A huge paedophile network behind a Netherlands-based online forum called boylover.net has been smashed and 184 suspects have been arrested, following a worldwide police operation.
More than 4,000 intelligence reports were issued to police authorities in over 30 countries in Europe and elsewhere, said Europol.
So far 230 children have been "safeguarded" following the three-year investigation known as Operation Rescue.
Europol said it had pinpointed 670 suspects in the case. Its analysts cracked security features of a key computer server said to be at the centre of the network. The police hack uncovered the identity and activity of the suspected child sex offenders.
The forum exposed more than 50,000 members in the UK, US, New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, Belgium, Canada, Greece, Iceland, Italy and elsewhere. At one point boylover.net was said to have 70,000 members accessing the site, which has now been taken offline.
Police officers from the UK and Australia undertook a covert operation in which they infiltrated the boylover.net site to track those members who they deemed to pose the biggest risk to children.
The UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) centre located the owner of the website and subsequently traced the server to the Netherlands in 2009, at which point Europol joined the investigation.
"I am proud of the exceptional work of our experts in helping police authorities around the world to record these groundbreaking results. The safeguarding of so many vulnerable children is particularly rewarding and demonstrates the commitment of our agency to make Europe a safer place for its citizens," said Europol director Rob Wainwright.
"I also pay tribute to the relevant authorities in Europe and elsewhere for their operational work in tracking down the suspected criminals and their victims."
The boylover.net website initially avoided drawing the attention of police authorities because it operated as a legal "discussion-only" forum where people could talk about their sexual interest in young boys without committing any offences.
The investigation uncovered that some members would shift to more private online channels such as email to share and exchange illegal images and films of children being abused, said Europol.
Most of the reported 184 arrests so far took place in the UK. More arrests are expected to take place as a direct result of the intelligence gathered during Operation Rescue. ®