Author Archives: Martino Jerian

Can AI Be Used for Forensics and Investigations?

Introduction

I’ve always been quite skeptical about the use of AI for forensics and investigations, as you may have seen in some of my older posts. In recent years most of the advancements in image and video enhancement, analysis, authentication, and tampering detection have been based on AI techniques. I don’t think we can exclude anymore anything which has something to do with AI, but it should be handled with extreme care. In this article, I will explain why in some contexts AI may be acceptable for forensics if used within some tight boundaries and safeguards.

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What Science Gives Us and What We Give to Science

Amped Software has its roots in academic research, and the first prototype of Amped FIVE actually started with my master’s thesis project in Electronic Engineering. In this article, I want to talk a bit about the relationship between Amped Software and science, the scientific method, and scientific research. As the title suggests, we’ll discuss what science gives to Amped and what Amped is giving back to scientific fields such as multimedia forensics, forensic video analysis, and forensic image and video enhancement. Curious? Keep reading!

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Amped has a chat with Detective Michael Chiocca from Chicago Police Department

Mike is always on the spot in the forensic industry: he’s often present at conferences and round-tables and his enthusiastic attitude during presentations cannot go unnoticed! In this interview, he talks about how Amped FIVE and Amped Replay helped in the development of the Area Technology Center of Chicago PD and provided benefits to investigations at all levels. Between the time of this interview and its publication, Mike retired from his position at Chicago PD and has started a new job still within the video community. I wish him great success for his next project and hope to continue to stay in touch!

Martino Jerian, Amped Software CEO and Founder

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Introducing Enhanced Reflections: Random Thoughts by Martino

In the past few years, I didn’t have much time to write here, and my colleagues have been writing most of the posts on technical matters. With many big changes in the industry, and in the world at large, I thought it was time to go back to writing in first person, about something more than just technical aspects, to offer our users a better insight into what we do, how we do it and, most importantly, why we do it.

The Beginnings

I will briefly introduce myself to the newcomers to this blog. My name’s Martino Jerian, and I am CEO and Founder of Amped Software. I’ve been working on image and video forensics since 2005, when I started my dissertation in Electronic Engineering at the University of Trieste, Italy, writing the prototype of what later became Amped FIVE.

I don’t think I ever said it publicly, but basically, my idea was to create for the forensic community what Photoshop was for the creative professionals. So, I started with a very simple and clear objective: creating the ultimate tool for image and video processing needs for forensic and investigative purposes. It was an ambitious idea for a random Italian guy barely out of the university, but it turned out that being a hopeless optimist helped a bit. I knew very clearly where I wanted to go, but I didn’t have any idea how. 

Our tagline has been for a while “Setting the Standard for Image and Video Forensics”. While it is a demanding purpose, I think it describes quite well our direction and current position.

For Techies…

One thing I’m very proud of is how our team continues to share and educate our users and the public in general on the topics of video evidence and multimedia forensics.

Our blog articles and YouTube channel have always been an extremely valuable free resource for all of our users. Together with the various social media channels and the newsletter, they have helped grow our community and act as a dynamic knowledge base.

I often receive positive feedback about the effectiveness of our content for learning the ins and outs of our tools and the proper forensic workflow.

If you have a question, need a tip to get something unusual accomplished, or you have an issue to solve, likely the solution is already on our blog, with more than 550 articles published from 2007 until today.

One of the lesser-known features, but which I am very proud of, is the BIG LIST page where all the posts are listed by category for easy skimming and searching (officially listed as “Posts by Category”). It’s incredible how much of the material posted years ago is still very current. Recently I’ve found myself sharing this article from 2011, and this other one from 2014, which I see it’s currently the third most popular post.

… But For Humans Too

Most of the content we write is pretty technical. There’s no doubt we have the most complete tools on the market for image and video forensics. However, what I think makes up the difference is not much the product itself, but the people working on it, providing technical support, and interacting with customers and partners. We do not have organizations working with other organizations, but people working with people. We are (mostly) geeks, but what makes us different is our human side and the interaction with the user at each level.

I wanted to add a bit more of human touch to this blog, writing less technical content but still relevant for our industry. This week I decided to launch this new column, called “Enhanced Reflections”, which is a pretty obvious joke on the famous magic enhancements of the various series a-là CSI, whose miseducation we had to fight against since our beginnings.

Our industry is usually a bit secretive, given the field, we are working in it’s always better to be careful. On the other hand, we do forensics, and forensics should be based on science, and science should be transparent. So, I’ll also take this opportunity to add some context to our job.

It won’t be a regular weekly series like our very successful Tip Tuesday or Video Evidence Pitfalls, but I will write articles when I think there’s something interesting to write about. Topics will be quite various, I may speak about the ins and outs of our company, about the industry in general, or about other relevant topics. My blog posts may also be a bit more opinionated than what you usually see here, though I always try to be as objective as possible.

Follow this series to learn more. See you soon!

Amped Has a Chat With Jeffrey D., a Video Expert From a Canadian Private Company

Jeff is a forensic video analyst working for a private company in Canada. He’s a totally enthusiastic user and when I invited him for an interview, he was very excited to be featured. Due to the company policy on testimonials, we had to remove a few details from the public version of the interview. But here we go anyways!

Martino Jerian, Amped Software CEO and Founder

Tell us a bit about yourself. What is your background and your current role at your company?

My name is Jeffrey D., and I just want to mention I am honored to be chosen for an Amped User Interview, thank you to Martino and the team! I began my career six years ago as a media technician. I am primarily responsible for preparing and wrapping over 100 private investigations with video footage (obtained in the field) for potential legal disputes within the Ontario insurance industry (Canada). This amazing experience has led me down the rabbit hole, which I am still currently going down, and threw me into the Wild West of digital forensics.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I think the most rewarding part of my job is ultimately what I have always wanted to do which is help people. Forensic video analysis needs advocates within numerous fields to help validate and ensure the integrity of the digital evidence that is being used daily by judicial systems worldwide to aid them in discovering the factual truth in criminal and civil court proceedings. 

What was it that first sparked your interest in the field of image and video forensics?

The very first software suite I discovered that geared toward this specialty field was Amped FIVE, and I was blown away by the cutting-edge techniques and processes it offered. Its ability to allow you to quickly triage files and access multiple programs within its interface would and has been essential to my daily workflow. I also just want to mention that I loved the GUI. It resembles a more traditional non-linear editing program interface which is more appealing to the traditionalist in me.  Our company began offering some services based on techniques and processes as set out by the SWGDE. It has allowed me to meet some amazing friends, mentors, and clients. I have learned to adopt techniques such as Optical Distortion correction, Frame Averaging, and macroblocks analysis. The list of the services that can help our client’s combat fraud within the insurance industry goes on. It’s all about educating and discovering applications.

Why did you choose Amped software products rather than other solutions?

I chose Amped FIVE rather than other solutions because of its reputation within the digital forensic field and the ability to use Single View Metrology for photogrammetry files. I also really liked some of the restoration filters that other solutions just don’t offer (Temporal Smoothing, Motion Smoothing, etc). The one-time payment option is fantastic if budgets permits and the world-class updates and support also contributed to the overall decision to go with Amped FIVE.

What would you say are the most valuable features in Amped FIVE for your investigations? 

I love the fact that my entire workflow can take place within Amped FIVE’s interface. If I receive a propriety CCTV format during the commission of my duties I can copy and verify, complete an advanced file analysis, triage for suitability, restore, colour correct, and configure multiple presentation options to provide amazing digital demonstratives to clients.

How do you think the world of image and video forensics will change over the next few years?

I think we are on the cusp of the transition from the AVCHD compression algorithm to the less compatible HEVC. Once more compatibility is obtained, I believe HEVC will be the preferred method of compression and hopefully, it directly correlates with the results obtained in the field by forensic video analysts everywhere!

We are often told that case backlog is an issue for many video labs, what do you think could be done to assist with this problem?

I feel that locating talent, education, and access to training are imperative going forward as digital evidence is only going to become more prevalent in the future.

What are the most important aspects of training and education for forensic image and video analysts?

I think continuous learning is an essential part of growing and becoming a more resilient examiner. Preparing yourself for the files that may come across your desk and knowing when and where to use a specific process will only increase your confidence in your position.

Finally, what do you do to relax in your free time?

I love spending time with my family (Heather, Sienna, and Aubrey), reading, watching sports, playing video games, playing guitar, camping, etc.

An Interview with Andrew McDonnell from the HM Revenue & Customs of the UK Government

Andy is one of the most respected forensic video analysts in the UK. In this interview, he shares his point of view on forensic video analysis and the industry at large. I want to highlight his very insightful observation about the situation we have been fighting since our beginning: “A widespread fundamental misunderstanding about the complexity of audio-visual forensics work.”
Enjoy the read!

Martino Jerian, Amped Software CEO and Founder

Andrew, tell us a bit about yourself. What is your background and your current role at HM Revenue & Customs?

I’ve been around a long time. My career started in 1983 with military communications engineering in the Royal Air Force where I did seven years, four of which were spent in Germany which I loved.

I then moved into broadcast television where I spent twelve years managing technical teams such as TV camera crews, sound and vision engineers, directors, production assistants, technicians and video editors for a number of companies including ITV, Sky TV and a number of outside broadcast companies. I used to design and build TV studios, galleries, transmission facilities and OB trucks.

Following redundancy from one job I saw a role advertised in the police, managing teams of audio-visual forensic specialists, so that opened up my current career where I’ve spent 16 years in West Yorkshire Police – and I’ve been working with HM Revenue & Customs for two years now.

What made you decide to enter the field of multimedia forensics?

In all honesty, it never occurred to me that such a career existed. Having spent time in the TV world I had no idea that the police used video (and audio, photography and CCTV) in a forensic way.

It was only when I switched career that I realized there was a whole new world of opportunities beyond TV, and I have genuinely never looked back. The big difference is the feeling that you’re doing something worthwhile, using technical skills in a way that makes a difference in society. That sense of civic duty is something I share with many colleagues, and this is why we love what we do.

What would you say are the biggest challenges with video evidence during investigations and when presenting it in court?

In the UK policing world, there are two major challenges. The first, sadly, is financial. Not having budgets to properly train and develop staff, invest in the latest technology, or provide sufficient resources to meet the demands are all very real and difficult problems for police managers.

The second is volumes of data. Video evidence is everywhere these days. From CCTV in public and private spaces, to doorbell cameras, dash-cams and helmet cameras on cyclists, to body-worn video on police and other officials, mobile phone videos from members of the public and social media content. And with image quality continuing to improve, HD and UHD video is resulting in huge demands on data storage and processing.

Since changing jobs, I have found that within HMRC, unlike many in the wider law-enforcement community, there is a genuine desire to invest in staff, provide training and development and provide the tools we need to do our job to a world-class standard.

What would you say are the main forensic challenges surrounding image validation? How can they be addressed?

Keeping up with technology is always a challenge. It always amazes me how every new technology can be very quickly picked up and utilized in criminal ways, often before it becomes mainstream technology. 

In the current climate, social media imagery, for example, is so difficult to validate. With the growth in augmented reality and AI/machine learning capability this is becoming an ever more difficult challenge.

I think the real problems for law enforcement are yet to come and will only be addressed when new tools are developed, which leverage emerging technologies in a different and innovative way.

To achieve this, two things are required:  real and significant investment in audio-visual forensics, and genuine recognition of the problems with a desire to solve them.

In your opinion, how important is it that digital forensic techniques and tools are based on the scientific method?

I think it’s essential. The scientific method not only provides rigor and quality assurance, but it also provides gravitas.

Future investment in crime fighting will come from the need to tackle digital crime: cyber, cyber-enabled, digital forensics, audio-visual forensics, mobile phone work, etc. It’s a growth area. This investment will only happen if the forensic community is seen to be operating in a professional environment and taken seriously.

What are the most important aspects of training and education for forensic image and video analysts?

Any manager of a forensic department must look at what the job involves. What are the tasks that need to be performed, and to what standard? This is the starting point. It enables managers to identify what skills their staff need and to recognize where the training should be delivered to fill any skill gaps.

Training should be based on business needs and on competency requirements. It is critical that the outcome of training is that staff become competent at what they do and this needs to be demonstrated by having training that is independently accredited.

We cannot produce a set of validation tests and documents that cover every single possible scenario of how a piece of media might be handled in a forensic workflow.

But we can give the practitioners the tools and knowledge they need to make informed and professional decisions. That way we can trust they will make good judgment decisions based on sound rationale and be confident they have approached each task correctly.

How do you think the world of image and video forensics will change over the next few years?

There will be more video of higher quality which will need to be managed, stored, processed, and presented without adding delays to the workflows. Processing and analyzing big data will continue to be a growing challenge. CCTV image quality will improve bringing great opportunities to make the best use of forensic tools.

I can see facial recognition being a big new area for us. I am optimistic that audio-visual forensics will be taken more seriously as forensic science and will become mainstream.

Recently there have been a few changes in the UK landscape. Digital Evidence Management Systems (DEMS) are being implemented in several forces and the new version of Digital Imaging and Multimedia Procedure (v.3.0) has been published. What challenges does this pose to the use of video evidence, especially in relation to CCTV? How does this affect our daily work with video evidence?

It has always been the case that video/CCTV evidence arrives in many formats. Once under the control of law enforcement, the chain of evidence must begin, and the integrity of the evidence must be maintained. This is true for all evidence, be that a knife, fingerprint lift, or CCTV file.

National guidance for video evidence states an evidential Master must be created using W.O.R.M. (Write Once, Read Many) media such as CD/DVD data disk or a secure server. If another copy of that video is required, a Working Copy can be produced. It is important that the Working Copy remains forensically the same as the Master, bit for bit.

If I alter the nature or content of that file (such as creating a shortened clip of the video, creating a still image from one of the video frames, enhancing the video, or converting it to a different file format) I now have a product which is different. This is not a Working Copy, it is a new derivative, which must be defined as a new Master. That’s the fundamental basic rule.

Now, with that in mind, let’s look at – a scenario. If I take a proprietary CCTV file (.dat as an example) and upload that to a police Digital Evidence Management System (DEMS), I would expect the DEMS to hold a Master copy of the .dat file (and perhaps a Working Copy of it).

A smart DEMS would also recognise the .dat format and transcode it to a playable .mp4 file which can then be viewed in a common video playback app such as Windows Media Player. In doing so it would have created a new Master (the MP4 file is significantly different from the .dat file, so is a new Master). This is also true of practitioners who transcode the video – they should understand that they have changed the content of the file and have now created a new Master.

The problem is that many DEMS systems and many practitioners will transcode the file to create a playable format but store it as a Working Copy of the original, rather than a new Master.

This happens because there is a widespread fundamental misunderstanding about the complexity of audio-visual forensics work. If we are to avoid legal challenges in court the integrity and authenticity of our evidence must be secure. System manufacturers and senior decision makers in this field need to understand the technical challenges, or at least take advice from the technical experts.

How did you learn about Amped Software?

While contributing to a UK national CCTV steering group we recognized that there was no “standard” for AV training.

With the emergence of ISO 17025, we recognized that we needed to set the framework for training and competency. This led me and others to develop the national CCTV competency framework and, as a result, identifying training providers who could deliver high quality training to UK practitioners.

This in turn led me to Amped FIVE as a tool that could provide what we needed in terms of forensic processing and analysis of video files.

Why did you choose Amped Software products?

We use a wide range of tools, depending on the nature of the task at hand.  What we do like about Amped FIVE and Amped DVRConv is the close-knit community that exists around them.  

There is a strong professional community that shares ideas, suggestions, methods and generally helps each other out. The company is also keen to evolve and develop and in doing so really does listen to its users and takes on board their requirements and ideas for development.

Do you have any interesting stories or success cases related to Amped Software products?

We often find that we can pose a question about a particular CCTV file format (as we know there are over 3,500 CCTV systems in the UK marketplace and that number increases weekly).

Usually, in a very short timeframe, we receive a response back which is either “we’ve had that before, try this solution…” or “send us some details and a sanitized image and we’ll reverse-engineer”.

When you are not busy looking at digital evidence, what do you like doing in your spare time? 

I love walking in the hills around Yorkshire (we have five national parks close by) with friends. I also enjoy taking my wife and children on cycling trips. Other than that, depending on the amount of time available I enjoy reading biographies, cinema, restaurants, international travel, photography, and single malt whisky.

 

Announcing Subscriptions and Bundles for all Products

We have exciting news regarding product licensing.

As of today, all our software products are available with an annual subscription license, as an alternative to the perpetual licensing we’ve always had. 

Different organizations have different needs, budget availability, and purchasing processes, so we thought that adding another option would be the best way to ease and speed up the acquisition process.

So, how do you choose which model is best for your case? We have prepared a simple comparison chart.

Perpetual LicenseSubscription License
PriceHigher initial cost
Lower annual SMS cost (optional)
Fixed cost per year
What happens at expirationThe software continues to work but access to updates and support is lostThe software stops working
What happens when renewing after the expirationMissing time must be compensatedRestarts from the purchase date

But this is just the beginning. We know that purchasing within government or large organizations is not always as easy as it should be. What are the main issues?

Very often, the end user is not the decision-maker nor actually part of the purchasing process. It’s not always clear what number of licenses are needed months before the purchase would hopefully be finalized, and sometimes not even the products that are needed. And let’s not forget about the difficulties of getting training (especially in some countries), which is an essential part of what we do.

So we created three bundles, which cover typical use cases for our customers in order to help them easily overcome some of these issues.

  • With the Amped Ultimate Team Subscription, you get all our products (Amped Replay, Amped DVRConv, Amped FIVE, Amped Authenticate) and Online Training classes at a fixed and convenient annual price. 
  • With the Amped FIVE Team Subscription, you get 4 seats of Amped FIVE and 2 Online Training seats per year.
  • With the Amped Replay Team Subscription, you get 20 seats of Amped Replay and a private Online Training session for up to 10 investigators, every year.

These bundles do not only simplify your choices but offer huge savings over single licenses and training classes.

Interested? Check out our bundles page or contact us for more information or to receive a quote.

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!