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Behind the Suits: Meet Melanie Martinson

Leading IJM investigations in the dark web, Melanie Martinson applies investigative techniques to combat cybercrime. She and her team work to identify not only consumers of online exploitation material, but the more elusive producers–who are oftentimes the abusers–of the material. The virtual world serves as her crime scene to gather digital forensic evidence in the forms of hard drives, websites, chat forums or on the dark web.

Watch the video below to learn more about this fun aunt, superhero aficionada and data security specialist.

Q: What motivated you to pursue an occupation in cyber security and investigations?

A: My career in cyber security/intelligence/investigations happened completely through God’s intervention. Way back, I knew I wanted to go into the military, but I also wanted a college degree. I ended up receiving a ROTC Air Force scholarship, but I had to pursue physics, math or computer science. I decided that “computers were the wave of the future” and opted for comp sci. Needless to say, I had never touched a computer in my life.

It was a struggle at first, but I was accepted as a computer crime investigator in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. I spent six years training and conducting computer crime investigations, counterintelligence operations, and information warfare operations while on active duty air force. I realized just how much technology was used to commit and facilitate crime, and it presented a whole new aspect of “detective work” that I thrived on–having to truly find a needle in the haystack. So I went on to investigate hacker intrusions and child abuse material while at the NASA Office of Inspector General. The rest is history…

Melanie Martinson, Data Security Specialist
Working at IJM, it allows me to sort of be like that superhero. I get to be fighting against these bad guys and doing everything I can to ensure that justice is sought-after for that victim.
Melanie Martinson, Data Security Specialist

Q: When did IJM start to notice the transition of child exploitation crimes into the dark web?

A: There isn’t necessarily a moment in which IJM noticed a transition. The dark web has existed for quite some time, and bad guys recognized the anonymity it offered them.

Acknowledging that rampant exploitation was ongoing on the Internet in some form or another, we realized we needed to start focusing in that area. IJM also started to observe that brothel and establishment owners were not advertising girls in their places of business anymore. Instead of overt operations, they moved to covert operationsessentially operating their "businesses" online.

Q: How do you utilize new technology to fight cyber-trafficking?

A: We are currently testing out several different Internet investigative tools which scrape data from online websites (primarily escort sites, john boards, sex tourist sites) and analyze the data for various patterns, relationships and correlations. We can then view those relationships or conduct queries for specific leads. This will help us to identify potential trafficking networks and/or specific victims of sex trafficking.

We are also working with software that does much the same thing, but on the dark web. It targets only text data, but then allows us to see various relationships between users, chat posts, discussion topics, etc. This will allow us to see patterns among users on pedophile sites that could lead us to who or where they might be operating.

Furthermore, we are working with some leading tech agencies to aggregate all of this kind of data into one large database and combine it with other existing IJM data sets. Powerful analytical software will be applied to that data which will show (on a much larger scale) patterns and relationships between all of those data sets. Our goal is to identify large criminal networks, methods of operation, vulnerabilities in supply chains, trafficking routes, etc.


Have you met our VP of Investigations & Law Enforcement Development? If not, check out this video to learn of his past at NCIS and his current role at IJM.

International Justice Mission is the world’s largest international anti-slavery organization, working to end modern-day slavery, human trafficking and other forms of violence against the poor by rescuing and restoring victims, restraining perpetrators, and transforming broken public justice systems. Learn more at www.ijm.org.