January 31, 2006 10:56 AM PST

Smoking out photo hoaxes with software

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Dartmouth College professor Hany Farid is no fan of Josef Stalin, but he acknowledges that the photo retouching done during the Soviet era was top notch.

"That was impressive work. I've seen some of the originals," Farid said. The Soviets just didn't airbrush their victims out, he added. They painted in new backgrounds on the negatives.

Farid's interest in photo retouching isn't just historical. The professor of computer science and applied mathematics runs the university's Image Science Group, which has emerged as one of the chief research centers in the U.S. for developing software to detect manipulation in digital photographs.

Photo hoaxes

While some of the group's software is now used by the FBI and large media organizations such as Reuters, a version written in Java will come out soon that will be easier to use and thereby allow more police and media organizations to sniff out fraud. The current software is written in Matlab, a numerical computing environment.

"I hope to have a beta out in the next six months," Farid said. "Right now, you need someone who is reasonably well-trained to use it."

Photo manipulation is a lot more common than you might think, according to L. Frank Kenney, an analyst at Gartner. That Newsweek cover of Martha Stewart on her release from prison? It's Martha's head, but a model's body. Some people believe hip hop artist Tupac Shakur remains alive, in part because of the images that have cropped up since his reported death in 1996.

Although it's difficult to estimate the size of the market for fraud detection tools, the demand is substantial, according to Kenney.

"How much is the presidency of a country worth, or control of a company? People tend not to read the retractions," he said. "Once the stuff is indelibly embedded in your memory, it is tough to get out."

The Journal of Cell Biology, a premier academic journal, estimates that around 25 percent of manuscripts accepted for publication contain at least one image that has been "inappropriately manipulated" and must be resubmitted. That means it has been touched up, although in the vast majority of cases, the author is only trying to clean the background and the changes do not affect the scientific efficacy of the results. Still, around 1 percent of accepted articles contain manipulated images that do significantly affect the results, said executive editor Mike Rossner. Those papers get rejected.

"Our goal is to have an accurate interpretation of data as possible," Rossner said. "These (images) are (of) things like radioactivity detected on a piece of X-ray film."

Law enforcement officials have also had to turn to the software to prosecute child pornographers. In 2002, the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition overturned parts of the Child Pornography Protection Act for being overly broad, ruling that only images of actual minors, and not computer-generated simulations, are illegal.

Since that decision, a common defense has become that the images found on a hard drive are artificially created.

"The burden is now on the prosecution. These cases used to be slam dunks," Farid said.

How it works
Fraud detection software for images essentially searches for photographic anomalies that the human brain ignores or can't detect.

Humans, for instance, ignore lighting irregularities in two-dimensional images. While the direction of light can be re-adjusted in 3D images from video games, it is difficult to harmonize in 2D photographs. The light in the famous doctored photo that puts Sen. John Kerry next to actress Jane Fonda at a protest rally actually comes from two different directions.

"The lighting is off by 40 degrees," Farid said. "We are insensitive to it, but computers detect it."

Although modern researchers have in clinical studies documented humans' ability to filter out lighting incongruities, 15th-century painters were aware of the way humans process images and exploited that knowledge to create seemingly realistic lighting effects that would have been nearly impossible to replicate in real life.

"The lighting is totally bizarre in some Renaissance paintings," he said.

14 comments

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Time/Newsweek?
Who doctored the photo of O.J. Simpson?
Posted by Darwin Hall (36 comments )
Reply Link Flag
everyone knows that......
Furman of course
Posted by petekortum (6 comments )
Link Flag
Time/Newsweek?
Who doctored the photo of O.J. Simpson?
Posted by Darwin Hall (36 comments )
Reply Link Flag
everyone knows that......
Furman of course
Posted by petekortum (6 comments )
Link Flag
Digital pics in court
It makes me wonder how much longer photos will be allowed as
evidence in court. A good digital artist could doctor a photo to
make anything look real
Posted by brikj (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
VeriPic
VeriPic can authenticate photos from the camera level. That's how most police departments protect the chain of custody so they're not stuck defending photos. If you look at the case studies out there, the only departments that ran into trouble didn't have a photo management system that secured and authenticated.
Posted by steelsmith80 (5 comments )
Link Flag
Digital pics in court
It makes me wonder how much longer photos will be allowed as
evidence in court. A good digital artist could doctor a photo to
make anything look real
Posted by brikj (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
VeriPic
VeriPic can authenticate photos from the camera level. That's how most police departments protect the chain of custody so they're not stuck defending photos. If you look at the case studies out there, the only departments that ran into trouble didn't have a photo management system that secured and authenticated.
Posted by steelsmith80 (5 comments )
Link Flag
Photos as evidence in court.
I know that VeriPic makes photo management software that can authenticate photos from the camera level. They are in use mostly in law enforcement for evidence photos. I have worked with the system before and know that the software is in court all the time. I hope that helps. Here is their website: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.veripic.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.veripic.com</a>
Posted by steelsmith80 (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Photos as evidence in court.
I know that VeriPic makes photo management software that can authenticate photos from the camera level. They are in use mostly in law enforcement for evidence photos. I have worked with the system before and know that the software is in court all the time. I hope that helps. Here is their website: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.veripic.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.veripic.com</a>
Posted by steelsmith80 (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I would like to someone to take a look at the bob Dylan album cover "Bringing it all back home " and subject it to the photo software analysis and see if he was pasted in.
I swear i saw one album cover without Dylan in the photograph on it in one of Sally Grossman ( Dylan's managers wife .) relatives house. please post your results. The story in Wikipedia is just too ...
Posted by weldon999 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I would like to someone to take a look at the bob Dylan album cover "Bringing it all back home " and subject it to the photo software analysis and see if he was pasted in.
I swear i saw one album cover without Dylan in the photograph on it in one of Sally Grossman ( Dylan's managers wife .) relatives house. please post your results. The story in Wikipedia is just too ...
Posted by weldon999 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I could do with a little help, I have some photos that have been manipulated by corrupt officers and used in a court case, I have used some programmes on them, For instance jpeg snoop tells me meta data the date on them is 9 years after they were allegedly taken, It tells me that they have been on 2 computers, Intel little computer apple computer and also been on digital photo professional and save as adobe photo shop. I wonder if anyone can help or give me some tips. Fighting the system is very hard without help in this matter.

Regards John
Posted by johny2468 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
When I was a kid we at school use to have debate competition on whether science is good or bad and in all the debate the same conclusion use to come out that the science is always for good but the person using it needs to have good intention like in this case a person can do some touches to his pic for some fun but at the same time if same software is used by a criminal to harm someone in any mean that become bad. There are a few software in the market which can be used to do funny editing to your but then it should be used for good purposes only.
http://popnoggins.com/
Posted by Andrews_Smith (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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