Unearthing The Web - The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

16/08/2016 12:07 | Updated 16 August 2016

Technical advances have unreservedly transformed our lives. Technology has changed the way we communicate, travel, learn and even find love. The internet alone has given rise to a worldwide community and a forum for the mass exchange of information. It's a place people can turn to for inspiration, idea sharing and keeping in contact with friends, regardless of their location. In turn, we perceive it as a force for good, offering overwhelming opportunity for collaboration and education.

Yet, with that opportunity comes significant danger and the possibility for abuse by those who take advantage of its capabilities. All too often, the internet is used for crimes that remain unexposed. In reality, we are in the dark about just how many problems have arisen from its existence. Just last year, a study from the UK government security service Get Safe Online, revealed that half of Britons have experienced crime online -- everything from identity theft, to hacking, to online abuse.

Forces for good and evil

Indeed, the very nature of the internet means anonymity is rife, with many individuals able to operate under cover and as a result, answer to no one. Able to express themselves openly, individuals can readily create online personas without revealing their true identities. This has created a virtual world that some people can easily get caught up in. A world where they share information and act, say and do as they please, without thought for the consequences of privacy and integrity.

For some, this online anonymity is seen as a positive force for change. In fact, the dark-web has an incredibly important social purpose globally. In many countries it is the only way to obtain free information. As states all over the world increase their monitoring of the internet, there is also a need for people to remain anonymous with respect to their governments. Yet, with this capability there are ultimately avenues that criminals can exploit to serve their own purposes.

The social media force behind digital crime

What has also changed in recent years is the quantity of social platforms making it much quicker, easier and more 'private' to to share videos and images via mobile phones and tablet computers. It is very probable that this regular posting on social media has normalised the image-sharing behaviour among young people, who do not see any danger in sending a picture of themselves to strangers. Many are unaware of the risk of blackmail, for example, being coerced in sending nude pictures, which can ultimately lead to young people abusing themselves.

Digital video content has also experienced explosive growth and our viewing habits have shifted to digital devices As a result, criminals are able to exploit this growing trend by spreading illegal content showcasing illicit activity and the sexual exploitation of children. In fact, criminals have set up secret groups to share imagery and are using software to create digital videos using content gathered from users' personal profiles. With offenders now filming and producing videos themselves, far more self-produced material is being circulated than ever before and this is adding to the vast volume of crime data that law enforcers must analyse.

Stamping out the internet's ugly side

Ultimately, the world of online crime is continuously evolving. Just weeks ago, the NSPCC highlighted the volume of child sexual abuse cases occurring online, particularly raising the issue of live streaming of child sexual abuse - a relatively new phenomenon. What's worse is that these accounts are just the tip of the iceberg for the number of cases that go unreported to the police.

Unfortunately, policing the internet for instances of child sexual abuse is like finding a needle in a haystack. While there are methods of identifying images and stamping out the abusers - often when one image is found and taken down, another appears. What we must remember is not to demonise the internet's existence for the gateway and anonymity it offers, rather work to make it safer. This involves collaboration between law enforcers and public, private companies who share common aims, accept responsibility for online safety and pool their resources to effect change.

To find out more about the work NetClean is doing with its partner to tackle this worldwide challenge, click here.