Small ISPs reject call to filter out child abuse sites

IWF blocklist effective despite workarounds, charities argue


ISPs have rejected a call by childrens' charities to implement the government's approved blocklist for images of child sexual abuse, because the list does not stop anyone who wants to accessing such material.

On Monday a coalition including the NSPCC and Barnardo's sounded warnings that 700,000 homes could access websites hosting images of abuse because small ISPs do not filter their networks. The charities aimed to put pressure on the government to force them to implement the Internet Watch Foundation's blocklist, pointing out that in 2006 ministers said all providers should do so by the end of 2007.

Small ISPs have resisted filtering their networks for several years on economic and principle grounds. On Tuesday Malcolm Hutty, policy chief Linx, a peering cooperative used by many small ISPs, reiterated the objections. "Especially at the moment, it would mean spending a lot of money on something that simply does not work," he said. "The system is politically motivated."

The IWF acknowledges that paedophiles with minimal technical knowledge are able to circumvent its censorship. Whether their ISP has implemented the IWF blocklist, therefore, has no impact on their ability to access websites distributing child abuse images. Rather, the IWF agrees, the blocklist protects average web users with no interest in such material from accidental exposure.

About 95 per cent of UK internet users are thus shielded from the darkest corners of the web by their ISP. The rest are not. In either case, paedophiles remain able to access images of child abuse over the web. In that light the NSPCC's assertion this week that "allowing this loophole helps feed the appalling trade in images featuring real children being seriously sexually assaulted" demands examination.

Zoe Hilton, the NSPCC's policy adviser, told The Register that despite the simple technical counter-measures available to paedophiles, filtering websites was valuable. "There's a whole spectrum of offending," she said. "Clearly, we're not going to stop determined paedophiles, but we know from our work with offenders that it can often start with an accidental exposure and curiosity. There's a huge element of opportunism to a lot the commercial sites."

"It's probably difficult for Register readers to believe, but lots of these people would never be able to use an overseas proxy [to circumvent the IWF blocklist].

Hilton said that the objections to filtering raised to the NSPCC by small ISPs had been cost-based rather than function-based until now. She recognised that use of peer-to-peer networks and other internet technologies by paedophiles was also of great concern, but said their availability did not mean web filtering was ineffective.

As pressure on small ISPs to filter the traffic entering their networks increased, a New Zealand ISP hoped to take advantage.

Peter Mancer, managing director of Watchdog Internet, said the alleged expense of implementing cleanfeed was no excuse. His firm is acting as UK distributor of Netclean, a filtering technology developed in Sweden.

Watchdog is pushing Netclean as a cheaper alternative to Cleanfeed, the BT-developed filtering system used by all the major ISPs. "The beauty of what we offer is it can be extremely cost effective to implement," Mancer said. Netclean allows filtering to take place outside ISPs' networks, so several can use the same equipment.

Business provider Talk Internet has become the first UK customer for the system, filtering traffic based on the same IWF blocklist used by Cleanfeed. Netclean is also being used by more than a dozen ISPs in the ongoing controversial internet filtering trials in Australia, where the government wants to providers to block much more than just child abuse material.

"It's not easy to put a figure on return on investment, but more and more ISPs are aware of their social responsibility," said Mancer, adding that the recent furore over the blocking of the whole of Wikipedia by the IWF and Cleanfeed would not have affected providers using Netclean, because it does not rely on proxying.

Clearly, ministers are extemely sensitive to criticism of their policies on child abuse. The Home Office said the IWF blocklist was a "considerable success" and that it will continue to consider what further action might be needed.

It falls to small ISPs to judge what action, if any, might be forthcoming, and whether it would be cheaper to implement restrictions they view as pointless than to continue resisting. ®

Similar topics

Broader topics

Narrower topics


Other stories you might like

  • Did ID.me hoodwink Americans with IRS facial-recognition tech, senators ask
    Biz tells us: Won't someone please think of the ... fraud we've stopped

    Democrat senators want the FTC to investigate "evidence of deceptive statements" made by ID.me regarding the facial-recognition technology it controversially built for Uncle Sam.

    ID.me made headlines this year when the IRS said US taxpayers would have to enroll in the startup's facial-recognition system to access their tax records in the future. After a public backlash, the IRS reconsidered its plans, and said taxpayers could choose non-biometric methods to verify their identity with the agency online.

    Just before the IRS controversy, ID.me said it uses one-to-one face comparisons. "Our one-to-one face match is comparable to taking a selfie to unlock a smartphone. ID.me does not use one-to-many facial recognition, which is more complex and problematic. Further, privacy is core to our mission and we do not sell the personal information of our users," it said in January.

    Continue reading
  • Meet Wizard Spider, the multimillion-dollar gang behind Conti, Ryuk malware
    Russia-linked crime-as-a-service crew is rich, professional – and investing in R&D

    Analysis Wizard Spider, the Russia-linked crew behind high-profile malware Conti, Ryuk and Trickbot, has grown over the past five years into a multimillion-dollar organization that has built a corporate-like operating model, a year-long study has found.

    In a technical report this week, the folks at Prodaft, which has been tracking the cybercrime gang since 2021, outlined its own findings on Wizard Spider, supplemented by info that leaked about the Conti operation in February after the crooks publicly sided with Russia during the illegal invasion of Ukraine.

    What Prodaft found was a gang sitting on assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars funneled from multiple sophisticated malware variants. Wizard Spider, we're told, runs as a business with a complex network of subgroups and teams that target specific types of software, and has associations with other well-known miscreants, including those behind REvil and Qbot (also known as Qakbot or Pinkslipbot).

    Continue reading
  • Supreme Court urged to halt 'unconstitutional' Texas content-no-moderation law
    Everyone's entitled to a viewpoint but what's your viewpoint on what exactly is and isn't a viewpoint?

    A coalition of advocacy groups on Tuesday asked the US Supreme Court to block Texas' social media law HB 20 after the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last week lifted a preliminary injunction that had kept it from taking effect.

    The Lone Star State law, which forbids large social media platforms from moderating content that's "lawful-but-awful," as advocacy group the Center for Democracy and Technology puts it, was approved last September by Governor Greg Abbott (R). It was immediately challenged in court and the judge hearing the case imposed a preliminary injunction, preventing the legislation from being enforced, on the basis that the trade groups opposing it – NetChoice and CCIA – were likely to prevail.

    But that injunction was lifted on appeal. That case continues to be litigated, but thanks to the Fifth Circuit, HB 20 can be enforced even as its constitutionality remains in dispute, hence the coalition's application [PDF] this month to the Supreme Court.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022