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Can you tell if a picture is fake?

Click to see full image.

Click to see full image.

Internet is already full of digital images and more is added every day. Digital pictures have become a cheap way for journalists to tell a story and ordinary people upload tons of them to social media. It’s quicker and easier to snap a shot and upload than to describe where you are and what the place looks like.

Photographs have always been seen as some kind of proof. Like a captured piece of reality. We are however aware of the fact that photographs can be manipulated. Digital image processing has revolutionized this area and brought amazing new techniques to us. But image manipulation has actually been a known technique since photography was invented. It is amazing to see what a skilled person can do to traditional images in the darkroom. Not to mention the fact that you can lie a lot just by taking the picture in a certain way.

This article is about our relationship to the digital images on the net. There’s a lot of manipulated pictures out there, but are you able to recognize a fake? And are you even alert and aware that the picture may not be the full truth? We are all confronted with many pictures a day that aren’t completely real. Objects may be added or removed, or heavy retouching has been used to make models look better. Here’s some concrete hints about how to tell the fakes from the real ones.

  • In what context is the picture presented? Image manipulation is the norm in some contexts, like product and fashion photography, and some kinds of artistic photo. News agencies and nature photographers on the other hand have strict ethical rules against manipulation. First think about if manipulation is to be expected and if it should be accepted. Does it matter if the photo isn’t real?
  • Is the image realistic overall? Some manipulated images are so surrealistic that you can dismiss them as unreal at once, even if they are very well done technically. Ask yourself; can this be real? See the illustration to this article for an example.
  • Do you have access to several shots from the same scene? Are there discrepancies between them?
  • Are light and shadows similar between objects in the picture? Pay attention to which side is lighter, how hard the light seem to be and how the objects cast shadows. Needless to say, objects close to each other get the same light in real life. If they are illuminated differently, they may originate from different photos. Also pay attention to the environment. From what direction is the light supposed to come?
  • Is the perspective right? Getting this right is always a challenge when combining objects from different pictures. Just look at the shot and trust your gut feeling. Pictures with minor perspective errors do often feel wrong even if you can’t tell what the problem is.
  • Does the objects’ edges look right? A lot of work may go into the edges when putting something in front of a new background. They often give away the fake if they are done sloppily or with lacking skills. Pay special attention to people’s hair as that is hard to mask.
  • Image manipulation often requires filling areas to replace removed objects. Patterns that repeat in an unnatural way is a sure sign of sloppy cloning. Cloning can also be used to multiply an object, but several identical object do rarely look exactly identical in a real photo due to differences in perspective and lighting. It’s fishy if they look identical in a picture.
  • Is the color consistent? Do different parts of a human’s body have the same skin color? An object’s apparent color depends very much of the illumination’s color temperature. Do the different objects have a consistent color cast?
  • All digital capture devices leave some kind of structure in the picture. Most notable is the noise produced by digital cameras. You can check that this structure is constant over the whole picture if you have access to a fairly hi-resolution image. It’s futile to try this on small images from on-line news sites.
  • Metadata is data hidden inside the image files. One important piece of data is the software used to save the file. A camera model name would indicate no manipulation at all. Workflow programs like Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture are typically used to do moderate adjustments of images, but no real manipulation. The image may be heavily manipulated if it is saved by Photoshop. But this does on the other hand prove nothing as you can do minor adjustments is Photoshop too. Also remember that this data may be lacking or even forged.
  • Even if a picture is totally genuine, it may be misleading if presented in the wrong context. Like someone using a picture of somebody else for a dating site profile. Here Google Image search comes in handy. Click on the camera to the right in the search field to open “Search by image”. Upload a copy of the image or paste in a link to it on the net. Google will search for images that look the same regardless of what context they are published in. This can often reveal that the image was found on the net rather than taken by someone who has posted it as his own.

That’s a quick list of things that help you spot the fakes. Using these hints require some training, but you will soon start seeing the manipulations if you keep them in mind when looking at images. But is it possible to make a perfect fake that is undetectable? Yes, especially if a skilled artist can work on a high resolution image and the result is scaled down to be published on the web. That down-sampling can hide the signs of manipulation effectively and make the fake practically undetectable for laymen. Scientific analysis methods are more capable, but they are not available to us mortals. And they may also fail to detect good fakes.

So the moral of the story is really that a photo shouldn’t be trusted too much unless its background is known and we know what ethical principles the photographer and publisher adhere to. News agencies typically pay attention to this and promise us authentic news pictures. These pictures are typically trustworthy, even if scandals do occur.

Safe surfing,Micke

PS. This funny video is one of my favorites on YouTube.

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graveyard, RIP Flash, Is Flash dead

RIP Flash? Has Chrome signed Flash’s death warrant?

The first day of September may go down in internet security history -- and not just because it's the day when F-Secure Labs announced that its blog, which was the first antivirus industry blog ever, has moved to a new home. It's also the day that Google's Chrome began blocking flash ads from immediately loading, with the goal of moving advertisers to develop their creative in HTML5. Google is joining Amazon, whose complete rejection of Flash ads also begins on September 1. "This is a very good move on Amazon’s part and hopefully other companies will follow suit sooner than later," F-Secure Security Advisor Sean Sullivan wrote in August when Amazon made its announcement. "Flash-based ads are now an all-too-common security risk. Everybody will be better off without them." Last month, Adobe issued its 12th update in 2015 for the software addressing security and stability concerns. An estimated 90 percent of rich media ads are delivered through Flash. Having the world's largest online retailer reject your ad format is a significant nudge away from the plugin. But it would be difficult to overstate the impact of Chrome actively encouraging developers to drop Flash. About 1 out of every 2 people, 51.74 percent, who access the internet through a desktop browser do it via Chrome, according to StatCounter. This makes it the world's most popular web interface by far.   Facebook's Chief Security Officer has also recently called for the end of Flash and YouTube moved away from the format by default in January. “Newer technologies are available and becoming more popular anyway, so it would really be worth the effort to just speed up the adoption of newer, more secure technologies, and stop using Flash completely," F-Secure Senior Researcher Timo Hirvonen told our Business Insider blog. So what's keeping Flash alive? Massive adoption and advertisers. “Everyone in every agency’s creative department grew up using Adobe’s creative suite, so agencies still have deep benches of people who specialize in this,”Media Kitchen managing partner Josh Engroff told Digiday. “Moving away from it means new training and calibration.” And Flash does have some advantages over the format that seems fated to replace it. "HTML5 ads may be more beautiful, and are perceived to be more secure, but the files can be a lot larger than Flash," Business Insider's Laura O'Reilly wrote. In markets, stability can breed instability and it seems that our familiarity and reliance on Flash has resulted in unnecessary insecurity for our data. Has Flash hit its moment when its dominance rapidly evaporates? We'll soon see. Cheers, Sandra [Image by Sean MacEntee | Flickr]    

September 1, 2015
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Only 10% protected – Interesting study on travelers’ security habits

Kaisu who is working for us is also studying tourism. Her paper on knowledge of and behavior related to information security amongst young travelers was released in May, and is very interesting reading. The world is getting smaller. We travel more and more, and now we can stay online even when travelling. Using IT-services in unknown environments does however introduce new security risks. Kaisu wanted to find out how aware young travelers are of those risks, and what they do to mitigate them. The study contains many interesting facts. Practically all, 95,7%, are carrying a smartphone when travelling. One third is carrying a laptop and one in four a tablet. The most commonly used apps and services are taking pictures, using social networks, communication apps and e-mail, which all are used by about 90% of the travelers. Surfing the web follows close behind at 72%. But I’m not going to repeat it all here. The full story is in the paper. What I find most interesting is however what the report doesn’t state. Everybody is carrying a smartphone and snapping pictures, using social media, surfing the web and communicating. Doesn’t sound too exotic, right? That’s what we do in our everyday life too, not just when travelling. The study does unfortunately not examine the participants’ behavior at home. But I dare to assume that it is quite similar. And I find that to be one of the most valuable findings. Traveling is no longer preventing us from using IT pretty much as we do in our everyday life. I remember when I was a kid long, long ago. This was even before invention of the cellphone. There used to be announcements on the radio in the summer: “Mr. and Mrs. Müller from Germany traveling by car in Lapland. Please contact your son Hans urgently.” Sounds really weird for us who have Messenger, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Skype installed on our smartphones. There was a time when travelling meant taking a break in your social life. Not anymore. Our social life is today to an increasing extent handled through electronic services. And those services goes with us when travelling, as Kaisu’s study shows. So you have access to the same messaging channels no matter where you are on this small planet. But they all require a data connection, and this is often the main challenge. There are basically two ways to get the data flowing when abroad. You can use data roaming through the cellphone’s ordinary data connection. But that is often too expensive to be feasible, so WiFi offers a good and cheap alternative. Hunting for free WiFi has probably taken the top place on the list of travelers’ concerns, leaving pickpockets and getting burnt in the sun behind. Another conclusion from Kaisu’s study is that travelers have overcome this obstacle, either with data roaming or WiFi. The high usage rates for common services is a clear indication of that. But how do they protect themselves when connecting to exotic networks? About 10% are using a VPN and about 20% say they avoid public WiFi. That leaves us with over 70% who are doing something else, or doing nothing. Some of them are using data roaming, but I’m afraid most of them just use whatever WiFi is available, either ignoring the risks or being totally unaware. That’s not too smart. Connecting to a malicious WiFi network can expose you to eavesdropping, malware attacks, phishing and a handful other nasty tricks. It’s amazing that only 10% of the respondents have found the simple and obvious solution, a VPN. It stands for Virtual Private Network and creates a protected “tunnel” for your data through the potentially harmful free networks. Sounds too nerdy? No, it’s really easy. Just check out Freedome. It’s the super-simple way to be among the smart 10%.   Safe surfing, Micke   PS. I recently let go of my old beloved Nokia Lumia. Why? Mainly because I couldn’t use Freedome on it, and I really want the freedom it gives me while abroad.   Image by Moyan Brenn  

August 24, 2015
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suicide

Forget the personality tests – Ask Facebook instead (Poll)

It’s amazing how advertising can power huge companies. Google has over 57 000 employees and some 66 billion US dollars in revenue. And Facebook with 12 billion and 10 000 employees. These two giants are the best know providers of ad-financed services on the net. And modern advertising is targeted, which means that they must know what the users want to see. Which means that they must know you. Let’s take a closer look at Facebook. We have already written about their advertising preferences and I have been following my data for some time. Part of the data used to target ads is input by yourself, age, gender, hometown, movies you seen etc. But Facebook also analyzes what you do, both in Facebook and on other sites, to find out what you like. It’s obvious how the tracking works inside Facebook itself. Their servers just simply record what links you click. Tracking in the rest of the net is more sinister, it’s described in this earlier post. Your activity record is analyzed and you are assigned to classes of interest, called “Your Ad Preferences” by Facebook. Advertisers can then select classes they want to target, and the ad may be shown to you based on these classes. You can view and manage the list using a page that is fairly well hidden deep in Facebook’s menus. Let’s check your preferences in moment, but first some thoughts about this. Advertising may be annoying, but it is the engine that drives so many “free” services nowadays. So I’m not going to blame Facebook for being ad-financed. I’m not going to blame them for doing targeted ads either. That can in theory be a good thing, you see more relevant ads that potentially can be of value to you. But any targeted ad scheme must be based on data collection, and this is the tricky part. Can we trust Facebook et al. to handle these quite extensive personal profiles and not misuse them for other purposes? It’s also nice that Facebook is somewhat open about this and let you view “Your Ad Preferences” (Note. Not available in all countries.). But that name is really misleading. The name should be “Facebook’s Ad Preferences for You”. Yes, you can view and delete classes, but that gives you a false sense of control. Facebook keeps analyzing what you do and deleted classes will reappear shortly. I made a full clean-up a couple of months ago, but now I have no less than 210 classes of interest again! This is really amazing if you take into account that I block tracking outside of Facebook, so those activities are not contributing. And I have a principle of not clicking ads in any on-line media, including Facebook. And liking commercial pages in a very restrictive manner. But the thing is that Facebook has realized that people dislike ads. “Suggested posts” or “Sponsored posts” are in fact masqueraded ads and any interaction with them will record your interest in the classes they represent. I have to admit that I do click this kind of content regularly. And where did that suicide thing come from? No, I’m fine. I’m not going to jump off a bridge and I’m not worried about any of my dearests’ mental health. I have not interacted with any kind of Facebook content related to suicide. Except that I can’t know that for sure. Facebook tries to give an open and honest image of itself when presenting its Ad Preferences settings and the possibilities to manage them. But this rosy picture is not the full truth. The inner workings of Facebook advertising is in reality a very complex secret system. When you interact with something on Facebook, you have no way of knowing how it affects your profile. Something I have clicked was apparently associated with suicides even if I had no clue about it. Ok, time to take the Facebook personality test. Let’s see what kind of person they think you are. Follow these instructions: Go to Facebook and locate an ad, a “sponsored post” or a “suggested post”. These items should have a cross or a down-arrow in the upper right corner. Click it. Select “Why am I seeing this?” from the pop-up menu. This screen contains some interesting info but proceed to “Manage your ad preferences”. Review the list and come back here to tell us what you think of it. Delete the inappropriate classes. Deleting all may reduce the number of ads you see.   So let’s see what people think about this test’s accuracy:   [polldaddy poll=9023953]   So using Facebook’s Ad Preferences as a personality test may be entertaining, but not very accurate after all. You should probably look elsewhere for a real test. The catch is that you can select what test to take, but not how others collect data about you. Someone else may rely on this test when evaluating you. You have actually granted Facebook the right to share this data with basically anyone. Remember this clause in the agreement that you read and approved before signing up? “We transfer information to vendors, service providers, and other partners who globally support our business, such as providing technical infrastructure services, analyzing how our Services are used, measuring the effectiveness of ads and services, providing customer service, facilitating payments, or conducting academic research and surveys.” You did read it before signing, didn’t you?   Safe surfing, Micke   Image: Screenshot from facebook.com  

August 13, 2015
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