TalkTalk's HomeSafe is their broadband network-level filtering product, featuring malware and Adult content filters. It reportedly took two years and cost an estimated £20 million to develop and a further "six figure sum" annually in maintenance and running costs. Unannounced testing of the system was noticed by TalkTalk users in July 2010. Trials of the system, then known as "Network Security" completed in March 2011. It was publicly launched on the 9th May 2011.
The hardware is manufactured by Huawei Symantec (now wholly-owned by Chinese company Huawei). It was examined in January 2011 by Richard Clayton for ORG when it was known as BrightFeed. The system may be based on Huawei's "Service Inspection Gateway" or "GREENnet" filter system. Both TalkTalk and Huawei employees are able to add and remove sites from blacklists independently.
By the end of 2011 it was reported to have "only attracted around 200,000" users. In February 2012 it announced it would be introducing an "Active Choice" forcing all new customers to signal if they wished to opt-out of adult-content filtering .
One year after launch this had risen to about 350,000 homes, about 8.6% of customers - presumably helped by Active Choice and increased publicity from the Claire Perry report and subsequent Mail campaign. In May 2012 TalkTalk announced that, unless they specifically requested access to adult content every year, customers would automatically be signed-up for HomeSafe adult content filtering.
Branded Virus Alert the network blocks access to locations it has listed as malware sources. It also retrieves all http URLs visited by TalkTalk customers to scan for malware.
Adult content filter
Branded Kid Safe, the filter allows URLs for a limited number of user-selected categories to be blocked for the connection. This allows a user to, for example, block sites categorised as "Pornography" but to allow sites categorised as "Social Networking". It also allows for up to nine specific user-supplied addresses to be blacklisted. While TalkTalk have never claimed their content filtering as 100% effective, it suffered embarrassment in December 2011 when Kid Safe was shown to fail to block high-profile pornography site Pornhub.
Categories available for blocking are: "Dating", "Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco", "File Sharing Sites", "Gambling", "Games", "Pornography", "Social Networking", "Suicide and Self-Harm", "Weapons and Violence".
Time-based content filter
Branded Homework time, this provides time-of-day controls for blocking categories such as "Games" and "Social Networking".
HomeSafe attempts to block sites over https, presumably by attempting to pull the domain from the certificate exchange.
Error Message when accessing Twitter of Facebook:
You may be browsing to the secure (https) version of Facebook or Twitter. Due to the secure nature of https sites, we’ve had to program HomeSafe differently to still provide blocking to these types of sites. Unfortunately the process doesn’t allow us to show the normal HomeSafe blocking page. Instead you will see an error page from your internet browser.
Legality of DPI use
In response to questions regarding the system's legality, in inspecting the traffic of those not using filters, under RIPA TalkTalk argue that the system’s purpose is to protect their network, which gives them a statutory exemption from wire-tapping legislation.
Issues have been caused by the TalkTalk implementation of the IWF CAIC list block. Wordpress.com, one of the major hosts of website content, has been blocked on multiple occasions (e.g. July 2013 , and possibly November 2013) Implementation of the IWF blocks were also blamed for the throttling of popular image-hosting site Imgur in March 2014.
TalkTalk customers can log a report using button on the blocked page.
Content owners can follow the instructions now provided on the TalkTalk site:
- If you have a website which you think is being incorrectly blocked by HomeSafe Add please email Homesafe.firstname.lastname@example.org including the following details:
- Your responsibility for the website (e.g. owner, administrator or owner of the business advertised).
- The full URL or domain name
- The HomeSafe category you believe it is being blocked under e.g. Dating.
- We'll review this feedback and make changes where necessary.
- Can parents control the websites their children look at?, The Telegraph, 2012-04-24
- Cartier vs Sky 2014
- UK ISP TalkTalk Monitoring its Customers Online Activity Without Consent, ISP Review, 2010-07-26
- Network Security Trial, TalkTalk Labs, 2011-03-25
- TalkTalk or StalkStalk?, ORG, 2011-01-11
- The TalkTalk ‘BrightFeed’ System, Richard Clayton, March 2011
- GREENnet (dead link, not on archive.org). No relation to GreenNet, the independent UK ISP. Huawei:TalkTalk provides online protection for families does not mention GREENnet but says HomeSafe "integrates Huawei’s SIG platform", and  refers to URL blocking capability as "Green Net"
- Chinese firm Huawei controls net filter praised by PM, BBC News, 2013-07-26
- TalkTalk's new blocking system, LightBlueTouchpaper, 2011-05-10
- Customer outrage over TalkTalk monitoring web use, Telegraph, 2011-07-29
- TalkTalk online security system attracts few takers, The Guardian, 2011-12-29 "...launched its free HomeSafe service to its 4 million internet subscribers in May, but the product has only attracted 'around 200,000' users despite signing up 'more than 100,000' in its first two months."
- ISP asks new customers to set access controls, The Guardian, 2012-02-06
- TalkTalk Blog, 2012-05-04
- Now you'll have to ask TalkTalk to turn your porn on, TechRadar, 2012-05-14
- TalkTalk child filter fails to block adult website, Telegraph, 2011-12-06
- HuaweiSymantecSpider, undated
- TalkTalk Virus Alerts Scanning Engine, Victoria's blog, 2011-05-30
- HomeSafe FAQ
- TalkTalk child filter fails to block adult website, The Telegraph, 2011-12-06
- Error Message when accessing Twitter of Facebook, TalkTalk Help
- TalkTalk Network Security and RIPA (pdf), 2011-01-28
- Recent problems accessing WordPress.com sites., Wordpress.com (2013-07-29)
- Security Fears Re-emerge Over UK ISP TalkTalk and Huawei Internet Filter, ISP Review, 2013-07-27
- Dashboard errors related to TalkTalk ISP issue, Wordpress.com (2013-11-29)
- TalkTalk is throttling Imgur, Wired UK, 2014-04-01
- HomeSafe - About Kids Safe