This week TalkTalk launched their HomeSafe security system. This is a system, which is “Helping our customers keep their families safer online”.
Previously called BrightFeed the name was changed to appeal more to families, and this is clearly the market that TalkTalk are after. But this new service is fraught with problems, which could cause families more harm than good.
Here are seven reasons why you should not rely on TalkTalk HomeSafe.
1. 24 Hour Time Lag
The scanning system can be anything from 24 hours out of date. What this means is that if a website is infected with a virus, or contains unsuitable content, then TalkTalk will not know about it, and not block sites for up to that time. This means that a child browsing a website that is assumed to be ‘safe’ may not be safe.
New malware sites, gambling and pornography sites are being created every minute on the internet. TalkTalk (or any other service) could never be able to identify and block all of them in sufficient time.
2. Dodgy Sites can Fool TalkTalk
The ‘bot’, which scans websites, in order to determine if they are malware or unsuitable can easily be fooled. The bot is called
TalkTalk Virus Alerts Scanning Engine
and thus it is very easy for dodgy websites to detect and fool the system.
A dodgy webmaster, identity thief, or hacker can easily detect when the TalkTalk bot is visiting their shady site by looking for either of those names and serve a perfectly harmless page to that bot, whilst serving unsuitable content to TalkTalk customers.
This is not rocket science. It is a very simple way to fool the TalkTalk bot and it is their biggest Achilles heel. It means that the TalkTalk bot will visit a webpage and declare it ‘safe’. When Johnny or Jessica visit the same page they could be served malware or shown unsuitable content.
3. Homework Time Blocking Ineffective
One feature of HomeSafe is that sites such as Facebook can be locked out during ‘homework time’. Kids are not stupid. They can easily get around this by accessing Facebook on their mobile phones. Some may even be clever enough to access their neighbour’s wi-fi.
This kind of lockdown is giving children the wrong impression of what is acceptable and what is not. Parents should be able to set their own verbal rules; to have the confidence to state that there is a time for work, rest and play. By automatically controlling children to only browse specific sites at specific times is akin to automatically feeding and watering animals in a zoo.
This is another example of technology, which is conditioning today’s children for a future totalitarian state. We already have children being fingerprinted in schools, and now parents have the option of electronically controlling relaxation time.
4. Not All Sites are Scanned
The system can only categorise and detect viruses and malware on pure HTTP sites. Sites that use encryption (HTTPS sites) are unable to be crawled and thus categorised or checked for malware.
Whilst secure sites such as banks use HTTPS it is very easy for dodgy sites to set up as HTTPS and thus never be crawled or categorised. A child may browse a HTTPS site without any warning that it is unsuitable.
5. File Sharing is not Blocked
HomeSafe can block popular torrent listing / search websites such as piratebay but it does not block the process of sharing files at all.
Children can email each other torrent files, which they can then use to download and share music, films, TV programmes, and viruses.
6. You and Your Child’s Browsing is Fully Monitored
This is a problem for all TalkTalk customers whether they use HomeSafe or not: your internet browsing is shadowed, recorded and processed.
In order to build up a database of good and bad sites TalkTalk need all their customers to browse as many websites as possible. TalkTalk then visits those sites and information which customers read is read, and processed by Huawei-Symantec equipment.
This means that the private information you read: the religious, political, sexual information site you read will be read and processed by TalkTalk.
Customers have no way of opting-out of this surveillance. And this has to be the number one reason why you should call up TalkTalk and cancel your internet subscription with them right now.
7. Can you Trust TalkTalk?
TalkTalk will go to great lengths to state ‘privacy’, ‘anonymous’, ‘safe’. But can you trust them after they performed illegal trials without informing anyone?
The TalkTalk HomeSafe system is a cynical attempt at fooling parents into thinking their children will be safe on the internet. But the system is full of holes, and is about as useful as an umbrella made out of swiss cheese.
The system will never be 100% safe and yet parents may be lulled into a false sense of security in assuming that it is safe.
Rather than teach their children what is acceptable, and what is not, on the internet they will rely on ‘the machine’ to stop them visiting harmful sites, but the machine is not infallible.
When BT and Phorm tried to introduce their behavioural targeting advertising system they realised that they had to give some incentive to the customer. They came up with a similar system called WebWise – a system that would keep customers safe and protect them from visiting sites with viruses.
The ulterior motive then was indeed to record, monitor, shadow, capture users browsing information and process it in order to build up profiles of users. Can TalkTalk categorically deny that their ulterior motive is not the same?
- TalkTalk or StalkStalk – Open Rights Group
- TalkTalk HomeSafe – Illegal Involuntary Mass Surveillance – NoDPI