The internet is rife with illegal pornography and, depressingly, the harrowing underground child abuse industry was worth $3 billion last year alone. Despite the picture painted by some of the less considered mainstream media that a paedophile can be spotted at thirty paces – satirised brilliantly by Brass Eye’s Paedophilia Special – many people who purchase, download and swap imagery are seemingly normal family men.
And with a computer at home, that’s when illegal material filters through to the workplace, and it’s more common than you’d think.
We had a chat with NetClean’s Anna Goss, who has started working in the UK to tackle the taboo and encourage companies to face up to the fact child abuse filtering through into the work place is a big deal, it’s happening, and big business has to take its head out of the sand.
NetClean is a company which sells software that automatically scans for illegal images. It has clients in large organisations and began its UK presence only a couple of months ago. Although a cynic could suggest NetClean is profiting from the existance of child abuse material on the internet, Netclean provides its software to all police forces it works with for free, while profits go into further funding and development.
The technology does not look at images themselves – rather it compares hash codes from images to known codes on police databases. That keeps discovery purely delivered in forensic reports from the software, knocking unpleasant decision-making with horrific surprises on, say, a hard drive squarely on the head. “USB sticks and laptops are making it easier for people to store and trade images,” says Goss. “What I found interesting is there is an incredibly high amount of people who are married and have families, who use company PCs rather than at home with the wife.”
“Netclean works with police organisations all over the world who categorise it as porn,” Goss says. “There are no false positives, it always is what it is. But organisations need to protect themselves from using illegal images, as well as falsely accusing people.”
Goss tells us that Netclean can tell the difference between intentional viewing of illegal material and accidentally stumbling on something a user wishes they hadn’t seen. “If someone went on a genuine website and they came across something that happened before, the management console will show them,” according to Netclean.
Again, it’s all known images – so the software won’t identify holiday photos or baby snaps. Just bonafine black market material that has been identified by the authorities.
And Netclean believes by sussing those who try to get away with it in the workplace, it goes so far as to stop the cycle that could lead to actual, physical abuse. According to law agencies NetClean has worked with, many times viewing illegal images is the first step that leads up to physical attacks.
By catching out paedophiles at the first hurdle they are dealt with. Of course, the rest is up to rehabilitation – if even possible, but that is a different point of discussion.
NetClean confirmed to us that the conviction rate off the back of its software is very high.
Although NetClean has no involvement beyond installing the agent into the network, generally speaking, large organisations decide to use the full strength of the law because brand damage could be heavy. Unfortunately, but for clear reasons, Goss isn’t able to name any clients though she does confirm there are large organisations in the UK which have implemented the technology.
Companies Goss has talked to have had to deal with child abuse images on their networks regardless of using NetClean or other methods. Generally the larger the organisations are, and the more people they employ, the rule of numbers kicks in and the more likely it is there are illegal images hidden somewhere on servers or removable media. NetClean performs an entire sweep to make sure the company is clean first, and then again in case something crops up.
Goss says it’s as easy as storing the hash code, running a report – and sending it to the high-tech crime unit.
The biggest problem for NetClean at the moment is the social taboo. While general purpose security can be discussed with relative ease, the shadier world of illegal imagery is something many aren’t keen to discuss.
But it’s enough of a problem, says NetClean, to warrant the technology. Uncomfortable food-for-thought on the prevalence of hidden child abuse in the modern office.