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May 14th, 2019

How a zero-tolerance approach resulted in 0% .CO domains with CSAM

Neustar is proud to be partnering with the Internet Watch Foundation to ensure that the Top-Level Domains we manage and support are free from the scourge of child pornography/child sexual abuse material (CP/CSAM). We are committed to taking the lead in the fight against this content and hope to inspire other Registries and Registrars to join us in this important effort.

This post is guest written by Will Few, Development Manager of the Internet Watch Foundation. Will joined the IWF in November 2017 and became Development Manager in May 2018. He is the first point of contact for all the IWF’s Members.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is an independent, not-for-profit organization that works to eliminate child sexual abuse imagery online – no matter where in the world the content is hosted. In the paragraphs that follow, we share a brief case study of some of the work we have done with Neustar, and its wholly owned subsidiary, .CO Internet, to protect the .CO TLD from the spread of child sexual abuse material.  We are very proud of these results and hope they will inspire other domain registries and industry players to partner with us to help eliminate the scourge of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) online.

Since 2010, when Colombia’s national .CO domain was made available to the world as a generic country code top level domain, it has become one of the most popular and well-loved domain options. With more than 2.2 million domain names under management, .CO has become known worldwide as the domain of choice for innovators and entrepreneurs. As with all leading domain extensions, including .com, .net and .org, the popularity of .CO can sometimes have the unfortunate side effect of making it an enticing target for bad actors.

At the end of 2018, IWF found that there were 9,339 urls in the .CO name space that included child sexual abuse content.  Given the global popularity and generic use of the .CO country code TLD, it turned out that none of the abusive content was actually hosted inside of Colombia.  This made it more difficult for IWF to reach out to local law enforcement, as we typically liaise with authorities in the country where the abusive content is actually hosted, not the country where the domain is managed.

When we reached out to Neustar with the results of our findings, they immediately swung into action to decisively address the situation. Working in collaboration with all relevant international and Colombian law enforcement agencies and industry partners, Neustar took decisive steps to ensure that all offending content was removed, and where necessary, the websites suspended.

Steps already taken and others currently under way have had immediate impact. IWF analysts actioned 3,011 reports on .CO between 1 January and 30 April 2019. In a blitz of zero tolerance, Neustar shut down the top 10 ‘problem’ domains in February, slashing abuse figures at a stroke. 

And the numbers are still tumbling. From 1 March to May 8, for example, .CO had only 28 further incidents, a fantastic drop in the briefest time.  In fact, our analysts’ weekly report on 10 May 2019, showed absolutely no live .CO domains on the IWF list whatsoever, giving .CO a 100% clean record for live listings.

The IWF team has also been crunching Neustar data and running a health check on the two million plus registered .CO domains.  It’s a big task but each domain has now been through our RMS database to hunt out any historic threat or pattern that might need addressing in the future. We have concluded that over time just 44 unique domains out of more than 2 million were ever identified as having contained CSAM in the past. As a percentage of the entire .CO portfolio this is a mere 0.0017967822896070031%!

We are also scouring every single .CO domain with our IWF crawler, seeking any images that match our hash list.

We will be working closely with Neustar and .CO Internet throughout the year to monitor and continue to improve on this fantastic progress. We applaud the proactive, zero-tolerance approach they have taken in the fight against criminals who attempt to distribute child sexual abuse material online – and invite other domain registries to follow this best-practice approach.

Click here to download The Internet Watch Foundation Annual Report for 2018.

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