IWF: This is the technology at the forefront of the fight against child sexual abuse material online

At the IWF, we work tirelessly to advance our own technology to keep on being a world leader in the fight against child sexual abuse imagery online. Technology, as well as our expert Analysts, are at the forefront of this fight, facing the ongoing challenge to innovate as offenders seek new ways to evade detection on the internet.

The numbers speak for themselves. In 2018, our Analysts processed 229,328 reports, a 73% increase on 2017. Of these reports, 105,047 URLs were confirmed as containing child sexual abuse imagery, having links to the imagery, or advertising it. Our team of Analysts assess hundreds of child sexual abuse websites a day, and each website can contain one to thousands of illegal images.

One of the ways in which the IWF fights against the spread of child sexual abuse imagery is through hashing.

How does hashing technology work?

The IWF Image Hash List is the most targeted way of removing and preventing online child sexual abuse images from appearing on the internet, protecting internet users from stumbling across this type of content. But how does the hashing technology actually work? At the IWF, we use Microsoft PhotoDNA to create unique codes, or digital fingerprints, of child sexual abuse images we find online, which are known as hashes. These hashes are then added to our Hash List, which can be used to find the same child sexual abuse images anywhere on the open web, even if they’ve been edited. Our Member companies can download the Hash List directly from IWF, or through our cloud solution, which means they can automatically scan images before they are even uploaded or shared to their services.

Our Members receive an updated version of the list every day, and in March 2018 we were granted access to the Child Abuse Image Database (CAID), giving us the ability to upload and share our hashes with law enforcement. At the end of 2018, the IWF Image Hash List contains over 345,961 hashes, of these hashes, 83,456 relate to the worst forms of abuse.

Today 147 companies, from internet giants such as Google or Facebook to smaller filtering providers, are Members of the IWF and benefit from our tech tools. They work with us to prevent the upload, hosting and sharing of child sexual abuse material online to their networks. Thanks to the collaborative work with our Members, foreign governments, law enforcement, charities worldwide, and the European Commission – which also fund our work-, the UK has become one of the most hostile places in the world to host child sexual abuse material online. Since the inception of the IWF in 1996, the amount of illegal child sexual abuse imagery hosted in the UK has dropped from 18% to just 0.04% this year.

How does hashing technology protect victims from further abuse?

Victims are at the heart of the work we do at the IWF. Our Image Hash List has allowed child sexual abuse victims to sleep better at night knowing that images of their abuse can be automatically detected and removed from the internet.

We invest heavily in technology to make sure our database of hashes grows every day and helps law enforcement across the world find and save new victims from abuse quicker than ever before.

The Image Hash List is just one of the specialist services we offer our Members to help them keep their networks free from illegal content. The URL List and the Domain Alerts also help our Members improve internet safety and protect children worldwide.