GCHQ reveals DNS-filtering programme plans

September 15, 2016 | 09:57

Tags: #censorship #cyber #cyber-security #cyber-warfare #privacy

Companies: #gchq #uk-government

The UK government is investigating an expansion of its nationwide content filtering system, ostensibly as a means of boosting the nation's cyber security.

The government has made much of its opt-out filtering programme for UK web traffic. A pet project of David Cameron, the filters were initially introduced to block pornography before being extended to cover 'extremist' content mere months after their introduction. The popularly-termed 'porn filters,' though, are only part of the UK internet infrastructure's censorship programme: underneath it is a range of mandatory filters required of all companies offering internet access to UK citizens, from the Cleanfeed system introduced in 2004 to combat the spread of child pornography through to DNS-level blocks on sites like The Pirate Bay.

The director general for cyber security at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) Ciaran Martin, has stated that this DNS-level filtering is set to expand in scope. 'We're exploring a flagship project on scaling up DNS filtering,' Martin told attendees at the Billington Cyber Security Summit this week. 'What better way of providing automated defences at scale than by the major private providers effectively blocking their customers from coming into contact with known malware and bad addresses?'

Pre-empting concerns that, like the blocks on accessing The Pirate Bay, such filtering would be mandatory, Martin was quick to address the issue of freedom. 'The government does not own or operate the internet. Consumers must have a choice,' he explained. 'Any DNS filtering would have to be opt out based. So, addressing privacy concerns and citizen choice is hardwired into our programme.'

Martin also outlined other areas in which the government has been increasing its electronic security, from implementing methods of preventing UK government email spoofing to systems for sending automated takedown requests to web hosts, registrars, and other companies providing infrastructure for phishing and malware attacks. 'We're starting to see real, measurable results: looking at phishing attacks against UK government brands, the median time the phishing site is up has dropped from 49 hours to 5 hours,' Martin boasted. 'A clear, verifiable improvement.'

Martin's speech also included reference to the government's offensive capabilities. Describing in vague terms 'our development of lawful and carefully governed offensive cyber capabilities to combat and deter the most aggressive threats,' Martin told attendees that GCHQ operatives 'work very closely with United States colleagues and only last week the Secretary of Defense and our Secretary of State for Defence signed a Memorandum of Understanding to investigate jointly the advancement of both offensive and defensive cyber capabilities. And I'm pleased to say GCHQ will be at the heart of this work. But you will understand, I hope, why I can’t go into too much further detail on either of those subjects.'

Martin's speech can be read in full over on CESG.gov.uk.
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