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Everything We Know About the Melbourne Teen Who Founded a Child Porn Empire

Matthew Graham faced court again yesterday after he pleaded guilty to hosting a network of "hurtcore" child porn sites.

av Julian Morgans
2016 02 19, 12:00am

For around three years a Melbourne student named Matthew Graham ran one of the deep web's most complex child porn networks. Known as the "PedoEmpire," the network encompassed several sites and forums, mainly catering to violent or extreme "hurtcore" content. One such site was aptly named Hurt2theCore, which required users to upload a video of their own before joining.

Given the nature of this case, it's understandable why County Judge Michael Tinney admitted yesterday in Court that he was "very much in uncharted waters." This was Graham's second hearing since he was arrested in 2014 and charged with 13 counts of child pornography.

There's something gravely intriguing about the case of Matthew Graham, who called himself "Lux" online. Indeed several journalists and internet do-gooders have been captivated by his empire for some time.

In 2014 US tech-journalist Patrick Howell O'Neill managed to speak with him via encrypted email, which resulted in this feature on how a pimply kid from Melbourne's suburbs became a monster. Ironically it began with Anonymous' much-lauded 2011 attempt to shut down child pornography for good.

#OpDarkNet was a call to arms for hactivists everywhere to target child porn sites and hosts with repeated denial-of-service attacks. The plan didn't work, but it did alert then 17-year-old Matthew to the existence of child porn. "At first I felt ashamed in myself for being attracted to such a thing," he explained to O'Neill via encrypted email. "It wasn't until I came across the Tor pedo community that I was able to truly feel comfortable with attractions."

At this time Graham was a VCE student at Epping Secondary College, living with his parents in South Morang. According to this investigation from Fairfax, Graham quickly tired of "soft" porn pertaining to be extreme. He wanted something darker, and responded by setting up his own sites, using an anonymous hosting service called Freedom Hosting. From 2012 onwards Matthew Graham took on a new life.

That year he began studying nanotechnology at La Trobe University where various reports quote his lecturers as saying he was nice but unremarkable. Meanwhile, outside of class, Graham's empire expanded. He began coordinating content with paedophiles from around the globe, including Melbourne man Peter Scully, who is currently on trial in the Philippines.

Interestingly Graham claims he never did anything wrong because he only curated videos and images from others, while never committing any violent acts of his own. Having said that, he indisputably encouraged sexual abuse from others. One anonymous user even emailed Patrick Howell O'Neill a list of how-to threads found on Hurt 2 The Core. With titles like "Producing kiddie porn for dummies" and "Need ideas for blackmailed girl," there's no doubt Graham was sanctioning misery.

For his part, Graham argues he was only ever advocating for free speech. As he told O'Neill in an email, "If anyone had ever done such a thing to any of the kids I know, I would put a bullet in their head. Given that, I still think that people who have interest in such things should have a place where they're able to voice their opinions and desires."

In 2013 the hidden hosting service behind PedoEmpire was shut down by the FBI. Graham responded by building his own hosting service, which is no small task given the amount of attacks launched against dark web paedophilia by Anonymous and the FBI. Yet once he was hosting his own stuff, PedoEmpire grew rapidly and others set up sites on his servers. The fact that he was able to maintain this service from his parents' home is remarkable.

Then in June 2014 Matthew Graham posted this PGP signed message: "As always, all empires eventually fall and today is the day that the [removed] falls. After years of running CP hidden services, today is the day that I walk away. There are personal issues which my close friends have been made aware of that have forced me to make this decision. I don't like long awkward farewells, so... Goodbye."

It had been speculated PedoEmpire was in trouble for a while as several users complained Graham had been unusually slow on replies. How much this had to do with his imminent arrest is unclear, other than to say that a collaborative investigation by the FBI, Europol, Canadian police, the AFP and Victoria Police's Taskforce Astraea finally apprehended Graham in late 2014.

Fairfax reported how gobsmacked his community was. All online references of Matthew Graham have been scrubbed from Epping Secondary College and La Trobe websites, while his parents sold the family house.

The new owners of the Graham home reported finding the words "parents should be afraid of raising children like us," scrawled over the inside of a bedroom wardrobe.

Graham's father and older sister appeared with him in court yesterday. He will be sentenced on March 17.

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