Thought for the day:Dark matter on the web

Recent revelations about the extent of paedophile material on the internet raise serious issues about corporate web and e-mail...

Recent revelations about the extent of paedophile material on the internet raise serious issues about corporate web and e-mail policies, argues Simon Moores.

I'm worried. That's not unusual, but on this occasion the success of Operation Ore, the police anti-paedophile sweep, is raising all manner of unpleasant implications, which stretch beyond its natural constituency of ageing judges, politicians and rock stars.

Without a doubt, Operation Ore has been a big success for the police in the continuing fight against paedophile crime. And in some respects, with more than seven thousand names to investigate, it's almost too successful, pulling away already stretched resources from an increasingly organised wave of internet-related crime, which rushed in to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the dotcom bubble.

Ore is, however, just the tip of an iceberg of incalculable size, a successful sting on one website among countless thousands of explicit sites, which can be found within seconds of loading any one of the dedicated search engines.

As a consequence, the true figure for people in the UK involved in the downloading and distribution of paedophile content alone might be nearer 70,000 then 7,000 and perhaps even higher still.

What worries me from a business perspective is that all kinds of illegal and explicit sites increasingly thrive on broadband - the Korean experience - and, with broadband still in the minority among domestic users, this suggests that a hidden quantity of potentially illegal traffic, paedophile or otherwise, is passing through company networks.

It's a theory, of course, rather like the assumption that our universe is full of invisible "dark matter", but with so many organisations having very little in the way of a content filtering policy, it's difficult to argue otherwise.

My own guess is that the public sector is more likely to face compromise than the private sector which, in my experience, is a little more diligent as regards what goes in and out of the corporate network.

Most organisations are more concerned about managing their e-mail than monitoring their content but even then, too many organisations have little or no sensible policy in place.

Last year, in a piece of research, I found that scanning electronic mail for malicious attachments is a near-universal procedure among administrators (93%) but that only 42% were then tackling the growing problem of spamming with 43% monitoring communication for signs of obscene or inappropriate content.

Just before Christmas a survey by e-mail management specialist KVS indicated that 41% of public sector IT managers don't have an e-mail management policy in place or haven't reviewed e-mail back-up policies at all, in advance of meeting compliance with UK legislation which takes effect in 2004.

The good news then, if there is any, is that the country is facing a 60/40 split between those organisations that have a handle on their network traffic and their e-mail management and those that don't.

Naturally, there are serious implications for those that don't, if in the light of Operation Ore, my own pet theory on the hidden presence of the Internet's own "dark matter" is even partially close to the truth.

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Zentelligence Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.

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