GCHQ = Government Communications Headquarters
The unit, made up of GCHQ and the National Crime Agency, will focus on the increasing number of people who are turning to the "dark net" — a network of sites only accessible through the use of anonymising browsers — to find this type of content.
The announcement was made at the #WeProtect Children Global Summit, which took place in London Thursday, where representatives of 50 countries came together to look at measures to tackle child abuse online.
"We've seen an increasing and alarming phenomenon of paedophiles contacting children online over the internet or on their mobile phone," UK Prime Minister David Cameron told the conference.
"There can be no grey areas here — If you ask a child to take their clothes off and send a picture, you are as guilty as if you did that in person."
Cameron said a new law is being introduced that will make it illegal for adults to send these types of messages to children.
"There is nowhere to hide," he said. "Child exploitation online is a real crime for which there is real punishment."
Thousands of people in Britain are using the "dark net" to find images of child sex abuse. A BBC investigation earlier this year found that one site trading images got 500 page views per second.
Meanwhile, a number of companies, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, unveiled measures for blocking and removing child abuse material from the web. They say this will be done by using the "digital fingerprints" of known child sex-abuse images, identified by the Internet Watch Foundation.
However, some have said the measures revealed Thursday are already in place and Cameron's announcement merely rehashes them.
The former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, Jim Gamble, told Channel 4 News the Prime Minister was electioneering.
"When I was with CEOP, we had a seconded member of GCHQ. We looked at the technology offenders were using. If they are saying that, for the past three and-a-half years, that has not been happening, then they need to say why," Gamble told Channel 4 News.
Since the start of this year, the IWF has already processed 70,541 reports, of which 27,850 URLs were determined to contain images of child sex abuse, it said in a statement released Thursday. This is an increase of 109% from 2013.
The foundation said in 1996, 18% of the world’s known child sex-abuse imagery was hosted in the UK, but in 2014, that has been reduced to less than 0.3%.
Changes to Google’s search engine has led to a five-fold reduction in searches for images of child sexual abuse, a major London conference has been told.
Although the fall in search numbers is welcomed, the majority of searches for child abuse occur on “the Dark Web”, which hosts thousands of websites that use anonymity tools to hide their address.