Facebook, Twitter Join Effort to Eliminate Online Sex Abuse Images

Written by

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has kicked off its hash list strategy, a coordinated effort backed by major internet players to speed up the identification and removal of online child sexual abuse images worldwide.

The IWF will provide hashes of the content in order to make the internet a more hostile place to share, view, download and trade images of children being sexually abused. Five IWF Members, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo, are using the hash list so far.

Victims’ images can be identified and removed more quickly, preventing them from being shared time and time again, sharing can be blocked from the get-go, and new images can be prevented from being uploaded to the internet in the first place.

“Not to be confused with a ‘hash tag,’ a hash is a digital fingerprint of an image,” IWF noted. “There are billions of images on the internet, and by creating a digital fingerprint of a single image, you can pluck it out, like finding a needle in a haystack.”

The IWF said that it will automatically begin creating three types of hashes to meet the needs of the online industry: PhotoDNA (technology developed by Microsoft), MD5 and SHA-1 hashes. Hashes will only be created from images that the highly-trained IWF analysts have assessed, regardless of whether the image was sourced from a public report, a report from the online industry, an image actively found by the analysts, or an image from the Home Office’s new Child Abuse Image Database (CAID).

Companies that facilitate the upload, storage or search of images, or that provide filtering services, hosting services, social media and chat, data centers or connectivity services can all make use of these.

In November 2014 during the #WePROTECT summit, Prime Minister David Cameron announced tougher measures to combat online child sexual abuse material. One of the focuses of the summit was to look at ways to improve identifying illegal images and getting them removed. During the summit, industry members agreed on a statement of action: “Building on the success of technologies such as PhotoDNA and video hashing, we will continue to work on new tools and techniques to help improve the detection and removal of images and videos of child sexual abuse.”

On average, the IWF can take action to remove around 500 URLs (web addresses) containing child sexual abuse material every day. One URL may contain one to thousands of images. By hashing all the child sexual abuse images found on each URL, the size of the hash list will increase significantly every day, so it has the potential to reach millions of hashes of images. The more hashes given to the online industry, the greater the protection offered on companies’ online services.

“The IWF Hash List could be a game-changer and really steps up the fight against child sexual abuse images online,” said IWF CEO Susie Hargreaves. “This is something we have worked on with our members since the Prime Ministers’ #WePROTECT summit last December. We’ll soon be able to offer the hash list to all IWF members, who are based around the world.

What’s hot on Infosecurity Magazine?