In April, Research Examines Reliability, Hybrid Learning, and New Insights on Familiar Names

April’s lineup of scholarly articles continues the conversation around measuring reliability of forensic sciences; revisits the topic of learning and education in the pandemic era; and as always, offers new technical insights, as well as a look at forensic science services in Tanzania, Africa.

Measuring reliability in forensic science

At Synthese, a philosophy journal focusing on contemporary issues in the philosophy of science, Warsaw University of Technology and Gdańsk University’s Michał Sikorski asked: “Is forensic science in crisis?

The paper continues the theme from February and March research (and beyond) by citing a “lack of suitable empirical studies” that could demonstrate the reliability of forensic examination results as a whole. Forensic sciences, Sikorski wrote, are subject to the same kind of replication crisis faced in the field of psychology. Among the factors: questionable research practices, publication bias, or funding biases.

“Only by replicating actual forensic results, can we reliably assess their reliability,” Sikorski wrote, though he additionally acknowledged, “bureaucratic and technical difficulties” in doing so: for instance, nonexistent or classified samples, as well as pushback from judges and prosecutors eager to defend convictions.

Other ways to improve the reliability of forensic science, Sikorski wrote, include:


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  • Transparency
  • Inclusive reliability assessments that “take into account the effects of all methodological problems”
    Reducing methodological flexibility
  • Restricting the effects of external influences such as through the linear sequential unmasking method
  • Changing the incentive structure for research. 

Sikorski also posited that creating a publicly funded “scientific wing” for organizations like the Innocence Project could be in order.

Forensics education technology

Reliability starts, of course, with proper preparation and foundations in forensic science. In November 2020 we featured some research published around education modalities in digital forensics. In April of this year, Rutgers University’s Kimberlee Sue Moran discussed “The web of plenty: Leveraging the abundance of free, on-demand online forensic content” at Science & Justice.

“Existing content can help the educator work smarter, not harder,” Moran wrote, thus her paper started by outlining types of free, on-demand online forensic materials and resources and where they were located. Then, Moran moved on to how instructors could effectively use the content within the framework of remote instruction best practices.

At the University of Lausanne, researchers explored “The potential of digital technologies in problem-based forensic learning activities.” Authors Natalie Kummer, Olivier Delémont, Romain Voisard, and Céline Weyermann described the implementation, value, and limitations of two tools: one, a computer-based simulation of 360° crime scenes, and the other, a communication tool in a structured hybrid online and on-site approach.

Both students and instructors reported more satisfaction with the approach, and researchers further found improved critical thinking as a result of limiting on-site presence  – even though students still expressed their willingness to perform certain tasks on-site and a preference for face-to-face interactions.

Finally, “Using sketchnoting as a revision aid with forensic students” was the topic of research by a team of United Kingdom-based researchers. Helen Tidy, Rachel Burnham, and Sam Elkington examined whether Mike Rohde’s “Sketchnoting” could help first-year forensic science students at Teesside University improve their lecture recall by creating a visual revision aid for their upcoming examination.

The results: students’ lower grade boundaries increased when they used sketchnoting, and they reported high degrees of satisfaction “ with approximately half the class stating they would be using this as a future revision process for exams.” (Readers might recall the same approach we covered at the SANS DFIR Summit in 2019.)

Forensic services in Tanzania

A brief history of forensic services in Tanzania: Current challenges and mitigation efforts” is a review of the history of forensic science in Tanzania. The paper covers the British colonial era through post independent Tanzania, which authors Wilson Jilala and Noel Lwoga wrote struggles with crimes like wildlife poaching and trafficking, rape, acid attacks, and illicit drugs among other challenges.

With regard to digital forensics, Jilala and Lwoga wrote, cyberattacks and their risks have “resulted in a call for a need to establish a strong and robust cyber-forensic section in Tanzania.” The country is well on its way, they added, pointing out: “The only fastest growing forensic area in Tanzania is forensic cyberspace and digital informatics because these fields of studies have been established at the University of Dodoma.”

Technical case studies and other research

At Science & Justice, CCL Forensics’ Matt Tart discussed “Cell site analysis: Changes to networks with time.” Outlining “a case in which there was a significant time gap between the analysis of call data records and the date on which they were generated,” Tart observed that changes to cell service areas based on carrier activity could result in misleading data and needed to be accounted for with regards to cell site data used as evidence.

At DFIR Review, Graeme Horsman and Linda Shou examined and interpreted digital trace evidence found on iOS 13.3 following usage of the TikTok application. “Case Study: Forensic Analysis of TikTok on iOS” addressed TikTok artifacts not been previously addressed by other research papers.

iOS app analysis was also the subject of Kevin Pagano and Alexis Brignoni’s DFIR Review article, “Ain’t That a Kik in the Head: Kik Messenger iOS Analysis.” The authors wanted to find out what kinds of information could be parsed from Kik messages, whether it could be shown if attachments were sent or received, and whether any images were stuck in a pending upload status. Various databases and tables of interest were described, as well as the format in which attachments can be found and their metadata.

Meanwhile, Greg Thornton and Pooneh Bagheri Zadeh, of UK-based Leeds Beckett University, discussed “An investigation into Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) forensics: Data extraction & analysis.” They proposed a new framework to perform a full forensic analysis of small to medium sized commercial drone devices and their controllers, identifying a set of forensic best practices for these devices that “overcomes some limitations of other drone forensics investigation frameworks presented in the literature.”

Finally, a team of researchers in India discussed “FbHash-E: A time and memory efficient version of FbHash similarity hashing algorithm.” Authored by Monika Singh, Anviksha Khunteta, Mohona Ghosh, Donghoon Chang, and Somitra Kumar Sanadhya, the paper not only proposed the titular new tool with its improvements in computational speed and memory footprint, but also ensured its resistance to attack and, through a new consistency test, showed the tool “is more robust and stable against different modifications.”

Reducing carbon footprints for Earth Day

The Leahy Center also recommended, on Earth Day, five ways to reduce or offset online carbon footprints. Done collectively, these infinitesimal behaviors could have a bigger impact:

  1. Try a different browser, or at least, different search engines (such as Ecosia) or extensions (like Ocean Hero) that give back to the environment. These small changes rely on existing behavior to offer passive help.
  2. Other browser extensions, such as Offset Mode, can calculate the digital carbon footprint of everyday activities like browsing, streaming, and downloading data.
  3. Delete old emails to reduce the energy associated with storing and displaying the data; send fewer emails with links instead of large attachments.
  4. Upgrade technology less often to “encourage a reduction in the amount of tech being produced, transported, and wasted.”
  5. Support alternative, renewable energy resources, such as solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal power, and their value to “every level of the supply chain.”
Christa Miller is a Content Manager at Forensic Focus. She specializes in writing about technology and criminal justice, with particular interest in issues related to digital evidence and cyber law.

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