How a Hackathon Hopes to Stop Online Child Exploitation

Every year, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children reviews 25,000,000 images containing child sexual abuse imagery (CSAM).

How do you conceptualize a number like 25,000,000? It’s unthinkable.

For perspective, there are just over 24,000,000 people in Australia. The population of a large country — that’s how many vile, horrific, and disturbing images NCMEC had to review in a year.

In 2016, the Internet Watch Foundation found 57,335 URLs containing confirmed child sexual abuse imagery. 57,335 — that’s about the population of a mid-sized city like Watertown, NY.

Still not convinced of the epidemic?

How about this? Over half of the children depicted on those 57,335 URLs were aged 10 or younger.

We’ve all been ten years old. Many of us have ten-year-old children, or nieces, or nephews.

Now that’s unthinkable.

Protecting the helpless

These images aren’t going away.

That’s why we’ve spearheaded a hackathon taking place on July 6th and 7th in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Sponsored by the RCMP, Microsoft, Magnet, and Two Hat Security, the Protecting Innocence Hackathon is an attempt to build a bridge between three diverse disciplines — law enforcement, academia, and the technology sector — for the greater good.

The goal is to work together to build technology and global policy that helps stop online child exploitation.

Teams from across all three industries will gather to work on a variety of projects, including:

  • designing a text classification system to identify child luring conversations
  • training an image classification to identify child exploitation media
  • coordinating on a global protocol for sharing CSAM evidence between agencies
  • and more…

We are hopeful that by encouraging teamwork and partnerships across these three vital industries, we will come closer to ridding the internet of online child exploitation.

The beauty of a hackathon is that it’s a tried and true method for hacking away at tough problems in a short period. The time box encourages creativity, resourcefulness, critical thinking — and above all, collaboration.

We’re honored to be working on this. And we’re indebted to the RCMP, Microsoft, Magnet, and all the hackers attending for their selfless contributions.

Protecting the innocent

Forget incomprehensible numbers like 25,000,000 or 57,335. We’re doing this for all the ten-year-olds who’ve been robbed of their innocence.

Today, it’s easier than ever for predators to create and share pictures, videos, and stories. And every time those pictures, videos, and stories are shared, the victim is re-victimized.

It gets worse every year. The Internet Watch Foundation found that reports of child sexual abuse imagery rose by 417% between 2013 and 2015.

At Two Hat Security, we’re doing our part to fight the spread of illegal and immoral content. In collaboration with the RCMP and universities across the country, and with a generous grant from Mitacs, we’re building CEASE, an artificial intelligence model that can detect new CSAM.

But we can’t solve this problem alone.

So this July 6th and 7th, we salute the code warriors, chief enforcers, and data mages who are coming together to make a real difference in the world.

We hope you will too.

Just a little sneak peek…


Want to know more about CEASE? Read about the project here.

We believe in a world free of online bullying, harassment, and child exploitation. Find out how we’re making that vision a reality with our high-risk content detection system Community Sift.

We work with companies like ROBLOX, Animal Jam, and more to protect their communities from dangerous content.

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How Are You Celebrating Stop Cyberbullying Day?

Bullied: A Life in Two Stories

One. She wakes with a heaviness in her heart. It’s only Tuesday; still four school days left to go if she includes today. She glances at her phone, swipes to open the screen. Seventeen notifications. Texts, message threads, every app lit up with a new comment.

She ignores them all. She already knows what they say, anyway.

She gets dressed, carefully avoiding the mirror. Eats her breakfast in silence; soggy little rainbow circles, drenched in milk.

Her phone vibrates. She glances at the screen. It’s briefly lit with a message from a number she doesn’t recognize. u r faaaaaaat lil piggy, it says. She looks away, reads the back of the cereal box instead.

Breakfast finished, she shrugs into her backpack. Time to face the day. Time to leave.

Tucked away in her back pocket, her phone vibrates again.

Two. He double-clicks the bronze shield on his desktop. The game opens with a burst of heroic drums and horns. He enters his username and password, selects his favorite server, armors up for battle, and strides into the town square where several members of his clan wait. The square is crowded, teeming with barrel-chested warriors, tall mages draped in black cloaks, hideous pop-eyed goblins hopping from foot to foot.

He scans the usernames, looking for one in particular. Doesn’t see it. Feels his shoulders loosen and his back relax. He hadn’t realized how much tension he was holding inside, just looking for the name.

“who is ready to fight?” he types in the room chat.

A private message flashes in the lower right corner of his screen.

“hey faggot loser im baaaaaack”
“when u r goin to kill yrslf”
“log off n die loser”

His shoulders tighten again. It’s going to be a long session.


Those are only two examples of online bullying. There are countless others.

In 2017, there are no safe spaces for the bullied. We are all connected, day and night. Kids can’t disengage. We can’t expect them to put their iPhones away, stop using social networks, and walk away from the internet.

Online communities are just as meaningful as offline communities. And for kids and teens, they can — and should — be spaces that encourage personal growth, curiosity, and discovery. But too often, the online space is riddled with obstacles that stop kids from reaching their true potential.

The internet grew up fast.

We’re only just starting to realize that we’ve created a culture of bullying and abuse. So it’s up to us to change the culture.

As adults, it’s our job to ensure that when kids and teens are online, they are safe. Safe to be themselves, safe to share who they really are, and safe from abuse.

Today we celebrate Stop Cyberbullying Day. Launched by the Cybersmile Foundation in 2012, it’s a dedicated day to campaign for a better internet — for a truly inclusive space where everyone is free to share without fear of harassment or abuse.

Here at Two Hat Security, we believe in a world free of online bullying, harassment, and child exploitation. Today’s message of solidarity and empathy is core to our vision of a better internet. No one can fix this problem on their own, which is why days like today are so important.

Let’s come together — as families, as companies, as co-workers, and as citizens of this new digital world — and take a stand against bullying. The Cybersmile Foundation has some great ideas on their site — like Tweeting something nice to a person you follow or coming up with a new anti-bullying slogan.

We’ll continue to find new ways to protect online communities around the world. And we’ll keep trying to change the culture and the industry, every day. We hope you’ll join us.