This post was syndicated from: The Hacker Factor Blog and was written by: The Hacker Factor Blog. Original post: at The Hacker Factor Blog
For me, 2014 was a serious suck year. Two family deaths and associated family drama, some of my good friends get laid off due to significant cutbacks, and some of my favorite projects came to an end. November just seemed to lose steam and December continued the downward slope. By the time News Years Eve arrived, the entire Internet seemed to come to a stop. No news stories, Digg came to a crawl, people stopped tweeting, and even FotoForensics saw the lowest visitor rate since the site started nearly three years ago.
This slow-growth seems to be creating a “don’t care” attitude. We seem to have more censorship and less anger, less reliable news and more people accepting it, and a growing general lack interest. Another airplane crashed in Asia? It barely received three minutes of news coverage around here. In previous years, they would hype up all of the previous crashes and as they rode the fear wagon. But by the end of 2014? Barely a footnote. You can even see this in the length of news reports by Reuters. Their initial coverage of the recent AirAsia Flight QZ8501 crash is only a few paragraphs. In contrast, their initial report of MH17 goes on for pages.
2014 ended with a lackadaisical respect for traditions. Around here, fewer stores participated in the three-months of Christmas music, and the after-holiday discount aisles (like buying Halloween candy after Halloween) only lasted days instead of weeks. Even some hospitals have stopped celebrating the New Years Baby — even though the new year is typically represented by an old Father Time passing his duties to a Baby New Year.
2015 seems to be starting slowly. But hopefully it will pick up and become more interesting.
Old Acquaintance will be forgot
The New Year has already started with a strong wave of censorship. Sony has escalated from sending “don’t publish anything” threats to sending DMCA takedown notices. WikiLeaks says that their employee’s email has been seized, and China is seriously restricting access to Gmail.
The latest censorship news came out today. News outlets are reporting on widespread government censorship in India. The Indian government has decided to blacklist at least 60 web sites associated with file sharing, picture sharing, and video sharing. The claim is that these sites carry anti-India and pro-ISIS related content.
The list of censored sites includes SourceForge and GitHub (open source code), PasteBin and justpast.it (data sharing), Imgur (pictures), Vimeo (video), and Archive.org (the Internet Archive). Honestly, if they are going to block sites that host significantly less than 1% offensive content, then they should add Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ to their lists. In fact, they should just block anything that starts with “http://”.
This isn’t the first time India has tried to cut off a limb instead of applying a bandage. As The Economic Times mentioned, “In June 2014, the Delhi High Court ordered a block of 472 file sharing websites including Google Docs and Pirate Bay following a complaint filed by Sony Entertainment.”
The Hacker News was quick to point out the irony of this situation, writing, “the contents of the list is particularly embarrassing for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well, who recently unveiled a ‘Make In India’ campaign earlier this year in an attempt to encourage international businesses to invest in India, which also includes information technology sector. And blocking websites like GitHub is the most definitely not in sync with that vision.”
It looks like India is starting the New Year by throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Or as they say in Hindi: Sonay ko kachray ke saath phenk dena! (Thanks to Gibran Ashraf for the translation!)
Yesterday, one of my fourteen loyal readers (Janne), showed me a news photo that came out earlier this year. I had not seen it before now, but apparently it created quite a stir when it first came out. The AFP/Getty photo claims to show a father playing with his child at the beach in Gaza City. Here’s the picture:
Janne pointed out that the error level analysis (ELA) result for this picture really makes it look like the baby was added to the picture.
ELA visually represents the JPEG compression level. In an unaltered original photo, all edges should have similar intensities, all near-uniform colored areas (sky, shirt) should be consistent, and all textures (all water, all rocks) should be similar. Each time a picture is saved, the quality degrades and the ELA result should get darker. (If it is saved too many times, then nothing will stand out but small patches of chromatic noise.) If anything under ELA stands out as being significantly different, then the differences identify a probable alteration.
In this case, the flying baby is bright white, while the rest of the picture is dark. Dark indicates multiple resaves, while white identifies “newer pixels” that have not been saved as many times. The baby appears edited.
At this point, we don’t know if someone selectively sharpened the child or digitally added in the kid. Fortunately, there are additional tools that can be used for evaluating the image. For example, I’ve previously mentioned using color distance as a metric to evaluate blending. A natural photo should have blended edges, while splices do not. Splices typically show up as a single-pixel black line (or a black dashed line). With this picture, the baby definitely has the black line around large sections of his body.
And then there’s the camera lighting (luminance gradient, or LG). This identifies the sensor noise from the camera and differences in lighting direction.
In this case, LG shows that the baby has very sharp edges, while nothing else in the photo is that sharp. This could be due to someone selectively sharpening the picture. Regarding the baby, LG is consistent with the ELA and color distance results.
However, LG is also very good at picking up slight distortions from alterations. For example, LG highlights the clouds that are about the baby’s height. The clouds stretch the entire width of the picture, but are distorted around the child. The clouds even appear broken in the color distance picture — there is a smooth halo around the kid. If the child was digitally placed there, then the artist screwed up the surrounding clouds.
More importantly, there are some subtle distortions in the water, at the horizon, and to the photo-left of the child’s hip. The water distortions are almost shaped like the kid’s legs, and the round shape next to the kid looks like a head. Because they are very subtle, I have drawn in black lines to show these distortion edges:
If we overlay the image, aligning the child’s feet with the distortion, then we can see that the original child was likely no higher than the father’s hands. And this lower height is consistent with another photo taken by the same photographer. In this other photo, the father is only throwing the child a little bit into the air. (Let’s forget the fact that the buildings on the horizon are gone…)
In this case, the flying-baby photo is attributed to AFP Photo / Mahmud Hams. He was a 2008 Pulitzer finalist who captured an equally controversial photo of a missile falling. (Was the missile digitally added? The Jawa Report makes very strong arguments for staged and altered.)
Hasta La Vista, Baby
Personally, I’m glad to see the end of 2014, and it won’t take much for 2015 to be a better year. Ghandi once said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” (At least, that quote is commonly attributed to Ghandi, even though he may not have said it. It’s hard to validate this with all of the censorship in India. In any case…) I’ve decided to take this philosophy to heart this year. I do not want 2015 to be a repeat of 2014, and I’ve already set things in motion. Expect some big announcements in the near future.