Campus Vesta, the training centre for emergency services personnel in Ranst in Antwerp province, has developed a training module around osTriage, a software tool developed by the FBI.
osTriage (os as in operating system) is intended for use on computer confiscated from suspects in cases of sexual abuse of children. It is able to scan an entire hard disk in seconds and reveal documents of the sort investigators are looking for, such as images of children.
In cases of child pornography, such images are often disguised by being made to appear like files of a different sort, or encrypted by using even more sophisticated steganography, where, for example, a photograph can be stored inside a text file and remain unable to be detected by the naked eye.
The software tool ignores the ways the human searcher can be fooled, and looks only for the essential characteristics of an image. Of course, not all objects found will be illegal, but those that have been tampered with or disguised will show up, and are most likely to be illegal.
The author of the software, former FBI Special Agent Eric Zimmerman, explained on the website forensicfocus.com. “Put very simply, osTriage is a live response and triage tool that I wrote. It provides more information to investigators in a few minutes than most full forensic reports include after months of waiting. It is currently in use by thousands of people in over 45 countries.”
“Training such as osTriage fits in perfectly with our school’s mission: to contribute to safety in our society through training courses,” said project coordinator Steven Goris of Campus Vesta. “Moreover, this type of training focuses on an extremely vulnerable group, namely children.”
Chief inspector Tim Van Eester of the Antwerp police gives training in osTriage.
“In the past, a computer was confiscated and it often took more than a year for forensic investigators to put all the puzzle pieces together. Using this tool means a difference between day and night for the research.”
Time, experts say, is of the essence in such investigations, so that networks can be broken up and vulnerable children removed from danger. Meanwhile Zimmerman has produced an updated version of his software, which can not only search a suspect’s computer and connected storage, but also go in search of connections in the cloud.
The extent of the problem was highlighted at the end of April when Child Focus said reports of child abuse online had more than doubled during lockdown, with the use of compromising photos to blackmail children had increased threefold.