Alarming new research reveals that a massive 64 per cent of IT companies have discovered child sex abuse material on their networks or devices in the past five years.

The first-of-its-kind anonymised survey also found that 57 per cent have had repeat incidences within the same company.

Commissioned by Swedish-based software company NetClean, the report confirmed just how prevalent the issue is by interviewing more than 1,000 IT professionals from the US, UK, Sweden, Netherlands and Sweden.

Half of those interviewed believed illegal material was being stored on their organisation’s devices, and almost all agreed more measures were needed to tackle child sex abuse material specifically.

The research highlights the need for better protections and alert systems for IT equipment.

The report’s sobering findings also revealed:

. 51 per cent of cases were discovered on company laptops

. 62 per cent of C-level IT professionals think it’s likely that child sex abuse material is being viewed undetected by the organisation

. Six out of 10 IT professionals think COVID prompted a spike in these cases

. Almost all of senior IT staff had personally heard of colleagues dealing with these incidents at other firms

The managing director of social services organisation Child Wise, Natalie Siegel-Brown, warns that offenders could exist in Australian companies.

Fifteen per cent of organisations had uncovered between two and five cases, the research revealed.

“Most companies I speak to are shocked to learn that their very own corporate devices like laptops and mobile phones are being used to access child abuse material, but the reality is that offenders are opportunistic and will use whatever resources are available if they believe they won’t get caught,” she says.

“No companies in Australia have the protections or alert-systems to pick up if someone has sent an attachment to a person with child sexual abuse material inside it. Or if they have even plugged in a USB to their work computer with this material on it,” Siegal-Brown said.

Offenders can exist in any area of life and in any organisation, regardless of size.

In Australia, reports of online child abuse surged 122 per cent during the first three months of lockdown, with many offenders using the work-from-home environment to do this, she adds.

The research is being released in Australia as part of Netclean’s push to break into the local market.

NetClean CEO Anna Borgström says that IT leaders are well aware that current industry protections fall short and there is more that can be done about the issue.

Its software, which was built in Sweden, notifies companies about anyone accessing child exploitation material across laptop, phone, dark web, USB, cloud storage or email.

“It’s common practice to install anti-virus and anti-spam software to protect company assets from being compromised. Likewise, with child sex abuse material, unless programs are installed to detect it, you’re dealing with an unknown quality and exposing your organisation to these risks,” she said.

The Australian Federal Police ThinkUKnow online child safety program is focused on preventing child sexual exploitation.