Fort Wainwright Man Sentenced to 11 Years and Eight Months in Federal Prison for Distributing Child Pornography
Defendant Used Unsuspecting Neighbor’s Unsecured, Open Wireless Network
|U.S. Attorney’s Office March 23, 2011|
ANCHORAGE—United States Attorney Karen L. Loeffler announced today that a Fort Wainwright resident was sentenced in federal court in Fairbanks for possessing and distributing child pornography.
Joseph Edward Brannock, 22, a resident of Fort Wainwright, Alaska, was sentenced on March 18, 2011, by Chief United States District Judge Ralph R. Beistline to 11 years and eight months in federal prison, to be followed by 25 years of supervised release.
According to information presented to the court by Assistant United States Attorney Kyle G. French, Brannock distributed child pornography using his neighbor’s open wireless network and an Internet peer-to-peer network. On February 25, 2010, Brannock told an undercover FBI agent to “put up your pedo vids and pics to trade.” The term “pedo” is slang for and an abbreviation of “pedophile” and denotes depictions of prepubescent children being sexually abused. When the agent did not immediately share the materials Brannock requested, Brannock terminated the FBI agent’s connection and file transfers. Brannock also distributed 60 images of child pornography to an FBI agent on April 26, 2011, from file directories containing gigabytes of files called “pthc pics” and “pthc vids.” The term “pthc” is an abbreviation for “preteen hardcore” and, similar to “pedo pics and vids,” denotes depictions of prepubescent children being sexually abused.
With the assistance of Brannock’s neighbor, and in spite of Brannock’s use of peer-to-peer encryption to distribute his child pornography, the FBI identified Brannock and executed a search warrant at Brannock’s Fort Wainwright residence. A federal grand jury in Anchorage, Alaska indicted Brannock for distributing child pornography on July 23, 2010, and the U.S. Army discharged him on October 22, 2010.
At sentencing, the United States describe that forensic analysis of Brannock’s computer revealed hundreds of child pornography videos and images. The majority of the materials depict prepubescent children being sexually abused, including sadistic and violent abuse. In addition, dozens of Brannock’s videos and images depicted infants and toddlers (children under 3 years old) being sexually abused. A few of the victims in Brannock’s materials have been identified, and his conduct reaches children residing in the United States, Germany, France, Belgium, England, Ukraine, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Brazil, Switzerland, Denmark, Netherlands, and Australia.
“Mr. Brannock is further evidence of a disturbing national trend,” said Ms. Loeffler. “The Department of Justice noted in an August 2010 report to Congress that law enforcement is seeing more violent as well as more prepubescent children and infant victims in child pornography. Alaska is not immune from this trend. Preventing child sex abuse and bringing to justice those who sexually abuse children is a top national and local priority. For those who prey on infants and generate demand for depictions of infant and toddler sex abuse, we will seek longer prison sentences and terms of post-sentence court supervision.”
“Children whose sexual abuse is captured in images and videos suffer not just from the abuse graphically memorialized in the images, but also from a separate victimization, knowing that the images of that abuse are accessible, usually on the Internet, and are traded by other offenders who receive sexual gratification from the children’s distress,” noted Ms. Loeffler.
“Wireless networks are a great way to share your Internet connection with computers and other devices in your home,” said Mr. French, an experienced computer intrusion prosecutor who has a graduate degree in computer science. “The data and transmissions sent to and from your wireless network, however, do not stop at the walls of your home. If you live in an apartment, military base barracks, a dorm, or a condominium, dozens of your neighbors may be able to access your wireless network if your wireless router is not secure. If you live in a house, your immediate neighbors and even people across the street may be able to connect to your network.”
“There are numerous reasons why you should not allow anyone to use your home network without your knowledge and permission,” noted Mr. French. “People who can connect to your wireless network, for example, may be able to slow down your Internet performance, view files on your computers, infect your computers and network, monitor the websites you visit, read your e-mail and instant messages as they travel across the network, discover your user names and passwords, send spam, perform illegal activities with your Internet connection that law enforcement traces to your Internet account and home, or increase your Internet bill if you pay by the amount of data you send and receive.”
“Regrettably, for convenience and rapid setup reasons, most wireless routers are not secure when you first turn them on,” said AUSA French. “However, by taking a few minutes to configure your wireless router’s built-in security features you can make it difficult for uninvited computer or other device users to connect to or eavesdrop on your home network.”
Law enforcement recommends first that people change the wireless router’s default network name (otherwise known as an SSID, such as “linksys”) and administrative password. Second, enable the wireless router’s encryption. Turning on encryption helps guard the data transmitted between your computers and your wireless router from eavesdropping. It also helps prevent session hijacking for sites that do not use encrypted cookies, such as Facebook. Use the strongest form of encryption supported by your wireless router and computers. The Wireless Protected Access (WPA) protocol and WPA2 (AES) have supplanted the older and less-secure Wireless Encryption Protocol (WEP). Use WPA-PSK (also known as WPA-Personal) or WPA2 if at all possible, because WEP is relatively easy to compromise. If you use WPA-PSK to encrypt your network, choose a long passphrase or sentence of at least 20 characters that is not easy to guess. Other options for securing your wireless network include turning off SSID broadcasting, using MAC filtering (this allows only specified devices to connect to your network), reducing the range of your wireless signal, turning off your wireless router when you are not planning to use it for an extended period of time, and updating your wireless router’s firmware.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation leading to Brannock’s conviction with the assistance of the Alaska State Troopers; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the United States Marshals Service; the Drug Enforcement Administration; and the United States Air Force.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to better locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.