March 12, 2010

Bowdoin students help fight child porn


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Staff photo by Andy Molloy CODE BUSTER: Law enforcement agencies around the globe are utilizing a software program Maine State Police Sgt. Glenn Lang developed with a Bowdoin College student. The software tracks video snippets pedophiles download. Lang supervises the Maine Computer Crimes Task Force located in Sidney.

Kennebec Journal

VASSALBORO — Three Bowdoin College seniors have helped arm state police and investigators nationally and internationally with an improved sleuthing tool in the war against child pornography.

A computer program written last fall by Nick Dunn, of Berwick; Tucker Hermans, of Temple, Texas; and Jeremy Fishman, of Westport, Conn. -- all computer science majors at Bowdoin -- recovers deleted child-pornography videos from computer hard drives.

The students responded to a request for programming help from Maine State Police Sgt. Glenn Lang, supervisor of the computer crimes unit.

''We didn't have any practical way to retrieve contraband until we had this technique,'' Lang said.

''I spelled out in Technicolor what I needed this program to do. And they made it do it.''

Dunn responded immediately to a query from Lang which was sent via Stephen M. Majercik, associate professor and chair of Bowdoin's computer science department.

''The first version was done in four days,'' Dunn said. ''Then I implemented new features at his request.''

The program searches for key words harvested from about 8,000 child-pornography videos currently circulating, Lang said.

He said the evidence recovered bolsters cases in which investigators may have confessions from suspects but no evidence.

''If you've got a case where they've deleted or reinstalled the operating system on the hard drive, this is the only practical way to recover the deleted video,'' Lang said.

''Without evidence, you can't prosecute.''

He said the new tool is used when police are investigating suspected pedophiles, those who prey on young victims age 1 month to 10 years.

''That's a very bad guy who needs to be charged so the world knows what this guy is,'' Lang said.

The new forensic software is winning rave reviews from police across the United States.

''Your keywords and directions worked like a charm,'' wrote Laura Taylor, computer crime analyst with the Pennsylvania State Police.

''I had a drive that the operating system had been reinstalled about a week before the warrant and, of course, I didn't find any movies in allocated space. Using your method and list, I was able to export nine files.''

Sean Kooistra, a detective with the Sioux Falls Police Department in South Dakota, used the new tool to locate evidence to back up suspicions that a person was downloading child pornography.

''Here was a case that I had literally thrown into my pile of cases to be cleared without any possibility for prosecution, and now I've got a good case in front of me,'' he wrote in an e-mail.

Lang shares the program with other investigators electronically and marks up a map each time he learns it's being used in a different place.

So far, he's marked 21 states and 12 countries, including New Zealand, Spain, Lithuania, Denmark, Switzerland, and Canada.

''The way it's going, I suspect every day we're going to be getting more and more states and more and more countries,'' Lang said.

''We've been testing it and using it since late fall, but it's only in the last week or so we've realized how big this has become.''

Majercik had high praise for Dunn, who led the student group.

''He is outstanding -- very smart, very knowledgeable and always willing to help when something needs to be done,'' Majercik said.

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