Image forensics firm NetClean Technologies has come up with a way to use its world-renowned child porn image-fingerprinting technology to help police document and investigate images and videos connected to a much wider range of crimes.

In development for several years and supplied pro bono, Analyze Digital Investigator (DI) 14.1 is a response to the fact that police forces are now drowning in image evidence from a huge number of sources, including computers, smartphones, CCTV, digital cameras and websites, much of which holds clues to criminal incidents.

Currently, investigators collect and analyse these images in a labour-intensive way, sometimes using archiving systems that vary from force to force. DI 14.1 can use EXIF data embedded when the pictures were taken, categorising images across a range of sources and geo-locations for hidden patterns that might otherwise be impossible to spot.

In essence, then, DI 14.1 is a tool that automates the collection and ordering of images, making it possible to relate sometimes complicated webs of imagery to one another. For instance, the Social Media Identifier tool can connect social media identities such as Twitter, Facebook and Flickr to the trail of images they leave.

“The proliferation of smartphones and digital cameras means that the number of illegal images and videos under investigation has soared,” said NetClean’s  Analyze product manager, Johann Hofmann.

“In addition to increased digital forensic data on devices, hard drives and online accounts, there is now an unprecedented amount of citizen-captured evidence that police have to process alongside that from other established sources. This volume of images, videos and accompanying metadata is simply too much for police officers to handle effectively without new tools.”

Good examples of events where police forces might have struggled with the sheer volume of image evidence were the Boston bombings of 2013 and the riots in London in 2011, he said.

The update also supported established forensic software in use by police forces such as the E01 file format used in EnCase Forensic, Gudance Software’s industry standard suite. That made it possible to important these files for analysis.

“The expansion into other crime types was fuelled by our law enforcement partners asking if this technology could be applied to other investigations they were working on. They wanted this for everything from terrorism to drug trafficking, helping them to identify links and patterns in a whole range of visual evidence,” said Hoffman.

The DI tool was a way for police forces to process far greater numbers of images, ordering these for long-term collection. Given that police forces now often have to collaborate to solve cross-border crimes, a second advantage is that the tool could allow better collaboration within legal constraints over evidence.

The firm made its name in the cataloguing and fingerprinting of child porn by comparing any discovered image to a huge database of such files. The system is now used by police forces in 15 countries.