In biggest haul yet, PLDT-Smart blocks more than 10,000 links to child abuse

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In their most aggressive campaign yet against child abuse, PLDT and Smart Communications said they have clamped down more than 10,000 links on child abuse materials circulating on the Internet.

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In the first half of June alone, the group blocked access to more than 4,500 URLs and domains tied to online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC). 

The latest number still comes from the expansive database of the UK-based Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) which PLDT and Smart have been granted access to following their membership with the IWF in April this year.

“We have extracted IWF’s complete list of links that host child sexual abuse materials or CSAM. This has enabled us to block more than 10,000 links since we joined the organization. IWF continues to update its database and, as allies, we also receive the same updates everyday,” explained Angel Redoble, chief information security officer at PLDT and Smart.

Backed by the global Internet industry and the European Commission, the IWF is a non-profit organization that works closely with law enforcement agencies of national governments, Internet service providers and platforms, and charitable organizations in taking down webpages, keywords, hash lists, and digital fingerprints that contain child abuse materials.

The IWF membership officially makes PLDT and Smart the first in the Philippines to join the global coalition of more than 150 organizations, including some of the world’s largest tech giants in the fight against OSAEC. The IWF counts Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Telefonica, and Vodafone among its members.

Aside from taking reports from the public through their 47 reporting portals serving 2.4 billion people around the world, the IWF’s highly trained analysts actively search the Internet for child sexual abuse images and videos. They then work with global partners to get these removed.

The IWF membership has also enabled PLDT and Smart to block these illicit contents on the more difficult content level. With this capability, PLDT and Smart can prevent customers from accessing identified child abuse files even those that have been uploaded on legitimate domains without cutting access to the entire website.

In total, PLDT and Smart have cut access to more than 13,000 URLs and domains that host sexually explicit materials featuring children. Prior to joining the IWF, PLDT and Smart have blocked more than 3,000 links through open-source threat intelligence gathering, purchasing available commercial threat intelligence and receiving information from the government through law enforcement agencies.

British intelligence has talked to both companies, acknowledging that majority of patrons of online child abuse materials are from developed nations in the Americas and Europe. They have proposed to team up with PLDT and Smart along with other service providers and work closely with the Philippine National Police (PNP) and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in holding joint training to boost capabilities.  

“We would like to be able to assist in the investigation of crimes related to OSAEC. We’re looking at behavioral analysis such as the monitoring of bandwidth traffic to identify potential livestreaming hotspots. When a particular IP address sees a sudden spike in bandwidth use, PLDT and Smart can notify law enforcement agencies so they can investigate further as this could be related to OSAEC. Livestreaming often sees a sudden rush of data traffic,” Redoble added.

PLDT and Smart are also collaborating with International Justice Mission (IJM) in its efforts to support law enforcement in combating OSAEC in the Philippines. IJM has recently lauded the two companies for their move to join the global coalition of the IWF.

PLDT and Smart have earmarked close to P2 billion this year to run the group’s advanced cybersecurity operations center, where cybersecurity analysts predict, prevent, detect, and respond to all types of cyber threats like phishing and scamming activities, including those related to OSAEC.

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