Exploring LinkForensics: an innovative project disrupting illicit content sharing

23 August, 2023

By Alan Gould

Exploring LinkForensics: an innovative project disrupting illicit content sharing

“With the LinkForensics project, our goal is to create and evaluate cutting-edge methods for automatically assessing the risks associated with a particular link. We aim to identify whether its true purpose involves the dissemination of harmful and illegal content.”

Created through the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology’s (DSIT) UK Safety Tech Challenge, and delivered through Innovate UK, LinkForensics is our latest project with one objective in mind: contribute to the nationwide push to disrupt illegal and illicit content sharing.

Now, three months into the nine-month project, we thought it was time to explore LinkForensics in a little more detail, from how it can be used to what the future of this unique project may look like.

Tackling illegal content sharing: the core challenges

The LinkForensics project aims to bring new capabilities to the world of online safety. Deployed alongside a range of other tools created through the Safety Tech challenge, our aim is to help counter the spread of illicit material shared through forums, social media, video hosting platforms, websites, and cloud storage.

This mission is an important and intimidating one – demanding a wide range of expertise and a broad scope of operational contexts. However, at its core, stopping the spread of illegal content online involves these fundamental steps:

Firstly, you need to be able to understand when a link is present, even if it has been deliberately obfuscated.

Secondly, you need to be able to follow a pathway of links that could include diversions such as advertising services before landing at the intended destination.

Thirdly, you need to be able to accurately determine if the final target contains malicious content so that you can assess the threat level and suggest the appropriate actions.

These challenges formed the basis for the LinkForensics research. At its core, the project aimed to create a process for automated link identification, content and threat assessment, and intervention recommendations that would be a key component in a deployable moderation system.

LinkForensics: a five-step approach

Using an advanced collection of techniques, from link routing to de-obfuscation and sentiment analyses, LinkForensics takes a five-step approach to the testing and calibration for threat assessment of shared links.

  1. Extract links, whether obfuscated or not, from online content
  2. Automatically navigate to the intended final destination
  3. Analyse the content in its context at that destination together with the context and properties of the link
  4. Use this information to calibrate a threat level indicator
  5. Integrate this indicator in moderation systems such that appropriate warnings or content suppression actions can be appropriately and fairly applied.

The project’s next steps

Currently three months into a nine-month endeavour, the next two phases of the LinkForensics development will ensure that the tool is as accurate and effective as possible. This will include:

  • Introducing additional content types
  • Designing the most effective rating system
  • Holding regular project development assessments
  • Collaborating with stakeholders to gain feedback

Calibrating and defining the LinkForensics concept also involves an arduous testing stage, which includes the long and important process of dissecting real-world content to differentiate between innocent and harmful links.

Then, we move on to consider how LinkForensics can best be deployed.

There are many opportunities to collaborate with other developers, stakeholders and regulators through the Safety Tech challenge programme. Working together is key to building solutions to this complex problem that will be technically effective while also respecting privacy and the fundamental right for everyone to be able to access a safer online world.

Committed to driving positive change

We’re incredibly proud of the LinkForensics project and believe that, alongside the work of other teams participating in the same challenge, we can help disrupt and block illicit content sharing online.

To learn more about the challenge, and to read more about the other teams, why not read the DSIT press release today?

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