Event Recap: Forensics Europe Expo (FEE) 2023

In what used to be the unusably polluted London docklands lies the ExCeL (Exhibition Centre London). FEE shares a hall with CTX (Counter Terror Expo) in the ExCeL, and accordingly the stands vary between the preventative and the investigative – with bomb disposal robots rubbing shoulders with fingerprinting tools. This particular juxtaposition is noticeable several times during the two days as the London Transport Police stage live demonstrations of an “armed suspect takedown” – with significant levels of shouting – at the same time as other talks are ongoing. Poor David Spreadborough of Amped had to pause mid-talk about Amped software to reassure the audience that the fact that someone was currently being “tazered” was, in fact, a planned occurrence and that we shouldn’t worry. 

Conference Scope

This is a full range forensics event, and, as such, we see a wider variety of “meatspace” services that don’t normally cross into our nice, tidy, blood spatter free digital realm. Eye opening in terms of technological advancement, especially in the terms of optics, with both Sony and Leica (geosystems, rather than cameras) having stands. The Leica stand remains my favourite from last year – not only is their representative Nicolette Beggache wonderfully engaging, articulate, knowledgeable and passionate about their stuff – their equipment for crime scene analysis and reproduction is incredible, and the applications to CCTV and witness testimony analysis by the reconstruction of locations and sight lines is bordering on voodoo![1]

Exhibitions and Talks

Moving away from the physical back to the digital realm, we see the usual suspects – Amped, Belkasoft, Cellebrite, Exterro, Oxygen, Magnet, Sumuri and so on. I’ll be honest, with co-manning the Forensic Focus stand, attempting to listen to a few of the talks given (more on that shortly) and catching up with friends and acquaintances, I didn’t get a whole lot of time to visit each of them for the latest and greatest offerings that they were promoting. I did have an opportunity to speak with Steve Whalen from Sumuri – a personal visit as I wanted a look at Recon Lab for my own use. Steve also gave a good talk on “Mastering macOS Forensics: Unravelling Security Barriers and Decoding Proprietary Artifacts for Impeccable Data Capture and Analysis” (which, let’s face it, is descriptive even though perhaps a little verbose!). One of my friends was thrilled when he opened a terminal during it! I have to say that I think it’s quite a power move to turn up to a show – where the objective of most is clearly to sell their products – and to do a purely technical talk.[2]

I didn’t catch many of the other talks – Prof. Sarah Morris of the University of Southampon was compère for the two days and did a great job of doing so. There’s been an “elephant in the room” in UK forensics that has somewhat overshadowed the event with the upcoming enforcement of ISO17025 lab requirements, and this showed in the talks and the panel discussion on the first day.  There were a couple of representatives from the UK Accreditation Service (UKAS), and I heard Paul Hunter (Senior Assessment Manager, UKAS) speak on the second day on “Accreditation in Forensic Science”. In my humble opinion, this did little to alleviate concerns about the process or how it will be feasible for small businesses. It certainly wasn’t helped by a poor choice of font size and putting white text on a light blue background …

The only other talk that I heard was from David from Amped on “CCTV Investigation and Forensic Video Analysis – Safeguarding cases and protecting staff with science.” This was mostly a whistle stop tour of the Amped history and product suite – a nice run through, no complaints from me, even if I have heard it all before – with a later focus on the new validation tools, which does seem to be a nice touch and is available for free to all existing Amped customers.[3]

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Semantics 21 CSAM Handling Product

Back in the arena, another stand that I visited was that of Semantics 21, where I chatted with Tom Oldroyd about their CSAM handling product. They’re relatively unknown, despite being a pretty significant player in the space, evidenced by their own admission of the number of people asking if they’re new vs. their actual four-year history. We’ll be covering the product in more detail in future with a review and speaking with them on the podcast, so I won’t put too many spoilers in here – what I will tease though is that the product has some very nice, user-friendly features, some interesting machine learning application and is pretty darn quick. Definitely one to watch out for here.

Overall, I would say that the conference seemed more subdued this year. Even the British Transport Police demo mentioned above was only run once on the second day, whereas last year it was run at least twice and drew big crowds on both occasions. The hall was emptying out of visitors and exhibitors well before the closing time on day two. Zoe (my co-rep at UK conferences and keeper of the banners) said it was a lot more lively on the first day, but it still seemed smaller – it was held in a different hall to last year (N12 instead of N2) so it was hard to gauge exactly, but I think overall it was probably only between a half and two-thirds of the floor space occupied in ‘22. Merch seemed more restrained as well – I was hoping to pick up another quality water bottle from Oxygen, but I don’t believe that they had them (although, by the time I got around to going to try and check at the end of the day, they’d left), and apart from the general stress toys (thanks to Avian Cloud for my cloud shaped one – a remarkably firm and satisfying one I must admit), there was little of note.[4] Hopefully the economy will pick up by next year and things will liven up a little!

[1] We hope to get them onto the podcast in the future to discuss their technology and the cross over into the more traditional digital realm.

[2] Steve has also agreed to come and talk on the podcast and talk about Apple forensics platform agnostic – look out for that one in future.

[3] We’ll have Martino on the podcast again soon too …

[4] Forensic Focus has excellent lens cloths, they’re ideal for glasses and camera lenses, are a fetching blue theme and have our URL immediately to hand !

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