Not for the easily spooked, ‘Hunting Warhead’ chronicles the hunt for a criminal network hiding in the darkest corners of the web

True Crime March 24, 2022
Listen to ‘Hunting Warhead’

Back in 2012, hackers around the world started breaking into people’s iCloud accounts, stealing their intimate photos, and posting them on revenge porn websites. The pictures were of ex-girlfriends, celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton, and some were total strangers who had their most intimate, private photos uploaded as a form of cruel abuse by anonymous people.

Håkon Høydal, a journalist at Verdens Gang in Norway, co-authored an exposée of one of the many revenge porn sites that was active at the time with his colleague Julia Ingebrigtsen. He was critical of the Norwegian police and government for not cracking down on this wave of revenge porn, considering many users of the site were overwhelmingly Norwegian. The article caused quite a stir, but he was surprised to receive an email from a cybersecurity expert who had been running his own solo undercover operation in an attempt to expose who was behind the website.

Håkon was surprised that this email-er was disgruntled by his article, saying that he had gotten many things wrong. Which is unsurprising, considering the great lengths this white-hat hacker had gone to to discover that 24-year-old Norwegian politician Tor Johannes Helleland, the son of two high-ranking members of Norway’s national conservative party, was behind it. Not only that, but he found that a number of the women that Helleland had hacked were a part of the party’s youth wing. That man was Einar Stangvik, and this story would eventually lead him and Håkon to a horrific darknet website in “Hunting Warhead.”

“Hunting Warhead” has continued to captivate audiences since its release in 2019. Over the course of six episodes, each 45 to 60 minutes long, host Daemon Fairless takes us through the investigation into Child’s Play, the largest darknet child abuse website ever created. He speaks with investigators, survivors, and even the criminals themselves to tell us about how the criminal network was created, how it was eliminated, and what this says about the darkest corners of humankind.

In collaboration with Håkon’s newspaper, Verdens Gang (VG), this CBC podcast chronicles Håkon’s and Einar’s investigation. It is certainly graphic based on the subject matter alone, but not any more graphic than it needs to be. Host Daemon masterfully handles the difficult nature of “Hunting Warhead,” creating an absolutely gripping podcast. It’s a mixture of Håkon’s own incredible journalism, Einar’s technological expertise, powerful audio storytelling, and archived interviews from the case.

Daemon is no stranger to the dark. He spent years researching and writing about extremely violent men and dangerous sexual offenders. He wants to understand the motivations and forensic psychology of people who inflict serious violence on other living creatures. And he teams up with Håkon, who investigates the most frightening parts of the internet, to tell “Hunting Warhead.”

We won’t pretend that we can explain just how Håkon and Einar both cracked both sites, exposing the men behind the atrocities. But they and Daemon certainly can. In layman’s terms, they describe how Einar created programs designed to find IP addresses and identities on the websites, how he hacked their systems, and how he worked his way to the top of the site’s leadership.

It’s not just a reiteration of Håkon’s original article either. While “Hunting Warhead” brings us through the entire case, starting with how the duo discovered the site as told in the first episode, Daemon also speaks with victims, friends, and families of the sites. “Hunting Warhead” asks how a site like Child’s Play can be prevented in the future.

It’s a riveting look into the worst parts of the internet and the worst parts of humanity that have combined into something indescribable. “Hunting Warhead” will literally leave you speechless, frightened, and uncomfortable, but all at once relieved that people like Håkon, Einar, and Julia exist.

Listen to ‘Hunting Warhead’

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