Author Archives: Martino Jerian

Introducing Temporary Work-From-Home Licenses, Online Training, and Digital Licenses

Today we are announcing important news to help our users and distributors to better cope with our software acquisition, activation, and learning processes during this difficult time. We do hope that everyone is staying safe, and we are thankful for the important work that you are doing in serving your communities.

TEMPORARY WORK-FROM-HOME LICENSES

With a lot of our users working from home, many are not able to access their workstation or move the dongle and installation to a computer they are using at home. During this time we want to help however we can in balancing solving cases and keeping safe.  For this reason, we are offering to our users who have a license with an active SMS (software maintenance and support) plan, the possibility to further install our software on other machines and activate it with a temporary digital license that will work until the end of May.

In order to request a work-from-home license, please contact our technical support, indicating your dongle serial and the email address of the user who needs access to the license.

If you are not a user yet, or your SMS has expired, don’t worry, feel free to contact us anyways and we’ll evaluate options to best help your organization.

ONLINE TRAINING

In order to continue to provide training to our users during this current state of emergency where travel is impossible, we are very excited to announce that we are now offering official online training sessions. The training will be live with one of our experienced trainers. We have already added the first classes to our training schedule, with more coming soon.

DIGITAL LICENSES

Effective immediately, we are providing digital licenses for all our products. Digital licenses will be our default option going forward.

Currently, most of our products have been protected by a USB dongle. However, shipping a physical component for our software is becoming increasingly complicated and risky at the moment:

  • We need to ship the parcel. We are working from home, but some of us need to go to the office to prepare the dongle shipment and to deliver it to the courier. If there are no alternatives, this can be done, but I’d rather have our colleagues stay at home for their safety and the safety of our community. Please note that Italy now is in full lock-down, most industrial and commercial activities must be closed if employees are not working from home, and we are allowed to go out only for strict necessities or emergencies.
  • The customer (end user and/or distributor) needs to receive the parcel. Similar risks as above for our customers. With millions of people around the world starting to work from home, finding someone available to pick up the parcel is another complication.
  • The shipping may be delayed. People can’t go out, so they are buying a lot online and couriers are overwhelmed with the amount of merchandise they need to move, clearly causing further risks for their personnel. We see that several of our shipments are experiencing quite a bit of delay, compared to our normally very efficient turnaround time.
  • Users need to work from home. Several of our users are currently working from home, and accessing the dongle or the computer they left in the office can be a problem if they need to use our products.

It has been a rather sudden decision, but for all the reasons above we decided to switch to digital licenses as the default license for the time being. What does it mean?

  • We don’t need to ship anything. Everything will be accessible electronically.
  • Faster access to your license. As soon as we process the order, you should be able to download and install the license.
  • Installation or activation wherever you are. Whether you are in the office, on the field, or at home, you can download and activate the software without the need for the dongle as long as you have available seats on your license.

Please note that USB dongle licenses will still be available as an option, but only if explicitly requested when placing an order: by default we will provide digital licenses. If you really need the dongle, you need to clearly specify this request and you should be prepared for the fact that shipping can take longer than usual for the next weeks or months.

As usual, if you have any questions on digital licenses, temporary work-from-home licenses, or need more information about online training, please feel free to contact us.

Be safe everybody.

We Are OK!

A group photo taken during our latest meeting, with everybody from home!

A lot of our users, partners, and friends reached out to ask how we are doing during this difficult moment with COVID-19 in Italy. Thank you for thinking and caring about us, this means a lot to us. In general, the situation is quite surreal. We are allowed to go out just for groceries and other necessary items, or to go to work, where working from home is not possible. 

At Amped, we are doing everything possible to keep us, our families and communities safe.

Even before the increase of cases and the complete lock-down, as a precautionary measure, I asked everybody to work from home as much as possible. We have all been working from home for three weeks already. At the moment, everyone in Amped and our families are OK, and we are doing everything possible to keep it this way. They say the peak in Italy will be this week, so in our “virtual” office we are all keeping in touch with frequent calls and funny memes in chat, just to keep it easy in this difficult time.

Because of all of this, we had to put on hold various events and training sessions that were already scheduled. We are monitoring the situation for the ones coming up in the next months, but for now, and for later, our main priority is the health and safety of our team and our users.

We know our users were excited to attend the Amped User Day we scheduled in Birmingham, UK on September 21, but unfortunately, we decided that it would be better for everyone if we also postponed this event for a later, safer time. We will let you know when we set a new date for it.

Other than that, we are fully functional: software development, sales operations, and technical support operations are working as usual. If we have conference calls, you might hear some children screaming in the background… but that’s about it.

While I hope it will not happen, I am truly afraid the virus will spread in many other countries like it did in Italy. Please be careful and do not underestimate the risks and the recommendations provided by your local governments.

Children all over Italy are drawing rainbows with this message to hang on their balconies or windows, spreading the message of hope and reassurance that “everything will be fine”, “andrà tutto bene”. My daughters drew this one and send you all lots of rainbows!

Be safe everybody, #andratuttobene #everythingwillbefine

Take care,
Martino

Your Input is Needed for Windows XP Support! Keep or Kill?

One thing we are very proud of here at Amped is the efficiency and compatibility of our products. Although you will get the most out of Amped FIVE with a nice performing machine, you can also use it on any modern, and often not so modern, laptop. A few years ago we were able to deliver a decent training course in a location where users had a Pentium laptop with 1 GB of RAM. Definitely not something we really recommend, but it somewhat worked with most of our examples.

Most of our products are offered in the same installer in both 32 bit and 64 bit versions.  Despite the discontinuation of Windows XP in 2014, 12 years after its launch, we are still trying to support it in our products, to guarantee maximum compatibility of our products with any system.

Over the years, however, keeping the compatibility with Windows XP has been an increasing struggle and every time we need to update external third-party libraries or tools some new issues related to Windows XP support pop up. We are at a point where we are not sure anymore if it’s worth still spending our precious development time towards this need. We hope none of you still need to use Windows XP as the main working machine, but there may be some cases where this is still helpful (for example controlled codec installation on a Windows XP virtual machine for legacy proprietary video formats). Furthermore, using Windows XP has become very dangerous since security updates are not even available anymore.

So, the question is, should we kill Windows XP support in Amped FIVE (and our other products) or there is a reason to keep it?

Please help us with this one-minute survey, or contact us if you want to discuss this with us.

We appreciate your feedback!

Amped Replay: The Enhanced Video Player for Modern Policing

Today we have launched Amped Replay, our enhanced video player for modern policing.

You can find all the usual details in the press release and more info on the product webpages. What I want to add here, though, is some background information about the why and how of this new product.

I believe Amped Replay may be the most important product launch since the initial Amped FIVE release in 2008. Maybe even more than that, since it widens our scope as a company. Continue reading

Using Enhanced Images in Court

I recently testified in court as a forensic image and video expert and, as is sometimes the case, the use of some filters to enhance images was questioned. As I have written before, there is some processing that should be entirely avoided, since it lacks accuracy and repeatability. For example, we should avoid techniques which add new information relying on data obtained by a training set, or techniques which have a random component.

Some years ago, there was a school of thought that said, only classical image processing techniques available for the analog photography can be applied to digital photography in the forensic context. What are the risks of applying the wrong processing? We are not interested in having a “pleasant” image, we are concerned about extracting information from it. The risks of wrong processing are:

  • Removing existing information: for example, removing the grain in a dark image can remove also important details.
  • Adding new information: for example, creating or amplifying image artifacts which may be misinterpreted as a real detail.

In this reasoning, we are not referring to details at the pixel level, but at the image semantic content. In general, if I resize an image, I add a lot of new pixels but if the processing is correct I am not adding any new relevant information.

It’s important to understand that most of the image processing techniques present a compromise: I enhance something at the expense of damaging something else. For example, if I lighten an image to show better a dark part, it’s very likely to lose details in the parts of the image that are already bright enough.

For this reason, it’s very difficult, in general, to say which techniques are good and which techniques are bad. Their applicability must be related to the specific case and the parameters used. Filters are just tools, and as such, they can be used in the right way, obtaining better images, or in the wrong way, damaging the image quality or presenting wrong information.

Because of this, it’s important not to blindly apply different enhancement and restoration filters, but to apply them in order to correct a specific defect. Similarly, the tuning of their parameters must be consistent with the amount of defect I want to correct. Abusing the filters can create images which are much worse than the original.

It is therefore important, as I’ve said many times, to work with experts who have specific experience in the forensic image and video analysis field. Who know what to do, and how to identify what has been done incorrectly.

A lot of pressure may be put on the processing done by the experts, but most people ignore that there are many other processing and possible issues happening during the image acquisition and visualization phases.

A lot of processing happens in the camera itself, from CCTV to smartphones. Unless raw image pictures are used, and this is very rare, the value of the pixels in an image are hugely dependent on the processing and encoding which automatically happens inside the device to obtain the ratio between image quality and technical limitations that the producer wished to obtain.

And then, even to simply visualize the image, there’s a lot going on under the hood. Different software can decode the image in a slightly different way which can enormously impact the final result, and a lot of image processing happens on the graphics card of the PC, on the screen, or on a projector. Just play with the brightness of the projector to realize how much the visible information in an image can be impacted by such simple tuning.

There is then the most critical part of the processing: our eyes and our brain. Different people see and want to see different things in the same image. Analyzing things in an objective and unbiased way is often very difficult unless you can measure things numerically. And in fact, avoiding and limiting the various types of biases are one of the most important aspects of forensic science currently studied.

This article, written by Martino Jerian, was originally published in Lawyer Monthly magazine. Click here for the published article. 

We just turned 10 – but there’s still so much more to do!

Today is the 10th anniversary of the foundation of Amped Software. In fact, I officially registered the business on 10th April 2008.

It feels like it was only yesterday that I started the company, but at the same time, it feels like ages ago.

It wasn’t always easy, but it has been an exciting ride so far. If there is something I am very proud of, it is the consistency of the company’s vision. Nowadays in the startup world, there’s this very common concept of pivoting. Start with an idea and then change the product, the market, or everything, until it works. Somewhat.

I, however, started with the same idea that is still driving the company today: to create the best tools for image and video analysis specifically for forensics and investigations. Doing something very specific for a very specific kind of customer, but being the best in doing it and making it become the world standard. Continue reading

Amped DVRConv Update 10098: more formats, more speed, more options

Today we released an update to Amped DVRConv, the easiest way to convert videos from proprietary DVR formats.

We have been working on this update for some time and a few users have received beta updates in order to support formats that were urgently required. During this period we have re-engineered a good part of the architecture to improve stability, speed and format compatibility.

Continue reading

The Amped FIVE Assistant Video Tutorial

We recently announced the release of the latest version of Amped FIVE (10039) where we introduced a new operational mode through a panel called the “Assistant”.

The Assistant provides a set of predefined workflows which can be used to automate common operations or guide new users, but it’s not obtrusive. You can use it or not, and you can always add filters or do anything, as usual, it’s just an additional option.

We’ve created a video tutorial so you can see it in action. See below or watch on YouTube now!

We’ll be adding more videos to our YouTube channel soon, so follow us to get more videos like this.

Amped FIVE Update 10039: Introducing the Assistant, and much more

I am not exaggerating when I say that this is one of the most important Amped FIVE updates in years!

In this version, we have released a new operational mode in Amped FIVE through a panel called the “Assistant”. The concept is extremely simple but opens a world of possibilities. I had this idea during a meeting in the US about one year ago. I hacked a quick and dirty prototype in a couple of hours and showed it to a few users at the LEVA conference to gather feedback. From then on, we worked to improve it and prepare some scripts.

In the last few years, Amped FIVE has grown like crazy, with more than 100 filters for every kind of issue. It has been adopted by experienced analysts and beginners, and used on cases of local, national and international level.

This raised a few interesting challenges:

  • With so many filters, how are you supposed to know the best tool to use in every case?
  • How do you enforce your agency SOPs for specific needs and workflows?
  • How do you easily help beginners and your new colleagues that are new to the job with the wealth of options available?
  • How do you automate repetitive and boring tasks?
  • How do you avoid human error with repeatable and documented practices?

We had a few ideas for a funny and helpful character.

Or maybe a more awesome classical wizard with its annoying modal interface.

Not really. The solution is much simpler.

Meet the Amped FIVE Assistant.

Continue reading

HEIF Image Files Forensics: Authentication Apocalypse?

If you follow the news from Apple you may have heard that the latest iOS 11 introduces new image and video formats.

More specifically, videos in H.264 (MPEG-4 AVC) are replaced by H.265(HEVC) and photos in JPEG are replaced by the HEIF format.

Files in HEIF format have the extension “.heic” and contain HEVC encoded photos. In a nutshell, a HEIF file is more or less like a single frame encoded H.265 video. Here there is a nice introduction. And, if you want to go more in depth, here there is some more technical documentation.

For people like us, that have been working for years on image authenticity exploiting the various characteristics of the JPEG formats and various effects which happen when you resave a JPEG into another JPEG, this is pretty big – and somewhat worrying – news.

If you want to do image forensics in the real world – not in academia, where the constraints are usually quite different – it means that the vast majority of images you will work with will be compressed in the JPEG format. A lot of filters in Amped Authenticate actually work only on JPEG files, because that’s the most common case. On the contrary, a lot of the algorithms published in journals are almost useless in practical scenarios since their performances drop dramatically when the image is compressed.

JPEG has been on the market for ages, and many tried to replace it with something better, with formats like JPEG 2000 and, more recently, Google WebP. However, with the decreasing costs of storage and bandwidth and the universal adoption of JPEG, it has been impossible to displace. In contrast, video formats and codecs have seen a very rapid progression at the same time, since storage and bandwidth for video is always an issue.

I think this time will be different, for better or worse, since when Apple introduces radical changes, the industry normally follows. This means a lot of work for those of us working on the analysis of image files. Nowadays the majority of pictures are done on a mobile device, and a good part of them are Apple devices so the impact cannot be neglected.

If the HEIC format becomes the new standard, many of the widely used algorithms must be heavily modified or replaced. Don’t hope to save many of those. After all, despite what some are saying, most of the image authentication and tampering detection algorithms don’t work on videos at all. The exception is having a Motion JPEG video modified and resaved as another Motion JPEG video. But that’s a very rare case, and most times the quality will be so low that it will be impossible to use them anyways.

Now let’s see what the situation is like in practice. Continue reading