Tariq Elahi will work on a project aimed at keeping children safe online

[2021] A consortium that includes Informatics’ researcher Tariq Elahi has been awarded £85,000 by the UK Government to tackle one of society’s most pressing issues - keeping children safe online while using encrypted messaging apps such as Signal, WhatsApp or Viber. Edinburgh-based Cyan Forensics Ltd lead on the project with Crisp (Leeds) and Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) also involved.

Safety Tech Challenge Fund

National Crime Agency (NCA) estimates that up to 850,000 people in the UK pose sexual threat to children according to a report published in May. However, combatting worldwide child sexual exploitation and abuse online, while preserving people’s rights to privacy and data protection in their communications is a major challenge. 

Encrypted messaging applications are one of the most popular means of online communications so the need to develop technology ensuring safety measures against online child abuse are universally in place is becoming increasingly urgent. 

In September the UK Home Secretary launched the Safety Tech Challenge Fund, which aims to encourage the tech industry to find practical solutions to detect and report Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) in end-to-end encrypted environments without compromising Internet users’ privacy. 

Five projects in total have been selected to receive funding for their projects, which will run from November 2021 to March 2022. 

The project led by Cyan will build upon their existing solutions: its Cyan Protect product for online safety, built on its unique Contraband Filter technology is already used in law enforcement.  

The consortium members will test Cyan’s new technology called Privacy Assured Matching system on end-to-end encrypted messaging platforms. The goal is to refine it and evidence the benefits of the system in order to develop it as an infrastructure-grade solution deployable at internet scale. 

We’re delighted to join Cyan to support the next-generation solution for tackling Child Sexual Abuse Material in encrypted messaging apps with user-privacy protections.

Dr Tariq Elahi, Lecturer in Security and the Internet of Things  
School of Informatics, The University of Edinburgh 

Tariq Elahi joins the project as one of the leading academics in the REPHRAIN National Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence Online. His research interests are broadly in the field of systems and network security and Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs). 

Crisp is a leading expert on the motivations, tactics and tradecraft of online criminals such as paedophile and child exploitation groups. The IWF is a non-profit charity that identifies and removes Child Sexual Abuse Material online.  

Related links

Government funds new tech in the fight against online child abuse 

Cyber centre set to reduce digital harm 

National Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence Online