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BLOG – Mistakes with IP addresses can have serious consequences
We’ve all done it. You can’t be an IP engineer without occasionally in your career mistyping an IP address. When an engineer gets an IP address wrong the consequences are normally a short period of confusion followed by some embarrassment. However the consequences when someone in the police force gets it wrong can be far more serious.
The body that is responsible for overseeing the requests from the police and other public bodies that can request IP address details from an ISP is the “Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office” (IOCCCO) and it is obliged to produce an annual report which provides some disturbing reading.
The most recent report covers communications data collected in 2016 during which time the police, security services, councils and tax authorities requested 754,599 items of data from communications providers. The IOCCO’s annual report reveals there were 1,200 errors, 29 of which were categorised as serious resulting in innocent people being wrongfully arrested and in some cases resulting in their children being taken into care and their employers being notified that they were being investigated for child sexual offences. Whilst the error rate is very low the consequences for an individual accused can be life changing.
The Rt Hon. Sir Stanley Burnton, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, writes that the most serious errors were caused by mistakes in IP addresses often caused by incorrectly transcribing IP addresses when typing them into systems.
Other errors occur when dynamic IP addresses are used by ISPs and the time and date an alleged offence took place are incorrectly typed because there is no standard format for dates and times on forms used between agencies.
The commissioner goes on to explain that IP address data is often seized upon in child sexual exploitation cases to provide a geographic location where children are at risk and should be removed for their protection. He acknowledges that investigators need to better understand what an IP address is and how technical evidence cannot always be assumed to be correct and should be used with caution when it is the only evidence of risk.
We all need to take more care when typing those dotted octets.