Security distributors and vendors unperturbed by Internet filter trial

ISP-level filtering to have no impact on demand for security software offerings

Potential misconceptions over the Federal Government’s contentious Internet filtering scheme will not affect demand for filtering software, according to security vendors and distributors.

The Federal Government is moving ahead with trials of a clean feed Internet scheme, part of a $128 million Plan for Cyber Safety, that will impose national content filtering for all Internet connections and block Web pages detailed in a blacklist operated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Since its announcement, the trial has received a torrent of criticism regarding its viability and how it will be executed. The recent leaking of the reputed ACMA blacklist on Wikileaks revealed a handful of legitimate websites were wrongfully blocked, generating more scepticism.

Security distributor, SecureServ general manager, Vic Whiteley, expressed concern over the Government’s vague approach to the Internet filter but did not see any threat to security software demands.

“No customers have raised any concerns with our offerings,” he said. “But from a personal standpoint I can see how there would be confusion because no one seems to know anything about it.”

Symantec CTO, Mark Bregman, highlighted the ability to personalise filter policy settings as a major factor for continued opportunities for software vendors.

“I think if you take it down to different levels, I might want, as an individual user, to set the policy for me or my family,” he said. “So we do have technologies like our family safety products that allow families to set a bunch of parameters.

“As a user, I might want to be more or restrictive than that, I might want to have a different approach to other people. So there is going to be a layered approach and there will be a need to have both.”

AVG A/NZ marketing manager, Lloyd Borett, also disregarded the proposed content filter as competition to existing security products.

“The Net Nanny filtering software was made available by the previous Government for free and it was a complete disaster,” he said. “My personal opinion is the content filter will not work.

“Trying to filter the Internet is as effective as boiling the ocean with an electric kettle.”

Borett suggested the Federal Government’s blacklist approach was ineffective due to the fluid nature of the Internet.

“If you take Internet scams for instance, 200-300,000 websites are being created each day to host criminal Web exploits,” he said. “Eighty per cent of them are active for 10 days or less, so you can see how highly transient the Internet is, so a blacklist strategy simply doesn’t work.”

Whiteley shared Borett’s sentiment.

“There are millions and millions of websites and more sprout up on a daily basis,” he said. “Unless they block everything, it would be impossible to filter.”

Bregman, meanwhile, raised concerns about the potential for the ISP-level filtering scheme to be abused for political or corporate agendas.

“I don’t think anyone would object to blocking and filtering illegal content, but once that is in place, where do you draw the line?” he asked. “That is the concern. Are political or business interests going to change the filter subtly? Are ISPs going to make sure content from their competitors does not get through?

“That is the problem people worry about. So once you allow, or put in place the technological capability, how do you control the use of it?”

There are currently six ISPs involved in the Internet filter trial. Optus is still in talks with the Government regarding its participation and cannot confirm whether it will be offering the filter to customers on a voluntary basis.

For a more comprehensive timeline, check out our content filtering story slideshow.

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