Computer Forensics Ate my Innocence

Posted on November 12, 2009


“The boss is coming – quick, put some porn on!” It was at this point that I started to wonder about the career I’d chosen.

As I’m sure most people in the computer forensics business know, a disproportionate number of cases involve indecent images. Because of this, we tend to spend a lot of time cataloguing and categorising the images found on suspects’ computers. While at first this may sound interesting in a slightly creepy way (as a non-forensics friend of mine put it: “You’re getting paid to snoop around in other people’s computers – man, you’re living the dream!”), it gets very old very quickly. You develop an eye that can zoom over a few hundred innocent images at a time and hone in on the bad ones and while this is an essential skill to learn, all the hash databases in the world still can’t take away the requirement for someone to actually look at all of these images, in order to sort out the ones that constitute a criminal offence. And this is where the title of this post comes in.

welcome to the internet

When I started in forensics a few years ago, you’d expect an exhibit in an images job to contain a lot of generic mucky pictures in addition to the criminal ones – some of the suspects seem to have got into child abuse images after exhausting all of the lawful porn out there. Over the years though, the bar seems to have been raised – or lowered, maybe – in terms of what that muck actually is. These days, looking on a suspect’s computer is like going to a party organised by the man from Goatse in collaboration with the 2 girls with 1 cup, in a plumbing supplies depot. Next to a zoo. Above a sewage works. I’m not going to labour this point but when I’m categorising images (which is not, incidentally, a job for a forensic analyst), barely a day goes by that I don’t see something that introduces me to a new facet of depravity. I’m constantly reminded of Roy Batty’s ‘I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe‘ speech from Blade Runner, and not in a good way.

What effect does this have on people in our trade? I don’t think that this question is considered very often. There’s plenty of discussion – within offices at least – of the effects of prolonged exposure to the sadness and misery of the child images. That’s an interesting topic, but not a suitable one for a semi-lighthearted post like this. What about the constant, blaring exposure to adult pornography of every fetish, on an industrial scale, when you don’t even want it and it’s taken out of any context in which a person might normally look at pornography? Reactions seem to differ during the day, in my experience. There’s boredom (plenty of that), disgust, hilarity, medical curiosity, loathing, pity, incredulity…pretty much all of them negative responses. Yes, now and then you see something funny but for each laugh there are tens of thousands of depictions of people being used and abused, usually for someone else’s financial gain.

I don’t consider myself to be particularly naive in these matters, but when you look at this material on an industrial scale, you get a good view of the industry at work. The ante is always being upped, there’s competition and the only way to beat it is to constantly show something newer, something bigger, filthier, nastier…to resort to quotes again: “I am a colossal pervert. No form of sexual depravity is too low for me. Animal, vegetable, or mineral, I’ll do anything to anything.” (Blackadder, that time).  And you know what? I’m sick of it.


I’m sick of the way every male, from the fine upstanding pillar of the community to the lowliest career-nonce, has a photo in his My Pictures folder called ‘my nob.jpg’. I’m sick of the way people search Google images for stuff like ‘Eskimo porn’ or ‘busty Polish girls on roofs’  (both real searches I’ve seen in work). I’ve never been a big user of porn. I’m not a prude, it’s just never really floated my boat. But I’m sick of the fact that porn’s got so specialised that there are sites catering for people who like putting insects on their genitalia. How the hell do you even discover a fetish like that? You started out looking at ‘upskirts’ shots and that wasn’t enough?…so how the hell did you end up on a site catering for upskirts shots taken in churches in a particular Southern state of the US? How does anyone even conceive of these sub-genres and specialisations? Do all the people running these sites have a monthly brainstorming session? Do they write down a load of nouns, adjectives and verbs on flashcards and throw them up in the air? “Hey, rabbits trepanning recalcitrant amputee accountants! I can sell that shit!”

So, the lesson for the day is: stop it. Just stop. It’s not nice, it reflects badly on you, your mum would be ashamed of you and it’s making me feel ill. As Jean-Paul Sartre should have said: Hell is other people’s porn.

I’ll let XKCD have the last word on this: “Rule 34 of the internet: if you can imagine it, there’s porn of it