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Crime Technology

Boston Tech Vs. the Bomber 170

Posted by samzenpus
from the working-together dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Amid rumors of an impending arrest in the Boston Marathon bombing, Xconomy has a rundown of local companies working on technologies relevant to the investigation and aftermath. The approaches include Web analytics to identify communication patterns, image and video analysis of the crime scene, surveillance camera hardware and software, and smart prosthetic devices for amputees. A big challenge the authorities face is the sheer volume and different proprietary formats of video from security cameras, mobile devices, and media groups. Ultimately this will be a case study in whether an individual bent on destruction can remain anonymous in an era of digital surveillance, social media, and crowdsourcing."
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Boston Tech Vs. the Bomber

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  • by hendrikboom (1001110) on Wednesday April 17, 2013 @07:53PM (#43478401)

    Well, the emergency response seemed to be on the ball, minimizing the damage. Now we get to see whether the surveillance technologies are up to scratch after the fact.

    Prevention is probably impossible.

    • Well, the emergency response seemed to be on the ball, minimizing the damage.

      Circumstances greatly facilitated that. There were doctors, nurses and medical personnel on site near the finish line. Marathon organizers put together a huge medical team. The minutes saved by being very near to the attack site surely saved lives.

      Now we get to see whether the surveillance technologies are up to scratch after the fact.

      At an event like this I'd wager cell phone photos and videos dwarf the traditional surveillance cameras.

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      Prevention is probably impossible.

      You reckon? We've seen TSA banning liquids, nail files and what not, and not another terrorist attack flying a plane into a building... this means prevention should have been effective.
      Tell you what: let's ban pressure cookers and black backpacks and we're safe... how hard can it be?

      Also: what the hell TSA is wasting money for? After all, running is a form of transportation, isn't this also in the scope of TSA protection?

      (</sarcasm>) Let me repeat my point: given that prevention is impossible, what

  • Not in the article (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday April 17, 2013 @07:53PM (#43478403)

    Not in the article: Success rates and false positives.

    The problem with these type of technologies is that even if they're 99% effective, that still means they're useless. You need to be about 99.9% effective before the false positive rate drops to a point where it is investigationally useful. If these technologies happen to finger the person who did this, everyone will point to it as proof that it works. But I can tell you right now, there won't be any news stories of the dozens to hundreds detained, questioned, and humiliated by simply matching an arbitrary profile -- because in both the media's eyes and the general public, that would be flinging mud on a "hero".

    I'm all for investigation into these technologies... but none of them are mature enough yet to be used in criminal investigations responsibly.

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        stupidest article ever. They make a judgement call that you wouldn't prevent the apocolypse if it harmed more humans than it saved, but you would if it helped more than it harmed. If it's an extinction question, I think we'd take the "hurt 80 to save 20, because if we don't, there won't even be 20 at the end" choice.

        Locic doesn't work when you don't agree with an unstated hidden premise.
    • criminal investigations responsible?

      the cops complain about the CSI factor. I.E. being actually held to the same ethical standards as cops on TV.
    • The problem with these type of technologies is that even if they're 99% effective, that still means they're useless.

      No, it just means they need to do one of two things: use additional techniques to sift the first cut data, or expend massive amounts of time and manpower.

      But I can tell you right now, there won't be any news stories of the dozens to hundreds detained, questioned, and humiliated by simply matching an arbitrary profile -- because in both the media's eyes and the general public, that would be flinging mud on a "hero".

      That's nonsense. Practically any big investigation involves hundreds, thousands, or even more interviews and massive numbers of tips. reports, and clues. You only have to look at stories covering the 9/11 attacks, Unabomber, Oklahoma City, Anthrax mailings and plenty of others and they all involve massive investigations trying to match a partial descrip

    • by pipedwho (1174327)

      This is due to lazy investigative techniques and incompetent use of forensic evidence. If you have multiple independent indicators that are individually only partially reliable, then you need to use a number of these in conjunction to produce a more accurate result.

      For example if I have 5 separate unrelated pieces of evidence that all point to the same person, and each test has a non-systematic error of 5% (ie. 95% reliable), then the resulting accuracy becomes 99.9999%.

      The problem is lazy police work. It's

    • by jhol13 (1087781)

      "I'm all for investigation into these technologies... but none of them are mature enough yet to be used in criminal investigations responsibly."

      Are you claiming that police cannot use those responsibly? Why not? If they know the technolgy is 99% effective they can question most if not all, but detain only those whose questioning and/or other evidence gives reason for that.

      Even with 99.9% detaining and humiliating them would be a horrible thing to do, kids in prison for no reason ...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 17, 2013 @07:54PM (#43478413)

    If a person is reasonable intelligent, and a loner, I have no doubt that covering tracks would be possible if one really wanted to.

    Don't talk on social media.
    Don't tell anyone.
    Buy supplies with cash in different locations, spread over significant time.
    Wear different clothing/hat/sunglasses and don't ever use them before of after the event.
    Die your hair, shave, obscure your style and gender.
    Don't drive a car, anywhere.
    Don't do obvious stuff like use cellphones in the operation.

    Fortunately, the type of people capable of this kind of stuff tend not to be the brightest bulbs.

    • I agree with most of this but you don't need to kill your hair, simply coloring it would be enough.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Don't talk on social media.
      Don't tell anyone.
      Buy supplies with cash in different locations, spread over significant time.
      Wear different clothing/hat/sunglasses and don't ever use them before of after the event.
      Die your hair, shave, obscure your style and gender.
      Don't drive a car, anywhere.
      Don't do obvious stuff like use cellphones in the operation.

      You do realize that everything you just listed is what the Department of Homeland Security trains people are the things terrorists do, right? Let me tell you something about walking through the woods unnoticed; Don't try and cover your tracks. Every attempt to cover them is, in actuality, disturbing the surroundings even more. It makes you easier to track. If you want to go unseen in the world, step lightly and deliberately, and don't move in a straight line towards your destination. Take a circular route.

      • The only thing that would cause problems for a terrorist in that list is changing your hair colour. If you immediately show up with a different hairstyle and colour after a terrorist event, people are going to ask questions, much better to shave your head constantly and then wear a wig. The rest is either untraceable or useless even if it is traced. Of course it's barely a start if one really wanted to commit an act of terror, but in and of itself there isn't much wrong with it.

    • In this time and age, I would not count on that last statement holding true. How many bright people were swindled out of their money, home and future by the irresponsibility of banks?

    • by dcollins (135727)

      "Don't do obvious stuff like use cellphones in the operation."

      CBS News tonight:

      "[CBS News correspondent Bob] Orr said authorities have video of a man in a black jacket on a cell phone, wearing a gray hoodie and a white baseball cap backwards placing a black bag at the second bomb site outside of the Forum restaurant on Boylston Street and then leaving the area before that explosion. Orr said the man was on the phone at the second bomb site when the first bomb exploded. Orr said the FBI determined the time t

    • Because none of that would raise any suspicions with your family, friends, workmates or neighbours (if you had any). Your problem is that even though you have no social skills (ie a loner) the people in your community do, and part of those skills involve identifying strange behaviour in others.
      Where do you live? Who do you pay rent to? Where do you buy your food? If you don't drive where do you buy your train/bus tickets? (all the transport and stations here have cameras), how do you research your masterp
      • by tehcyder (746570)
        The two best disguises for a terrorist I can think of are:

        1. A normal-looking, middle-aged. white, middle class guy with a travelling salsman-type job, car, suburban house and family. You can go most places without question, no one's going to remember a guy in a cheap suit eating a sandwich in his car at lunchtime (or whatever).

        2. A youngish student in a student city. No matter what colour you dye your hair, or how late you wander around singing drunkenly, no one's going to bat an eyelid.

    • So, it is enough to filter people buying sunglasses, without car and facebook account?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Computer, enhance!

    I wonder if they tried. I know from various TV documentaries that it works.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Computer, enhance!

      I wonder if they tried. I know from various TV documentaries that it works.

      The really clever bit is when they turn a 2D photo into 3D then spin it through 180 degrees so you can see the suspect's face and not just the back of his head. It makes you wonder how criminals get away with anything nowadays.

  • I would think most video would be from iPhone or Android devices, neither of which shoots in a proprietary video format.

    Unless you are talking about something like a Red? But even those use industry standard raw digital video formats.

    At this point there are really only a handful of video formats and codecs in wide use, none proprietary.

    • by nomel (244635)

      "different proprietary formats of video from security cameras"

      Since when are iPhone and Android devices considered security cameras?

      • Aren't some security cameras Android based?

        But even then, it seems like most security cameras use standard formats. So the question stands.

        • by kwerle (39371)

          I know nothing about this subject. But I recall someone asking about [open source] software to run a [set of] security cameras and complaining that there are a lot of different formats and no standards. It could have been on /., but I can't find a ref.

          So it seems like this might be a real problem - if only one that affects very few people.

    • The most important evidence probably comes from closed circuit security systems, since they are running constantly, monitored, time stamped, etc.
      Guessing all the security companies have their own formats for data archiving and transmission, not to mention many of these systems are probably out of date because they've worked well enough for years.

      I bet most of these CCTV systems don't even implement the CSI "enhance" feature so useful in criminal investigation.
  • "Ultimately this will be a case study in whether an individual bent on destruction can remain anonymous in an era of digital surveillance"

    I would say that someone bent on destruction and bent on anonymity stands a very good chance of achieving both if they are canny and use commodity goods like pressure cookers, nails and match heads. I am preparing myself for the possibility that the perpetrator/s may never be identified. Depressing.

    The nature of this thread disturbs me. That we somehow might get a j

  • marathon run...
    bomb goes off...
    hundreds injured...
    into hospital...
    in come the businessmen...
    "here's your free treatment, ma'am"...
    fleet of cyborgs now living in downtown Boston...

I'm all for computer dating, but I wouldn't want one to marry my sister.

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