Saturday, February 07, 2009

February 2009

The last post was by Holly, and she wrote on concerns on the distribution of knowledge and people committing crime with this knowledge. The issue is also true the other way around, since we have to exchange knowledge, and have our methods peer reviewed in journals, so use them in court. In many countries legislation exist to shield the information such that it is not used for committing crime, and still the evidence can be used in court. It is also the reason that often events are organized for law enforcement only in this field.

Within FIDIS where I am involved in the package on forensic science, another issue is mainting privacy, since people seem to store lots of information on the internet without realizing that other people can also use it in the future, and one should be aware that even if information is erased, it is often available on backups, so it is also something to be aware of. As we see with the latest developments on the mobile phone (for example latitude of google), also the location of where you are, is visible on the net. With these systems you give permission, and even I tend to use these features, since it can be a nice gadget.

I am looking forward to the meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Science in Denver. I organized a workshop, and we have the first year of our new group in Digital Evidence and Multimedia, where I am currently chairperson of. I will also give a paper on camera identification and ENF.

In August we also organize a workshop the Third International Workshop on Computational Forensics at the Netherlands Forensic Institute, The Hague, The Netherlands [August 13-14, 2009]. Currently there is a call for papers, so we are looking forward to this. It is in conjuction with IAPR and there should be paper proceedings ready by Springer in August.

To Catch a Thief…

There’s an old adage that says that it takes a thief to catch a thief, a saying that leads us to believe that every cop, detective or any other person in law enforcement who’s any good at their job must have a mind that has a little bit of a criminal bent. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true – every criminal who does not want to be caught, ultimately masters the art of covering his tracks and staying just out of reach of the long arm of the law.

Computer forensics is a not just a science, but an art as well – for those who have the innate skills to handle the tasks that go with this field, no technology is too complicated and no thief too difficult to catch. The real problems begin when the criminals begin to use forensics too, not to catch others of their kind, but to sweep away evidence of their crimes and leave nothing behind for the investigators who are sure to follow their tracks.

The age of the computer and the rapid advances we are making in the field of technology is something that would never have been thought possible a few decades ago. It’s this advancement that has made criminals out of some of us – the lure of easy money and the possibility of an almost certain escape is too good an opportunity to pass up for those who don’t have too many ethics or moral values; and this is why we have people breaking into networks and security systems to access credit card and other personal and sensitive information.

Today, while it’s true that the good guys have an arsenal of forensic tools at their disposal to help catch the bad guys, it’s also true that the bad guys are becoming really good at beating the good guys at their own game. They’re going back to school too, so that they can learn the tools of the computer forensic trade in the legitimate way, and then use these methods to prevent and avoid detection.

There are criminals who perpetrate crime when the opportunity presents itself; and there are those who religiously plan and execute their crimes. For the latter kind, nothing is too hard or too difficult. They’re often master strategists who are adept at hiding their tracks and moving from one operation to the other to avoid being caught. And this makes computer forensics a more challenging field – how do we prevent the knowledge that’s available from being misused?
Besides the legitimate forensic tools, there are those that straddle the thin line between legal and illegal; and when these are used in conjunction with those that are allowed to be used, they form the most lethal combination because they trick users into believing that the whole operation is legit.

If education is knowledge and knowledge is power, then we must ensure that this power does not fall into the wrong hands. For when it does, there’s nothing we can expect but disaster on a large scale.

This post was contributed by Holly McCarthy, who writes on the subject of forensic science careers. She invites your feedback at hollymccarthy12 at gmail dot com