A British company claims to have developed software which can spot pedophiles online and catch them in the act of ‘grooming’ children in chat rooms and IM sessions. Just as handwriting and voice analysis is used by law enforcement agencies the world over in order to accurately determine age, so Crisp Thinking can use its Anti Grooming Engine (AGE) to identify the unique fingerprint contained within an Internet conversation to do the same thing.

Given that according to US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales it is estimated that there are at least 50,000 pedophile predators, at any time, prowling the Internet for potential victims and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children suggest as many as 1 in 7 children aged between 10 and 17 have been solicited for sex online, it could be a hugely important piece of software. If it works.

Crisp Thinking insists that AGE reads between the lines to spot the potential offenders, not relying on simple keyword detection but rather understanding the context of that online conversation over time. By looking for a combination in patterns of aggression, sexual comment, solicitations for personal information and so on, the software is able to accurately determine how dangerous the chat could be. We are told to think of it in terms of an older brother, listening in on a younger siblings conversation and only telling Mom when that chat is obviously not going down the right path. Unlike the older brother, AGE gets smarter with every conversation it listens into and analyses and unlike some chat room monitoring solutions does not involve a third party eavesdropping on what the child will regard as a private conversation. If a dodgy pattern is flagged up, then AGE sends an email or SMS text message to both the parent and the child simultaneously to alert them to the danger.

The team behind the AGE project has both trained and tested it using all the available grooming conversations from successful US prosecutions of this type, as well as chat logs from 300 children who volunteered to help over a 12 month period by providing known ‘good’ conversation. They have also engaged the help of Professor Bill Fitzgerald, Head of Research in the Signal Processing Laboratory in the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, England. He works on Bayesian inference applied to signal and data modelling apparently. Perhaps more importantly he is helping to refine and develop the AGE product further.

It remains to be seen just how well AGE works in the real world, and will need some kind of critical mass deployment to be truly effective I suspect. And that is where the problems could lay, unless a MySpace or Microsoft decide to adopt it by default. Heck, Crisp Thinking cannot even rely upon the publicity of a high profile catch followed by a successful prosecution to propel AGE into the parental psyche. It is a preventative technology after all, not one designed to bait and entrap. However, as the father of four kids myself, I sincerely hope it is as good as the technical briefings suggest and can make a real dent in the predatory pedophile problem…

As Editorial Director and Managing Analyst with IT Security Thing I am putting more than two decades of consulting experience into providing opinionated insight regarding the security threat landscape for IT security professionals. As an Editorial Fellow with Dennis Publishing, I bring more than two decades of writing experience across the technology industry into publications such as Alphr, IT Pro and (in good old fashioned print) PC Pro. I also write for SC Magazine UK and Infosecurity, as well as The Times and Sunday Times newspapers. Along the way I have been honoured with a Technology Journalist of the Year award, and three Information Security Journalist of the Year awards. Most humbling, though, was the Enigma Award for 'lifetime contribution to IT security journalism' bestowed on me in 2011.

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Last Post by ianjo

Sounds like a really good program to me. However i wonder if there will be any problems that come up because not all the chat rooms have this. I think things like this could concentrate the pedophiles into unproteced chat rooms as well as children may be less inclined to use the protected chat rooms as a result of having to put in personal details such as mobile phone numbers. I think it will be effective and anything will make a difference. However i think the question is to what degree it will work.


There's much simpler way of tracking down and detecting pedophiles in general, and not just predators and it is a low-tech one (software-wise).
All you need is satellite dish, DVB card and patience. Speaking from my own experience, there's a load of pedophilia in the universe (literally, it comes from satellites) and there are low-cost softwares that grab those space-born files that bounce off the satellites.
I experimented with such and, whaddayaknow, first night of grabbing produced mostly porn. Some of which was... well, related to this topic in the worst possible way. But, there is one info attached to every file that comes from satellites. That is IP address of sending party or a server and IP address of receiving party (or receiving party that the file is intended to, since the whole Europe receives it). If I am able to learn those IP addresses (IN A REAL TIME), then why don't authorities do the same? All it takes is couple of thousands Euros for the equipment and some patience.
I also managed to collect some messenger chat (or something), so be careful of what you type.
I know that this covers only the small portion of pedophiles, ones that use satellite internet providers, but it is a very simple way to track them down.


I think the idea of this software though is more for protection and prvention rather then actually arresting these guys.


Using those satelittes is an invasion of public privacy. You said it yourself, you even got messenger chats from it. It's not a wise thing to do politically (just like wire tapping), and that is probably why nobody has done it.


Indeed. My take on it is as a measure of parental control and responsibility, enabling the child to chat within a safer context yet without impinging upon their privacy. It is this latter point that has always made exercising parental responsibility within the chat sphere so difficult, and if you push your kids away by invading privacy and listening in on their conversations they will only move somewhere less open, often in darker corners of the web, to chat.

If AGE does actually work, and that remains to be seen of course, then it could be an important weapon in locking down chat rooms and IM to keep the pedos out.

The worry is, as in the real world, if you drive them out of your street where do they end up?


I hope with this software they will surely catch those bastards in there tracks thereby really cutting down on pedopiles targetting young children

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