The British-based anti-abuse organisation Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is sharing lists of images of abuse with web companies so that they can protect their customers and help victims. In order to help the system be effective as possible, the British government is giving IWF access to its own Child Abuse Image Database (CAID).
According to the BBC, CAID even includes images found on computers seized by police that may not have been uploaded online.
The IWF database will be made available to internet companies that provide services such as uploading, storing, or searching of images; filtering or hosting services; and social media and chat services, as well as those working in connectivity and data centres.
All the pictures will be given a ‘hash’ or digital footprint which will make it harder to share.
The hashing system is already used by the InHope international network of internet hotlines, which monitor illegal activity online.
Paul Durrant of the Internet Service Providers’ Association of Ireland (ISPAI), whose hotline.ie website is an InHope member, said the hashing system technically analyses the image and creates an unique code.
“That code is not reversible and can be distributed to various people,” he said. “While you cannot create the image from the code, if another image comes along which matches the code, you can be fairly sure it is probably the same image and it is probably an illegal one.”
Mr Durrant said it was a major step forward for companies offering widespread hosting to get the list and apply it, thereby filtering out people who are attempting to upload known images to those sites.
Unfortunately, those behind the illegal images can still use the ‘darknet’ — a computer network with restricted access that is used chiefly for illegal peer-to-peer file sharing — to share images in a manner which is much harder to trace than if they were published or shared on the likes of Google.
Mr Durrant said efforts are being made to tackle that phenomenon.
“The most important tool for tackling abuse on the internet is that, if people come across what they suspect is illegal content or is leading to illegal content, report it to hotline.ie. It is totally confidential,” he said.
“If we get darknet reports, we will investigate that. We try to find the images in question. Even though we may not be able to locate where the images are from, as we can on the normal net, we can still get those images and feed them into the hashing system.
“The images can be added to the Interpol database. Also often, because people think they are safe on the darknet, those images themselves can contain information which has some clue in it which can help law enforcement to possibly find out who these people are.”