Unreliability of Eye Witnesses

Some jurisdictions allow expert testimony about the unreliable nature of eye witness testimony.  One example is Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Benjamin Walker, No. 28 EAP 2011-Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

I recommend that anyone interested in this subject read The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us which is about attention, perception, memory, reasoning, and how they can cause problems in eye witness testimony.

Another book to read is Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption which is about a man falsely accused of rape by a woman who said that she memorized certain characteristics about her attacker so she “wouldn’t forget”.

When things get complex

Advangle helps you build complex web-search queries in Google and Bing.

You can quickly build a query with multiple parameters (such as the ‘domain’, ‘language’ or ‘date published’) and immediately see the result of this query in Google or Bing search engines. Any condition in a query can be temporarily disabled without removing it to allow you to try several combinations of different conditions and choose the one that works best.

Turn Your PC into an iPhone

Some web sites cannot be viewed properly using Firefox. Sometimes it is an old site that requires MS Internet Explorer (IE) or it may be a site designed for mobile devices.

The User Agent Switcher extension adds a menu and a toolbar button to switch the user agent of a browser. It allows you to chose from three versions of IE or an iPhone. Selecting the iPhone user agent often reveals additional  functionality on the site. The extension is available for Firefox and will run on any platform that this browser supports including Windows, OS X and Linux.

The Internet Profile & Identity

In the industrialized countries, a person’s Internet profile is given far too much credence. If you become involved in Investigative Internet Research, then you must combine the Internet profile you develop with authoritative public records and content from a variety of database aggregators.

This is of critical importance as more than one person often uses the same screen name or a screen name may be used maliciously. The more data you collect, the more likely that you will attribute some data to the wrong person.

Mapping a person’s identity is nothing more than comparing gender, race, location, religion, friends, family, car, pictures, etc. to what you know about the subject and what you find in a variety of sources. This ensures that all the data is consistent and relates to only one person. It will also identify inconsistencies in the collected data, which you may choose to investigate. The identifiers are the subject’s name, along with age, gender, race, employer, location, religion, friends, family, car, pictures, etc..

Finding a Secure Workspace

Recently, when working at a client sites, I’ve taken to occasionally using Windows to Go. This is Microsoft’s little-used secure workspace feature for Windows. It allows you to boot into a secure workspace located entirely on a USB key. This enables you to use Windows without relying on the operating system, applications, or storage on the host device. It creates a secure workspace on any machine that can boot from a USB drive without trusting the host machine. I have even devised a way to use a Virtual Machine (VM) in this workspace. Because the workspace doesn’t rely on the host operating system, the workspace on the USB drive isn’t at risk of compromise from a host machine and the VM protects the USB workspace. This saves me from constant use of my ‘Safe Mode on steroids’ or reinstalling Windows from a drive image on a client’s machine. However, it is too slow and requires too much effort to maintain. A similar live Linux USB seems to offer faster performance and it is easier to maintain the VM.

Defence Against the Dark Arts

I wander through the nether regions of the Internet and Dark Net looking for data to support my clients’ causes. This exposes me to severe risks from the nasty creativity of Beelzebub’s demonic gangsters and hackers.

It seems that a Windows system only lasts about 1/2 hour before getting infected without some form of anti-virus (AV). I regularly boot a clean live Linux USB, and then scan for viruses. This is like Safe Mode on steroids. In most instances, I find something malicious missed by the typical AV programs. However, this is only a temporary measure.

I am migrating to Linux for Investigative Internet Research because very little Linux malware exists in the wild. I only need AV on the Linux file server (or an email server if I had one). I do this because an infected Windows computer may upload infected files or an uninfected one might access infected files on the Linux machine, which then allows it to infect other Windows systems. AV on the file server isn’t protecting the Linux system–it’s protecting the Windows computers from themselves. I recommend the paid version of ESET Antivirus and Security Software as it doesn’t try to upsell you on other services.

The Old YouTube Scrape Trick

The Old YouTube Scrape Trick

Don’t be fooled by the old YouTube scrape trick. A scrape is an old video downloaded from YouTube which is then presented as a new and original eyewitness account of a different event.

Defeating The Old YouTube Scrape Trick

Amnesty International provides a handy tool called YouTube DataViewer.  Enter the video’s URL and it will extract the clip’s upload time and all associated thumbnail images. This data isn’t readily accessible via YouTube, however, this two-pronged approach allows you to identify the earliest upload, which is probably the original version.  Conducting a reverse search on the thumbnails often uncovers web pages containing the original version of the video along with other uses of it.

Disk Encryption

TrueCrypt, the ultimate encryption freeware, abruptly announced that the software is no longer secure after Microsoft ended support for Windows XP. It was the most popular application of its type and it was widely to communicate securely and encrypt sensitive files or folders. Currently, the TrueCrypt home page advocates moving to Microsoft BitLocker.

Unfortunately, in the Windows 10 Home edition, the full-disk BitLocker encryption must use a Microsoft account and the recovery key needed to decrypt your drive resides on Microsoft’s servers. With this arrangement, theoretically, a third party could decrypt your drives remotely. However, Windows 10 Pro doesn’t have this restriction: you can use BitLocker with a local account and keep your key out of the cloud.

Under such circumstances, users should stay away from both TrueCrypt and BitLocker and shift to some other free file encryption software.

Veracrypt entered market within months after Truecrypt died and seems to be the best of the alternatives. There are other free TrueCrypt alternatives like AESCrypt, FreeOTFE, and DiskCryptor. Here are the download sites for the alternatives:

Finding Free, Forgotten, and Orphaned Sites

I often go looking for simple sites created by the subject of an investigation. These simple or forgotten sites often appear at universities, at ISPs that offer free web space, and on free web space servers.

Did you know that Google Drive has always offered to host basic web sites for free. This will continue until August 31st, 2016. Google Sites will continue, but these sites cost a bit of money to operate.

Others, like GitHub, offer a very similar service. Amazon’s S3 cloud storage service offers static web pages for free. Occasionally, I find sites that use Dropbox to host files used or accessed by a free web site. Sometimes I find a domain that forwards to files hosted on Dropbox. Dropbox isn’t the only service that can be used to offer a static web page.

To understand how this is done read How I moved my blog to Dropbox and How I moved my websites to Dropbox and GitHub.

Ashley Madison Hack

The Ashley Madison hack has a lot of people running around like a bunch of headless chickens. The simple fact is, you cannot trust this data. Let me explain why this data must be treated with extreme caution.

Registration was free but you needed to buy credits to contact other members. Stolen credit card numbers appear in the data. Nobody has verified the number of real and active accounts. The website would allow new accounts to be set up without confirming the email, therefore, anyone could open an account using someone else’s name and email address as a prank or out of malice, and of course, the hackers could add names to the list before publishing it. This type of malicious prank is truly viscious in the 79 countries where homosexuality is illegal. For example, in Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the punishment for homosexuality is death.

Here are my favorite headless chicken searches:


OPSEC & Social Network Sites


An investigator can use LinkedIn, Facebook, and other sites to build a profile of someone’s personal and work life, but like so many things in life, this is both good and bad. What might happen if it is done to your business’s employees? How might this hurt your company? Most businesses do not think about this and if they do, they usually consider key executives to be most at risk. This is entirely wrong!

Operational security (OPSEC) is the lens through which to view this risk. View each employee in terms of what he knows and to what he has access. This will change your entire outlook.

The janitor has keys and is in the building alone. Security guards possess sensitive information. The secretary to the VP of Marketing knows when you will launch a new product. Are you starting to get the picture? This leaves the problem of how to analyse the content of sites like LinkedIn and Facebook.


For example, Facebook identifies your friends and family, and where they live. It knows your likes and dislikes. It knows your travel destinations. It knows posting habits and posts to which you will respond. All of this creates an OPSEC nightmare.

The Wolfram Alpha Facebook Report lets you see what information Facebook knows about you and your friends. It yields easy-to-understand charts, tables, and graphs in a personalized report.

This needs the account holder to log into Facebook before it will run, however, this will not stop an industrial spy, foreign agent, gangster, or terrorist. In certain dark corners of the Internet, hacking a social media account will cost about $350. Changing the privacy settings is a meagre deterrent. With the hacked account and the Wolfram Alpha Facebook Report, the crook or spy has everything he needs to plan the compromise of an employee.

LinkedIn & Spies

Using LinkedIn, researchers found the personal details of 27,000 intelligence officers that the researchers say are working on surveillance programs. They compiled the records into the ICWatch database, which is searchable by company, title, name, and location.

What might a skilled researcher find regarding your employees?


The biggest part of dealing with this OPSEC risk is recognising that it exists. The rest of the solution involves a combination of strict social media policies, non-disclosure agreements, conditions of employment, and employment contracts coupled with employee indoctrination and training.

Damnable Hyperlinks–Part II

In my last article on this topic, I asked the following questions:

  • Should you include a warning about following links in your reports?
  • Should you include a warning about visiting URLs in reports?
  • Should you remove the links?

My answer is yes to all these questions. The content at the linked sites may not only change–it might plant malicious code on any computers used to visit it. This is more common than most private investigators recognise or admit. My research computers are almost immune to this but most other people do not go to the extremes that I do to avoid malicious code.

I do not like sending Word documents to clients. I much prefer sending PDF files. Unfortunately, much of my work is part of larger projects and the Word file allows a client to incorporate my work into other documents.

Sending Word documents has many risks but doing so is unavoidable in many cases. This leaves the investigator in a tight spot if he does not warn the recipient about the risks associated with visiting the links in the report. In addition to written warnings at the start of all reports, I now remove all links using Ctrl+Shift+F9. After being duly warned, to go to his doom, the reader must do more than just click a link.

I now include the following warning under the heading of Security Warning.

Warning about visiting reported links and URLs

All Universal Resource Locators (URL) or hyperlinks (links) cited in this report only report where we found data. We do not attest to the safety or security of any internet site or URL. Nor do we evaluate the security implications of visiting any URL.

Do not visit any cited URL or link without understanding the security risk of doing so. We only report the content associated with links, URLs, and Internet sites. You may compromise the security of your computer system and network by visiting URLs or links in this report.

If I recognise a site as an attack site or one that includes dubious code, I do report it, however, I have never had a request from a client that we evaluate the security risks of the sites from which I collect data. If I received such a request, I would turn away the job, as I do not have the expert staff to perform such complicated work.

Self-Destructing Cookies

Maintaining privacy during online research is as important as avoiding malicious code. Privacy begins with properly configuring the browser and installing the best oddons (for Firefox) such as HTTPS Everywhere and Self-Destructing Cookies (SDC).

SDC establishes a new cookie policy within your browser. It automatically removes cookies when an open browser tab no longer uses them. With this installed, cookies only identify you while you actually use them and they cannot stalk you across the entire web. It detects tracking cookies by their behaviour and removes them immediately—it doesn’t use a blacklist. SDC complements blacklist-based solutions such as Adblock and Ghostery. It also allows you to whitelist cookies from sites that you trust. Just remember, SDC’s whitelist is stored in site preferences. If you want to keep the whitelist from session to session, you must adjust your settings if you selected Clear History when Firefox closes. SDC does not work at all in private browsing mode.

This is a moderately complicated addon that requires the user to understand browser settings and how the browser handles cookies. Reading the addon documentation is required.


Normally, I don’t use different browser profiles because I might confuse profiles and make a mistake. ProfileSwitcher might change that.

This extension makes it easier to use different profiles in Firefox and Thunderbird. I have installed it successfully in Firefox and Comodo IceDragon, which is based on Firefox.

It adds two items to the File menu to start another profile or the profile manager. From the extension’s preferences, you can choose what to do when you launch another profile. It allows you to choose to close the profile in use or not and if you choose to run the profile manager in safe-mode, the current profile will be always closed. In the options, I set it to display the current profile in the status bar. This allows easier control over the profiles than using the clumsy process offered in Firefox.

On my dedicated research computers, this seems to work quite well. It works in a Virtual Machine (VM) and closing the profile running Hola seems to stop Hola in its tracks.