The problem with porn

The ubiquitous, nearly unregulable access to e-Porn complicates fighting online porn addiction and offender monitoring


     MacForensicsLab Field Agent — Al Lewis has worked for eight years as a federal agent investigating forensics and cyber crime. He says law enforcement has just hit the tip of the iceberg in its campaign to thwart child porn. As an agent with the Secret Service, he says about 65 percent of the forensics work was dedicated to child pornography. He now works as the director of forensic development with MacForensicsLab and teaches at Marymount University in Arlington, Va. "The Internet in general has allowed these people to come out of the closet. It used to be they had a huge vetting process because they're risking their freedom every time they give in to their desires," Lewis explains. "The Internet gave them that anonymous nature so they can do these things now. And the truth is there's more than law enforcement can handle."

     In addition to his background in forensics, as a professor at Marymount Lewis explains he teaches cyber crime and digital terrorism, which includes covering child exploitation.

     Lewis says that the MacForensicsLab Field Agent software was developed to help U.S. Customs officers quickly identify the presence of child pornography on a computer coming into the country without the need for advanced technical skill. The skin tone analyzing software, Field Agent, is available to law enforcement free as a download.

     Microsoft PhotoDNA — Microsoft has developed a new technology that it says improves on previous basic hashing or simple hashing detection technologies, creating a more intuitive method that can also mask the image to protect law enforcement and others from exposure to child sex abuse images. PhotoDNA can seek and identify a photo based on the unique signature of the digital image, even if it is altered by compression, resizing, color change, adding text, etc. PhotoDNA calculates the distinct characteristics of a digital image in order to match it to other copies of that same image present on the Web. Though Microsoft declined to participate in this story, the company announced the new tech in a news conference in December. Brad Smith, Microsoft's senior vice president and general counsel says the company's "goal with this technology is to help disrupt the spread of known child sex abuse images online."

     In December 2009, Microsoft revealed its new development to nix illicit images of children from the Internet, and has donated PhotoDNA to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

     Dartmouth Professor of Computer Science Hany Farid, who worked with Microsoft to develop the advanced mathematical computational technique, explains that previous hashing technologies were weak because changing the image hash value through digital editing was so easy. "The problem was that the signature was extremely fragile — the tiniest change to the image and the signature would be completely different," Farid says. The advantage of PhotoDNA is that even as images fly through the Internet and they are changed a little bit, the technology can still detect it. "The PhotoDNA technology extends the signature … so that even if you change the image a little bit, we can still find it."

     PhotoDNA seeks out copies of known images of child rape, which President & CEO of the NCMEC Ernie Allen says are copied and shared among pedophiles, to remove them. Allen says that stopping the perpetuation of the known images can lend a hand in ending the re-victimization of the children depicted and prevent companies in the Internet service provider (ISP) industry from "unwittingly hosting or distributing these photos of child sexual abuse."

     SurfRecon Inc. — Kent Davis, an officer supervising sex offenders with the Utah Department of Corrections Adult Probation & Parole, says his office has been using the SurfRecon pornography detection software for about two years. "It has what's called a crawling program that basically crawls through [the suspect] hard drive and looks for any illicit material [or] photos," Davis says.

     The Orem, UT-based SurfRecon's rapid-image-analysis tool, SurfRecon Elite, can be used on almost any computer system including Windows-, Macintosh-, and Linux-based systems. Davis explains that unlike some of the other software available, the SurfRecon product is on a USB flash memory device, and using it is as easy as plugging into the laptop or PC to be searched. He says because it's portable and works quickly, it's a "great tool for law enforcement."

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