Wide range of tech solutions available to fight child porn

Wide range of tech solutions available to fight child porn

By BHASKAR RAMAN | | 29 August, 2015
Screenshot from the NetClean technologies website.
Technologies aid to filter and block such sites, track people who share child sexual abuse material on peer-to-peer networks and identify the victims.
While the Central government has expressed the intention to crack down on child pornography, it is yet to make full use of the available technological solutions to create a comprehensive mechanism to fight the menace.
A well-rounded approach to fighting online child pornography involves a three-pronged approach, according to Anna Creutz, of Netclean Technologies, a Swedish company that is a world leader in creating technological solutions to fight child sexual abuse (CSA) material. These are blocking access to CSA websites on a national level; going after the people who download and share CSA through peer-to-peer networks; and working actively to identify and rehabilitate the victims. Technologies are available to help to various extents on all three fronts and have been successfully adopted by countries such as New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden and Denmark. 
 
BLOCKING ACCESS
“At present, the only way governments can block users from accessing child pornography through the ‘open’ Internet on a national level,” Creutz says, “is through blocking known URLs, the actual webpages.” NetClean’s Whitebox is one such solution, which retrieves a block list from Interpol, Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and other sources. According to the NetClean website, the system is installed as a router that announces suspected IP numbers to the core network. A URL inspection device matches requests in the traffic against the block list, and if there is a match, a block page is displayed.
This only requires a relatively low filtering capacity as only the traffic going to the IP addresses on the block list is inspected. That means the system can be easily installed in large networks such as those used by national ISPs and international carriers.
The cost of installing Whitebox is about $10 million, or around Rs 66 crore, Creutz says. This would make the system reasonably affordable for large ISPs, especially if the government were to provide subsidies.
“It is extremely unlikely that legitimate content or innocent users get wrongly blocked,” Creutz adds. “The lists used by Whitebox are lists from IWF (Internet Watch Foundation), Interpol or law enforcement of websites known to contain child pornography.”
The government and ISPs can also create their own block lists.
“Should a website get wrongly blocked, there is a function where the user can send an e-mail to us at NetClean and ask to be taken off the list,” say Creutz.
Another useful solution is Microsoft’s PhotoDNA, available for free to law enforcement agencies and other qualified organisations. “Finding known child sex abuse images in that huge universe is like finding a needle in a haystack,” says Courtney Gregoire, a senior attorney at Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit, in a company blog post. Photo DNA is “an easier, more scalable way to identify and detect these worst of the worst images”, he says.
PhotoDNA uses “hash” matching technology to identify illegal photos, even if they have been altered by changing the size, making small marks or adjusting the colour balances. The cloud-based technology compares millions of photos against a hash set of CSA images and filter out the illegal ones. The International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC) runs Project VIC, which has a huge database of such images that PhotoDNA uses.
The technology is being used in all of Microsoft’s own services, as well as by Google, Twitter, Facebook and various other businesses, law enforcement agencies and child protection organisations.
F1, a similar technology which applies to video content, has been developed by UK tech firm Friends MTS, and is available for free through ICMEC.
While products like Whitebox can block access to CSA material hosted on websites, they do not cover darker corners of the Internet, such as peer-to-peer file sharing networks, which is where a lot of CSA content is distributed.
“There are solutions that can track IP addresses if law enforcement finds someone sharing material on a P2P network,” Creutz says, “However, it is usually not that simple.” It usually involves police going undercover and infiltrating P2P networks to track down those who distribute or download CSA content.
“Law enforcement agencies have to seize the material as evidence, analyse it and try to identify victims,” explains Creutz, “For that, they can use our Griffeye Analyze, or a similar solution to categorise and analyse images and videos to identify the people in the images.”
Griffeye also uses PhotoDNA to analyse images. Griffeye Analyze is available free of charge to law enforcement working with child exploitation investigations. “The technology has been donated to ICMEC and is therefore guaranteed to stay free of charge,” says Creutz, “However, there need to be resources allocated to training and people dedicated to working with these problems.”
Project VIC also provides several free tools to help identify victims, including technologies that use PhotoDNA and F1 Fingerprinting, a system similar to PhotoDNA for videos, to narrow down the number of images to be investigated.
To go further, to the root of the problem of CSA requires comprehensive action on the ground. In an attempt to help governments frame laws and policies for such action, ICMEC has brought together hundreds of experts to create model legislation that incorporates international standards and best practices of child protection, based on the protection measures of the UN Convention on Rights of the Child, to which India is a signatory. It is also working on providing technical and other assistance to governments and legislators in implementing the law.
 

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