12.01.2012

Combating Crime to Cyber Space and Beyond


  
English: A 3-D solid model of a jack inside a ...
English: A 3-D solid model of a jack inside a cube. Modeled and ray traced using Cobalt. Animation is 120 frames at 25 fps. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
          Technology advances over the past few decades have exploded into a world where wireless communications and interactions are becoming more and more dominant in everyday life, sans a few regions that have not yet accepted or even adapted to simple “pulse” dialing.  Unless you are an avid fan or a historian, few will remember the Altair computer, the Commodore or even what 386 means, however it does not stop us from interacting with more modern evolutions of these items and it also opens a whole new door to criminals who are savvy of the tools available “online” to corrupt even the smallest of regions.  This presents an opportunity as well as disadvantages to both the criminologist and the criminal, specifically in that even the criminal’s best security or hopes online can be “hacked”, same as lawful citizens, just ask President Barak Obama about his own invasions in cell phone land.  Tools in the proper hands can do wonders and in the world of forensics, digital tools and new abilities give a new approach to solving crime.


            One item that is not reported through the major media outlets in solving crime is facial reconstruction and until a few years ago, that meant tedious hours of precision and pegs as well as clay molds and various other mediums to reconstruct an unknown victim’s facial feature in order to verify or attempt to identify the person in question.  In death, we know that our body goes through a decomposition and decay process that over time will eventually erode away muscle, skin and organs leaving only a skeleton.  Forensic anthropologists along with sculptors, creative artistry and time work in cohesion to recreate the human that once roamed the planet, as a starter the sculptor will usually start with 25 to 30 layers of tissue that will eventually become situated around the eyes and select facial areas. 

    
3D polygonal modeling of a human face.
3D polygonal modeling of a human face. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
        Next, the team has to determine approximate age, race, weight and various other factors to determine which set of depth pegs to use, covering the rest of the face and skull regions.  Layering clay to those depths around the set pegs and filling in the remaining gaps with the other clay strips helps to place texture and depth to the once devoid skeleton, keeping in mind that this process is not done in a few mins rather over a period of hours, just to get to the point of 3D viewing of the victim no one can identify otherwise.  Once those items are done, the sculptor / artists must then go to work on the eyes, jaw, mouth, nose, ears, chin and cheek areas as these are generally considered the parts that give “character” to each of us, fun fact:  The eye balls generally do not change in size from birth to death so keep those peepers healthy.  While this process is tedious, there is some math and known’s involved when it comes to certain items of the face, for example the ears length is considered the same as the nose length and width is determined by a measurement of distances between iris, corner of the eye and mouth regions along with a few adjustments in math, these items can easily be “fitted” based on the available 3D model that was layered initially.

            Using our imaginations and a bit of critical thinking skills we can see a rough image of a person, with approximate features, lacking two final items:  Muscle and skin, again the sculptor and forensic anthropologist must combine their skills and approximate how much, how fat or thin and apply layers of skin, as well as making a silicon rubber mold of the initial sculpture.  The elements that no one can really pinpoint are hair style, color and expressional characteristics of the face and in essence only hope to be able to awaken a memory or hope to shake someone’s memory into locating or narrowing down the list of potential victims.  This overview does not account for the detail, time, materials, persons or man hours involved in recreating someone from death to 3D modeling clay nor does it speak for the dedication of those involved in helping to solve these unknown’s.  What has been needed for many years is a new approach:  Enter the computer, a machine often thought of as something to get on the internet with, but rarely remembered for its computational ability and power of deduction based on parameters entered.  

          
Eye death
Eye death (Photo credit: @Doug88888)
  While using facial reconstruction does require some skills, in the world of computers lots of things change including limiting how much stress is placed upon the skull itself, starting with an 3D X-ray of the skull using a complex series of lasers and mirrors, while the skull rotates on a platform.  The image is then transferred to a computer where special software allows the user to move and interact with the image.  Applying the actual muscle and skin now becomes part of a database based on CT (Computerized Tomography) scans of other persons and known parameters, including shadows that may occur from muscle layering and skin as well as eliminating the Depth Peg and clay layering that once took hours to do.   The Forensic Anthropologists skills is essential in this area; for example items such as clothing or other items found on the scene as well as any other forensic evidence will help in determining shape, size, weight and race and the Forensic Anthropologist is an expert in determining these values.

     
3D Model Woman
3D Model Woman (Photo credit: ProLithic 3D)
       By merging the scans of the unknown and the known, along with the same parameters that are predetermined (same as above) the computer reconstructs as closely as possible the same image obtained by the once artist / sculptor and Forensic Team in a matter of a few hours rather than days of work and with the use of lasers and complicated machinery can reconstruct the new image from medium safely, minus color and the same parameters of expression and certain characteristics.  As we can see, the differences in approach between traditional and modern application do not differ in their basis: to solve the unknown victim’s identity the difference is the computational power and application of modern technology and computers being used for something other than internet surfing or role playing games not to mention the total anonyminity that the internet offers its patrons, both paying subscribers and free users. 

            Exploration into Digital Forensic Anthropology is only one of the many facets of our digital evolution and persons who commit crimes against person, property and public are also included in the total use of digital tools.  Person’s who would otherwise have used paper, phone calls and leg work to scam someone now has the ability to email in masses and the percentage of susceptible persons also exponentially increases, thus building an incredible base of victims that unless the perpetrator can be traced or tracked properly, likely will never be found.  The subject of internet “honesty” has long been a topic of debate, including a set of rules or “netiquette” that most are supposed to obey voluntarily, with no real consequence of default, unless the correct set of authorities are applied and even at that point, a simple name change and you are in a new email account.  Pictures, information and a lucrative imagination can produce the fake person with a few clicks who can be your friend, your lover, your confidant and you really never have to physically interact with them, relying on the trust of the platform you are using, known as the internet to guide you, including statements such as “it has to be true, it was on the internet”, never mind the countless applications, programs and widgets that can change the most simplest of items into something other than its original intent.
English: A Tableu internal forensic write-prot...
English: A Tableu internal forensic write-protection module (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

            Enter the criminal mind, the scenario:  I need a phone that can become a mobile hot spot, so I can surf and phish and deceive the public or otherwise conduct fraudulent business.  The process: Go to carrier store such as one for Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile (along with a few miscellaneous others), and sign up for a new activation 2 year contract.  Once that company conducts a credit check, you will either be assessed a deposit amount or an initial fee to cover in order to obtain the agreement.  Writing a cold check as a secure payment, the transaction is processed; you select your phone and are told the first invoice will appear in 30 days.  You activate your phone, walk out of the store, with no intentions of paying your bill, you have a brand new phone in your hand, the ability to mobile hack almost anyone who uses Bluetooth or a mobile Wi-Fi spot, steal their information or set up a few phishing scams, when the service is cut off, you go to pawn shop (usually remote) and sell the phone for some quick cash or sell it overseas for an exorbitant amount.  The Crime: Fraud, Theft by Unlawful Taking, Theft by Deception, Attempting to Defraud a Business or Government Entity and a host of other charges that are never followed upon due to the excessive mobility gained in just 30 short days, the reason: Exceptionally difficult to locate a moving object or person, without help.  Keep in mind, the geeks teach us all we know, true and they also teach those with sinister intentions, involuntarily. 
English: Backdrop image used in 3D modeling It...
English: Backdrop image used in 3D modeling Italiano: Immagine di sfondo utilizzata in modellazione 3D (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

            Platforms such as You Tube, Face Book, Twitter and Linked In, give the public a chance to view almost anything, including videos of violence, compassion, crime, music and “educational” resources, educational in quotations as whether or not the legitimacy of what you are watching is indeed the truth and not edited (video toasted) or altered in some way to make what you see seem real, criminals use this lack of awareness to obtain your trust, then violate your privacy or personal freedoms including sniffing out when you use credit cards or other financial transactions that help to steal your worth and your identity.  Nothing on the internet is truly ever deleted, this is no secret as the FBI stores thousands of items that contain transmitted key words or phrases, pictures or video for review at anytime, as well as intercepting suspects with items such as “StingRay” technology and video camera systems that can “see” through walls, nothing in technology is impossible.  Law enforcement is well aware of every plausible scenario available and discovers new approaches to combating and learning of the evolution of technology in fighting crime, including the UCR which has become more and more accurate as new data comes in from officials who once did not have a simple computer to help. 

            Cell phone technology has evolved into a platform where phones get smaller, then bigger screens, then thinner, then more powerful, then smaller over a repeated process of time; Digital Forensics in this field includes data mining which could reveal a time line history or pattern of established crime that assists law enforcement in apprehending perpetrators of those types of crimes.  To date, there are as many as 40 cellular providers and millions of customers in their combined data bases, law enforcement without the use of computers and other electronic media would no doubt be overwhelmed by the information superhighway.  With the aid of the evolving technology and the right experts focusing on the key task, law enforcement can access any portion of your computer or digital life, including passwords, images, disk encryptions, secured or privately marked file folders, hidden files as well as access these items remotely without your knowledge and without your permission, but with the permission of the judicial system, citing again our example of the President’s own woes, who was angered by having his own “secure” cell phone, opened by a trained person in that field.  Was it criminal to spy, probably, considering the Patriot Act gives Officials eminent power, it becomes almost nerve wracking when the sinister do the same thing, without a whim or much effort. 
3D Model Man
3D Model Man (Photo credit: ProLithic 3D)

            In conclusion, our Digital Worlds can only be as safe and effective as we the people allow them to be, including adding some honesty to our own profiles and keeping our eyes open for active sites about the do-do bird, (yes one does exist and if you have to ponder it, might want to leave that site alone, the bird is extinct).  Law enforcement and Criminals battle continually for supremacy in dominating the digital highway, citizens in general are also susceptible to the woes of internet secrecy; including being exposed for pictures, emails, accounts, information that otherwise would have been private.   We the people have more power to secure our personal lives when we use critical thinking skills in positive ways, including finding the lost, the criminal who went into hiding and that perfect table or bed ensemble.  Be wise, be weary and be safe, most of all thank the technology makers for allowing law enforcement to have tools available to keep our lives safe and free from some crimes, the rest is up to us.


            

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