As of last Friday, the UK has a new security standard courtesy of the Home Office, telecom regulator Ofcom, and the BSI.
It’s a kitemark that will be slapped on Internet filtering software for the benefit of anxious parents, telling them whether the product works as advertised.
What’s a kitemark then? It’s a symbol that looks like a kite, and was last taken seriously in the UK in the 1970s when it would appear on toasters, kettles, and other household goods to reassure consumers that the abysmal build quality that afflicted anything made in the country in the late 1960s and 1970s had somehow passed this model by. They still broke down.
To quote from the description offered in the official release: “the standard requires internet filtering software to be easy to install, easy to use and effective in blocking inappropriate online content such as pornography, violence and racism.”
Product testing (courtesy of the BSI) is due to start imminently, with products passing the standard appearing with kitemarks some months from now.
Let’s gloss over the fact that we have no published methodology for these tests, and agree that testing the security-worthiness of software is generally a good idea. But there are some odd things about this particular piece of digital window dressing.
1. Very few parents use security filtering software and that probably has nothing to do with it being easy to install, easy to use, and how well it works. It’s because their kids know more about the computer in the bedroom than they do.
2. Will any of the obvious programs actually fail the tests? Is a kitemark that gets on to every box of software really saying anything very profound? Or, put another way, most Internet filtering software works quite well, or well enough to get a kitemark at least.
3. If Internet filtering software is so darned important, why isn’t it a standard feature of every consumer PC on sale? And why don’t ISPs do more to enforce it for subscribers before the traffic even reaches their end? Many ISPs still don’t bother to put spam filtering in place.
4. What about the Internet filtering technology built into an increasing number of routers? Will that require a kitemark as well? Arguably, this is the best place to put filtering anyway, because it’s a box whose settings can be locked up from unauthorised teenage alteration by something known to the technically qualified as “a password”.
Most filtering programs out there do a fair to reasonable job by software standards. The bigger issue is that content filtering is really another front line in the battle to secure traffic generally, a task that moves at incredible speed and is beyond the reach of an army of kitemarks to ensure.
How about a kitemark for parents? I fancy huge numbers of them would fail the test.