of the bureau’s Cyber Intelligence and Cyber Investigative Units.
Prosecutions in these cases are likely as the units involved continue to engage with Interpol’s International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) image and video database which allows specialised investigators to share data on cases of child sexual abuse.
Det Chief Supt Walsh pointed out that 55pc of the bureau’s caseload involves the investigation into child sexual abuse material.
And while it has been widely reported that there has sometimes been a three-year delay in these cases getting processed, the senior officer pointed out that the bureau closed 202 of these types of cases this year.
“Not every case is three years old – for example, just two cases dating from 2019 have not been actioned,” said Det Chief Supt Walsh.
“Progress is being made and while I don’t want to discuss the specifics of it, there is a matrix in place, a base in which we prioritise cases which involves risk assessments and other factors,” he added.
The GNCCB have been heavily involved in investigating a number of high-profile child sexual cases as well as hundreds that have not been publicised.
One of the most prominent of these was the investigation into former RTÉ producer and paedophile Kieran Creaven who is serving a 10-year jail sentence after gardaí obtained evidence of him filming himself sexually abusing a young child in the Philippines while other children were in the room.
He admitted to sexually exploiting children online in Dublin, three counts of sexually assaulting and exploiting children in the Philippines, and possession of child abuse imagery in the UK and Ireland.
One of the children who was sexually exploited in Ireland was 13, and another was in the care of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.
“In this case the Online Child Exploitation Unit, within the Garda National Protective Services Bureau, worked with colleagues in Interpol and the Philippines to identify a number of child sexual abuse victims who were repatriated to places of safety,” said Det Chief Supt Walsh.
He explained that the bureau conducted a forensic examination of devices seized from Creaven and came across videos of him abusing children in the Philippines that then required forensic processing.
“This was a very time-consuming case. It involved weeks of work rather than days. The material we found was not visible to an ordinary user,” said Det Chief Supt Walsh.
“We got indicators of the children he was engaging with in the Philippines and we helped identify them. These indicators were an important foundation for investigating gardaí in identifying these children.
“This is a good example of the benefit of the expansion of the bureau and we have had an extra 58 people working here in the last two years.
"We now have very significant intelligence and investigative capacities, and the bureau will continue to employ new staff – for example, we will be employing 26 civilian forensic analysts next year.”
The GNCCB has also been involved in a number of high-profile murder cases in the last number of years, including a key role in investigating the murder of Bobby Ryan, a DJ known as ‘Mr Moonlight’, in which key evidence was obtained by the bureau from the murderer Patrick Quirke’s computer.
In total this year, the GNCCB has been involved in the investigation of 36 murder cases – a big increase on last year when it was involved in eight murder investigations.
In late August, the GNCCB warned parents to be careful if they are sharing back-to-school photos on social media, advising people to make sure that there is no personal information in the photos.
The senior detective pointed out that this advice still stands and warned that “parents need to be internet-aware and to know what their children are engaging with online – don’t assume that the children have a knowledge of the potential dangers”.
He added: “The internet has been transformative in our daily lives, but there are inherent dangers out there that are important to recognise. Many children will be receiving new devices for Christmas and it’s very important that parents give advice to their children about using these.
“There should always be parental controls for young children, and don’t assume that children will figure things it out for themselves from a safety point of view.”
After last year’s massive ransomware attack against the HSE, which has led to 113,000 hacking victims being identified, this year saw an increase in ransomware cyber attacks targeting small businesses across Ireland.
Gardaí have previously warned against businesses paying ransom demands to criminals and the chief superintendent pointed out that while figures are not available for Ireland, the FBI has estimated only 15pc of cyber crime is reported to law enforcement and this type of organised crime now costs €20bn globally each year.
“We feel it is under-reported here as well. Businesses here need to take every precaution and it is essential that they back up their data on a separate server – without having this back-up they are dealing with a potential disaster if they become victims,” said Det Chief Supt Walsh.
“Staff need to be trained properly not to engage with unknown or suspicious links and need to be aware of ransomware and malware attacks. People should separate their personal lives from their business life online.”
The bureau will continue to employ new staff – for example, we will be employing 26 civilian forensic analysts next year
In relation to the HSE attack – widely reported to have been carried out by a Russian-based cyber gang – the senior officer outlined his belief that the “identification of individual threat actors” is still possible in that case.
“This is very much a live and active investigation, and we have made a number of tangible breakthroughs in relation to it,” he said.
In what is one of the fastest-growing categories of crime in Ireland, Det Chief Supt Walsh spoke about the important work being done at the four new Cybercrime Hubs nationwide which have been established in Cork, Galway, Mullingar and Wexford garda stations.
“While 55pc of our cases involve people suspected of engaging with child sexual abuse material, we have a forensic footprint across a huge area of other crimes – our remit is very wide,” he said.
Up until December 20 this year, the bureau was involved in the investigation into 58 theft and fraud cases, 18 sexual assault/rape cases, 22 illegal drugs cases and 33 harassment cases.
This is an increase in each of these crime categories from the figures disclosed for last year and 2020.
In total, this year the bureau began investigating 478 new cases, compared to 487 last year and 400 in 2020.
This included six ransomware attacks this year compared to 15 cases last year.