Interpol defends voluntary filter

Interpol defends voluntary filter

Summary: The Interpol "worst-of" list used by several internet service providers (ISPs) to voluntarily filter internet traffic has attracted criticism in the past, but, according to Interpol acting assistant director of cybercrime and security Michael Moran, critics need to realise that it's just one piece of the puzzle.

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TOPICS: Censorship, Security
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The Interpol "worst-of" list used by several internet service providers (ISPs) to voluntarily filter internet traffic has attracted criticism in the past, but, according to Interpol acting assistant director of cybercrime and security Michael Moran, critics need to realise that it's just one piece of the puzzle.

Michael Moran
(Credit: Michael Lee/ZDNet Australia)

The list, currently in use or on its way to being used by Optus, Telstra and Vodafone, has been seen by some as ineffective due to the ability of child abusers to easily circumvent it, and because it's a preventative measure, not a cure that would see creators of child-abuse material arrested.

However, in an interview with ZDNet Australia at the Kaspersky Lab Cyber Conference 2012 in Cancun, Mexico, Moran said that this criticism only really applies if the filter list is the only measure. He acknowledged its limitations, but stated that the stop page presented when access is blocked is an important tool in Interpol's arsenal against child abuse.

"What it is, essentially, is a prevention tool. Of course it's easy to go around ... but that's not the point. It's not a silver bullet ...It's like a speed camera on a road — you can slow down when you come up to the speed camera, and you can speed up when you've driven past ... but the reality is that it's reminded you that what you're doing is illegal.

"To suggest that blocking the internet or filtering ... is our only answer is wrong. It's also very important to realise that the vast majority of this 'trade' doesn't happen on the web. It happens in off-web services — IRC, newsgroups, peer to peer; I could go on and on and on. That's where we do our big work."

One of the newer tools that Interpol is using as part of this work is an emerging policing discipline that it calls victim identification.

"Material that is found on the internet is analysed in real time by analysts around the world sharing through the ICSE [International Child Sexual Exploitation] database in Interpol."

In a recent case in Massachusetts, US, an image was distributed through the ICSE database, analysed and determined to be a Dutch child, and the victim was subsequently identified. From this information, local law enforcement was able to track the perpetrator down, who was found to be running a child-care centre and abusing 84 victims in total.

"If the system didn't exist at Interpol, and if the Dutch victim-identification officer wasn't doing her job, that man would still be abusing children," Moran said.

"That type of scenario has happened many times from Australia, where material found in Australia is fed into our systems."

Moran stressed that the ability to track victims greatly assisted in leading law enforcement to the perpetrator.

"Don't forget that 86 per cent plus of child sexual abuse takes place within the home, so if you find the victim, you find the perpetrator."

Moran also addressed criticism that there is a perceived lack of transparency with the Interpol filtering list, as it is difficult to determine what destinations have made their way onto it.

"If you feel that the site has been badly blocked for whatever reason, click that link [on the stop page] and make a complaint, and it will be answered," he said.

At the moment, complaints are handled either by Interpol or via the Australian Federal Police (AFP), but Moran clarified that the AFP has the ability to veto the content of the list.

"We're not some super-national police force that makes decisions for national countries. We make the list available to the national central bureau, which is run by the AFP, and the AFP are the ones who push it on out. The AFP themselves can go through the list and verify that all of this content is justifiable."

Even if the AFP was unwilling or unable to put the resources in place to check the list, Moran said that Interpol would still open the list to scrutiny, so long as the investigating party was from a government agency or similar.

"The list is not public for a very good reason. We would welcome independent verification if somebody wants to come in and look at what we put on the list," he said.

Michael Lee travelled to the Cyber Conference 2012 as a guest of Kaspersky Lab.

Topics: Censorship, Security

Michael Lee

About Michael Lee

A Sydney, Australia-based journalist, Michael Lee covers a gamut of news in the technology space including information security, state Government initiatives, and local startups.

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7 comments
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  • That assumes that people see the stop sign. If you're using proxies, or whatever *all* the time, then these stop signs will never be observed. And therefore there's no reminder. And before you assert that if I'm using a proxy all the time I must be doing something wrong, there are many reasons that you would be doing this, quite innocently. (just to stop you playing the "if you use (encryption | proxy | anonymous services you must be a crim/paedo/whatever") card) Or the "what do you have to hide" card.
    meski.oz
    • I get what you mean in your context, meski. If the filter is like speed cameras, then people can alternately take side streets and back roads in order not to get caught. But by the same token, not everyone uses side streets and back roads in order to speed, but to simply get home and maybe avoid peak hour traffic.

      Now, your argument about encryption and proxies is also valid. You might need that extra layer of security for business transactions, or working on sensitive data, or whatever. You might be sharing those same servers with hackers, pedophiles and the like, but it does not mean that you are doing anything illegal.
      dmh_paul
  • Every example of action against child molesters in this story related to internet protocols other than the www. This filter then achieves almost nothing in fighting child abuse and child sexual abuse in particular.

    I note that total control of what is and isn't included in the filter in Australia rests entirely with the AFP. Why is there no independent oversight of the list that the AFP is providing to ISPs? How do we know that material that is prohibited content in Australia is not being added to the filtering list for local consumption? The Interpol web site clearly says this can be done.

    Why are the Government spending money on a voluntary filter that is in reality ineffective and achieving nothing except advertising that the police are chasing "kiddy fiddlers"?

    Why hasn't there been the same level of complaint about this filter as about the proposed mandatory filter when they both have similar failings? Is it because the Interpol filter is directed at child sexual abuse and people are too scared of being called a pedophile if they oppose it?

    Is the Interpol filter a softening of the public in preparation for the madatory ISP based filter?
    Bob.H-819a5
  • I like the analogy of a speed camera, another piece of technology abused by the Government. Like speed cameras Censorship is being introduced using one set of justifications, stopping child pornography, like speed cameras Censorship is claimed to function in a separate manner from the reason for its introduction and Moran helpfully lists the methods that are actually doing the things that Censorship is wrongly being credited with achieving, and finally like speed cameras Censorship has its real reason for introduction, everyone knows that speed cameras are about the money and I suspect that the Police agencies involved can get more money if they put on a good show with a flashy piece of nonsense which by their own admission doesnt really work than with work which is usually carried out in secret and therefore receives little if any attention, and of course there is the Governments benefit of having a reason to introduce Censorship.

    Speed cameras save lives & Censorship stops child abuse, they are both lies and the Police just said so in the article above!
    The.Womp
  • I look at the comments here and get the distinct impression that no-one has actually read the statements from the Interpol guy in their entirety at all and made any attempt to comprehend what he has explained and what they do, but have skimmed over them and picked out a few expressions that they can object to...

    Clearly out of context...

    >;)) But then again, if your aim is to object and protest in general, irrespective of the gist of the article, then yeah away you go.

    As usual, the average Australian blogger knows more about what Interpol is doing than Interpol itself. Impressive.
    Ocker-da8d6
  • The problem with the filter is the same problem that would have been if SOPA and PIPA had been implemented. The filter will redirect the DNS entry of, say, downloadwhatever.com and instead redirect you to a warning page saying it's blocked. On the face of it, that's all fine and well, but there's a whole lot going on beneath DNS that renders the filter useless.

    What DNS does is translate the human-known URL (www.zdnet.com.au for example), and translates that into the computers IP address (119.161.85.50, did a ping test on the site), and vice-versa. Now say zdnet.com.au is blocked, and all a user has to do is type http://119.161.85.50/ into the address bar of their web browser, and there you go.
    dmh_paul
    • Actually, scrap that last sentence for this case. All typing in the IP address for this particular site does is send you to a page which says "It works!"
      dmh_paul