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Cyan Forensics-led consortium selected for groundbreaking UK Government Challenge Fund

A consortium led by Cyan Forensics Ltd has been awarded £85,000 by the UK Government to demonstrate innovative technologies to tackle one of society’s most pressing issues – keeping children safe online in end-to-end encrypted messaging environments.

In the UK alone, it is estimated there are 850,000 people who present a sexual threat to children, according to the National Crime Agency (NCA). Current approaches to online safety do not work in end-to-end encrypted messaging environments, while these environments form an increasingly important part of the online world. It means new safety tech measures need to be developed with urgency.

The Safety Tech Challenge Fund was launched in September by Home Secretary Priti Patel, and is led by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) and Home Office. Businesses from around the world were challenged to prototype and evaluate ways in Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) can be detected and reported within end-to-end encrypted environments, whilst balancing user privacy and security considerations.

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

Cyan’s project will demonstrate a new evolution of its Cyan Protect product for online safety, built on the Contraband Filter technology already used in law enforcement.  Cyan’s new Privacy Assured Matching system will be tested in an end-to-end encrypted messaging environment, with the help of other consortium members Crisp, the University of Edinburgh and the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). 

Crisp is a leading expert on the motivations, tactics and tradecraft of bad actor groups, including peadophiles and child exploitation groups. Crisp will use its intelligence on their narratives and content to review the solution for robustness in the face of understood bad actor behaviours. The IWF is a non-profit charity that identifies and removes CSAM online and will help ensure the technology is aligned with this important mission and carry out appropriate testing. The School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh provides world-class research and is part of the National Research Centre on Protecting Citizens Online and will help explore the threat landscape to ensure that user privacy is appropriately protected.

Together the four organisations will work to refine and analyse Cyan’s technology to a point where the benefits of the system are proven and there is a clear path to develop this as an infrastructure-grade solution deployable at internet scale.

Ian Stevenson, Cyan CEO, said: “Cyan’s technology, combined with the skillsets and experience of our partners Crisp, the IWF and the University of Edinburgh, means we have the right mix of talent and expertise to tackle one of society’s most pressing issues and deliver a solution that will make a real difference to the lives of children around the world.

“We’re delighted to have won support for this project through the Safety Tech Challenge Fund and look forward to contributing to this vital work and extending the range of solutions available with new and much-needed capabilities.”

John-Orr Hanna, Chief Intelligence Officer at Crisp, said: “Helping to create a digital world that is safe for everyone, especially children, has been Crisp’s vision since day one, over 16 years ago. We look forward to working with Cyan and the other partners on this important project.  Bringing our industry leading understanding of how those groups who present a danger to children will seek to circumvent and evade detection via these solutions.”

Dan Sexton, Chief Technical Officer at IWF, commented: “We’re delighted to be supporting Cyan’s practical solution to detecting CSAM in encrypted environments. We look forward to using our expertise in finding, assessing, and removing content to contribute to the development of technical solutions which can effectively detect and prevent the spread of child sexual abuse material in what is becoming an increasingly encrypted world.”

Dr Tariq Elahi, Lecturer in Security and the Internet of Things, School of Informatics at The University of Edinburgh, added: “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.”

Edinburgh-based Cyan, who will lead the project, has already developed technology previously described by the UK Home Office as “game changing” in tackling Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM). Cyan currently helps law enforcement with patented technology that finds known child sexual abuse material on devices up to one hundred times quicker than alternative methods.

These tools help solve several of the issues faced by law enforcement today by reducing digital forensics backlogs, empowering frontline policing and safeguarding victims quicker. Cyan’s technology also provides a first line of defence to social media and cloud companies by helping find and block harmful content from paedophiles and terrorists.

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