Back in January I visited TalkTalk along with Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group (ORG) to have their new Internet blocking system explained to us. The system was announced yesterday, and I’m now publishing my technical description of how it works (note that it was called “BrightFeed” when we saw it, but is now named “HomeSafe”).
Buried in all the detail of how the system works are two key points — the first is the notion that it is possible for a centralised checking system (especially one that tells a remote site its identity) to determine whether sites are malicious are not. This is problematic and I doubt that malware distributors will see this as much of a challenge — although on the other hand, perhaps by setting your browser’s User Agent string to pretend to be the checking system you might become rather safer!
The second is that although the system is described as “opt in”, that only applies to whether or not websites you visit might be blocked. What is not “opt in” is whether or not TalkTalk learns the details of the URLs that all of their customers visit, whether they have opted in or not. All of these sites will be visited by TalkTalk’s automated system — which may take some explaining if the remote system told you a URL in confidence and is checking their logs to see who visits.
On their site, ORG have expressed an opinion as to whether the system can be operated lawfully, along with TalkTalk’s own legal analysis. TalkTalk argue that the system’s purpose is to protect their network, which gives them a statutory exemption from wire-tapping legislation; whereas all the public relations material seems to think it’s been developed to protect the users….
… in the end though, the system will be judged by its effectiveness, and in a world where less than 20% of new threats are detected — that may not be all that high.