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Investigation-Sourcing & Technology: Crime Fighting In the 21st Century

Investigation-Sourcing & Technology: Crime Fighting In the 21st Century

Advanced technology and online social networking is changing nearly everything about the way people interact – including how criminals pull off illegal stunts, and how law enforcement responds to these acts. In light of the Boston bombings, which blew up in a flurry of public involvement and social media leads, it’s worth taking a look at how crowdsourcing has spurred crimesourcing, and subsequently, what is now being called investigation-sourcing, or the collective detective.

The Rise Of Crowdsourcing

The advent of crowdsourcing – obtaining services, ideas or products from a large, undefined group, primarily online, rather than a singular traditional outlet – pulls together the resources of the many to benefit a clearly outlined project or goal. First coined in a 2006 edition of Wired magazine, the term crowdsourcing has caught on like wildfire and is now used to describe familiar phenomena like Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns (crowdfunding), Threadless.com T-shirt competitions (crowdvoting), reality TV shows like American Idol and even information shared in online message boards and forums.

Some of the most notable examples of crowdsourcing in action:

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  • In 2006, Netflix started a campaign that invited the public to develop a more accurate way of recommending movies based on similar tastes. Three years later, a company called BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos cashed in Netflix’s $1 million promise for the algorithm that is well known by Netflix users today.
  • One Canadian gold mining company called Goldcorp was facing bankruptcy in 2007 when it put out a call to the public to help locate the gold within its mines. After posting its full datasets online, a member of the public employed never-before-used gold mining techniques to find the gold, save the company and take home the $500,000 reward.

The Cons Of Crimesourcing

Yet, for all the progress made by crowdsourcing, a dark side has also arisen. The streamlined collaboration that seamlessly emerges due to the nature of crowdsourcing has unfortunately also led to what is being called “crimesourcing.” As easily as companies, governments or entrepreneurs can tap into the genius of the crowd, so, too, can criminals. Crimesourcing denotes the process by which criminals, including hackers, mobsters and bank robbers, convince or, more often, con a group of citizens into playing a role in their devious scheme.

Marc Goodman, the LAPD cop who started the county’s first Interpol system in the 1990s and founder of the Future Crimes Institute, says cyber criminals are a lot like start up companies – they want money, they want a challenge, and they want to leverage their skills. Unfortunately, cyber hacks are all too common and criminals can “crimesource” by using the anonymity of the Internet to get unwitting bystanders to be accomplices in their plot. Sometimes, the crime is as typical as hacking into an account, and sometimes crimesourcing can be more creative.

Some of the most ingenious ways criminals are crimesourcing:

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  • Like the recently popular “flash mobs,” people are organizing online anonymously to decide a time and place to descend upon a designated store to collectively rob the establishment. Sometimes these “flash robs” will happen in broad daylight, end up injuring bystanders and allow for most of the perpetrators to escape.
  • In one particularly clever escapade, one bank robber in Seattle posed as an employer on Craigslist and convinced a group of people to dress in their construction gear to apply for a high-paying job, all at the same time at the exact location of the bank he was robbing. Of course, he was dressed in the same gear and got away, as a dozen decoys were already in place when the cops rolled in.
  • Dealing in the online realm, one ploy to break into Yahoo email invited users to break CAPTCHA codes in order to receive free pornography; the hacker devised it so that every CAPTCHA code that someone cracked spilled the secrets to another’s sensitive information.

Even amidst the chaos of the Boston manhunt, hackers were taking advantage of the sensationalism in the media, sending out emails with subject lines like “Explosion at Boston Marathon” and “Boston explosion caught on video” that unleashed a virus onto the victim’s computer. The Associated Press’s Twitter account was also hacked in the middle of the week, falsely tweeting that the White House had been attacked, causing the stock market to drop in response.

In a time when technology can allow for great innovation but also great crime, law enforcement is employing some 21st century strategies for catching these smart cyber criminals.

Investigation-sourcing & The Boston Marathon

Is crimesourcing giving way to investigation-sourcing? While there surely is a catchier name for it out there, investigation-sourcing is precisely what the FBI employed to catch the Boston bombers. Using a mixture of social media leads, video camera footage and citizen responses, law enforcement optimized crowdsourcing to jump straight onto the trail of the two bombers.

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The Boston bombing is the largest crowdsourcing police operation to date, with floods of information swarming the FBI offices. Though the vast waves of information that were collected during the Boston manhunt culminated in a successful capture, a lot of misinformation was spread, too. Outlets like Reddit, Twitter, The New York Post and even CNN reported falsely accused suspects, while the Boston police Twitter was oversaturated with Tweets and AT&T had to issue a warning that their cell towers were getting overloaded.

Former FBI Chief and manager of Kroll’s cyber-investigations practice, Timothy Ryan, said in an interview that it’s better to over-collect information than to under-collect. Now, with citizen journalism ramping up, as evidenced by the outpour of crowdsourced police data, it’s time to refine the methods even further.

Growing Trends & New Strategies

Smart technology is making detective work smarter, faster and more reliable. It was pretty incredible that the Boston bombers were identified in such a short period of time and caught within one week, but what if, amidst all the data, computers were able to sift through the evidence rather than use the immense manpower it must have required? A Silicon Valley company is working on developing technology that does just that. Crowd Optic is an app that uses visual mining technology to compile images and determine the most popular photos at an event – a helpful analytical tool in emergencies such as the Boston bombing.

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Another innovative tool is from Topsy Labs: they’ve got a database of every Tweet ever created since June 2010, as well as the ability to search old Tweets for catchphrases like “bomb,” for example, and then use geo-referencing to pinpoint the locations of these conversations. This is one way that investigators are able to leverage technology to “pull signal from the noise” and hone in on perpetrators of crime.

Call it the “collective detective” or call it “investigation-sourcing,” either way, technology is ramping up to help the FBI catch on to criminals quicker and quicker. Some theories are going around that eventually, predictive analytics will allow law enforcement to predict crimes before they happen, not using psychics like in Minority Report, but just really, really smart technology. Along with this theory and current technology on the market, of course, there are concerns about authorities becoming too much like “Big Brother.”

Hopefully, smart technology will be used for catching criminals and not abusing power. So far, it doesn’t seem like many people are upset that the Boston bombers could be captured so quickly, nor was there a lack of people contributing evidence to the case. Crowdsourcing technology is just at the beginning of its stint in law enforcement; the Boston manhunt really opened the door to using “collective detective” tools for help in solving other crimes – like finding missing children, for example.

Online Tools & Personal Protection

As for protecting yourself online from getting duped by these super smart and sneaky cyber criminals, there are a few tangible actions you can take.

  1. Protect your identity. Never give out personal or sensitive information online, even to someone claiming to be an employer or an official. Oftentimes, cyber criminals will pose as others to get this information out of you.
  2. Don’t download anything from an insecure connection or an untrusted network. Even if the website tells you that you need to download a bot for a program to work, make sure the domain is familiar and trusted.
  3. If you’re really interested in working with someone online, ask for their full identification and do a criminal background check through an online service like Instant Checkmate to verify their legitimacy. Cyber criminals won’t always give you correct information, but if they hesitate to provide these details in the first place, that’s a clear red flag.

From crowdsourcing to crimesourcing to the collective detective, interactive technology is laying the groundwork for some innovative, as well as challenging, opportunities to connect online. The bottom line is that as technology progresses, all sorts of people will find all sorts of uses for it, so it’s important to stay ahead of the curve. Every action will have a reaction, and it’s an exciting time to be navigating the novelty of crowdsourcing technology.

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Last Updated on July 29, 2020

19 Best Mac Apps for Productivity You Need in 2020

19 Best Mac Apps for Productivity You Need in 2020

Whether you use your Mac for work or just for your personal projects, you’ve likely found yourself wondering how to improve your productivity. There are only so many hours in a day, and so much mental stamina you can muster before you run out.

There are dozens of tricks you can use to improve your own productivity and outlook, but if you’re looking for a more objective, comprehensive fix, the best thing to do is equip your Mac with productivity apps designed to help you do more in less time.

This Lifehack-exclusive list has some of the best productivity apps to help you feel less tired, improve your energy, and ultimately help you get more done every day:

1. Todoist

    Available for all iOS devices, Todoist is a note-taking and organization app that can keep you on top of all your projects—both personal and professional.

    Its best features are all free to use, including browser extensions, task creation, and interactive boards you can use to organize all your notes.

    If you want to pay the optional $29 yearly fee, you can get even more advanced features like backups and automatic reminders. Even with the free version, you’ll stay far more organized.

    Download: Todoist

    2. 1Password

      You may not realize it, but you probably spend a ton of time recalling your passwords, especially if and when you forget one to an app you use on a regular basis.

      1Password is an app for Mac that saves and remembers all your passwords for you in one place, so you can access all your favorite sites with a single click.

      You’ll save time and keep all your accounts secure simultaneously. A personal plan is $2.99 per month.

      Download: 1Password

      3. Bear

        Bear is a unique kind of note-taking app designed to make it easier for Mac users to jot down notes on the go. With it, you can create to-do lists, give yourself reminders, and outline concepts for future brainstorming sessions.

        It comes with many different inline styles so you can customize your notes to your personal preferences, and remember the context in which you wrote them. The core version is free, with a $14.99 per year version available as well.

        Download: Bear

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        4. Hazel

          Hazel by noodlesoft is an automated organization tool designed for Mac that will help you automatically organize your files based on any custom rules you want to create.

          For example, you can set it to move untouched items from one folder into another folder labeled “action items” if they haven’t been addressed within a week. It can save you hours of organization over the course of a few weeks. A single license is a flat $32.

          Download: noodlesoft

          5. Alfred

            Alfred is an all-in-one app designed to save you time with Mac shortcuts and convenient custom actions. You can use it in a variety of ways.

            For example, you can access Alfred’s clipboard memory so you don’t copy and paste the same material over and over, or set up custom workflows to automate some of your most repetitive tasks.

            It’s a paid app, with multiple price points based on the features you desire.

            Download: Alfred

            6. TextExpander

              TextExpander does exactly what the name suggests; it allows you to type a short snippet of text, and expand that text automatically.

              For example, you can create a custom expansion that allows you to conjure a full paragraph you type repeatedly by simply typing a unique abbreviation. Once you get used to your custom combinations, you’ll spare your fingers from typing thousands of words.

              An individual account is $3.33 per month.

              Download: TextExpander

              7. Backblaze

                If you’ve ever experienced a crash, or theft of your Mac, you know how much time a system restore can cost you. You’ll spend hours replacing the files you lost, and lose thousands of files that are irreplaceable.

                Backblaze is an automated, inexpensive way to back up your entire Mac for just $5 a month.

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                Download: Backblaze

                8. Keyboard Maestro

                  Keyboard Maestro is an older app that still has the power to make your life easier. With it, you can automate any number of tasks based on a certain trigger (such as a hotkey combination, or an event like connecting to a wireless network). A single license only costs $36.

                  Download: Keyboard Maestro

                  9. Snagit

                    There are many applications for a good screen-capture app, whether you’re trying to illustrate a tech problem you have or just want to make an interesting meme. Snagit makes it easy, with built-in editing for both still images and video. A single license covers two machines, and costs $49.95.

                    Download: TechSmith/Snagit

                    10. Bartender

                      Bartender is the cleverly-named app that helps you clean up and organize all your menu bar icons. You can also access them quickly with keyboard shortcuts.

                      If you’re like most Mac users, those icons get cluttered quickly and stop you from working efficiently. It’s free to try for 4 weeks, after which you’ll need a $15 license.

                      Download: Bartender

                      11. Otter

                      Otter is the Mac app for the note taker who hates typing. It’s an intelligent voice-recognition system and note-taking app that will help you transcribe your conversations, keep notes during meetings, and even take contextual notes to yourself in your own time.

                      Best of all, it’s free to get started!

                      Download: Otter

                      12. Flux

                        Do you often find yourself feeling tired throughout the day, or feeling unable to get to sleep after a day of staring at your computer? That could be because of the unnatural blue light that radiates from your Mac.

                        Flux naturally adapts your display to emit light that matches the time of day, so you can sleep better and feel less tired. It’s also free!

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                        Download: Flux

                        13. PDFpen

                        If you deal with PDFs on a regular basis, you probably find yourself wishing for some kind of tool that can let you mark up those PDFs however you want. Without a dedicated app like PDFpen, this can be difficult.

                        PDFpen lets you edit PDFs in almost any conceivable way, giving you more power and saving you time. A single license is $74.95.

                        Download: Smile Software/PDFpen

                        14. OmniFocus

                          OmniFocus is all about task management. It has a clean interface that allows you to tag your tasks, schedule events, and even automate certain features.

                          It’s one of the most comprehensive solutions on the market, so there’s a bit of a learning curve to get the most out of it.

                          A standard license is $39.99, while the pro version is $79.99.

                          Download: OmniFocus

                          15. Franz

                            It’s tiring to switch between dozens of different chat programs like Facebook Messenger, Slack, and WhatsApp, whenever you want to have a conversation with a different contact.

                            Franz’s solution is simple; offer access to all these apps in one convenient package. And best of all, it’s completely open source.

                            Download: Franz

                            16. MindNode

                              If you’re the brainstorming type, you need an app like MindNode to help you efficiently organize your thoughts. There are dozens of tools you can use to connect ideas in a mind map, or simply jot down notes for future reference.

                              The core app is free, with in-app purchases available.

                              Download: MindNode

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                              17. Focus

                                The internet is a wonderful thing, but it can be awfully distracting. And if you’re like the majority of us, you’ve interrupted work on a project because of some attention-grabbing site or bad online habit. That’s where Focus comes in.

                                This app allows you to block the worst offenders with custom time limits and other constraints, so you can focus on the task at hand. A single license is $19.99.

                                Download: Focus

                                18. CleanMyMac

                                  Chances are, your Mac isn’t working as fast as it could, thanks to gigabytes of clutter and unnecessary files on your system. CleanMyMac helps you scan your Mac, monitor its health, and ultimately clean it up—so you can handle all your tasks that extra bit faster. A single license is $39.95.

                                  Download: CleanMyMac

                                  19. Grammarly

                                    A spelling error or grammatical mistake can cost you big time. It could be the source of a worse grade on a big paper, or compromise your credibility in the workplace. Thankfully, Grammarly can help you.

                                    This Mac-integrated writing assistant monitors all your writing and makes live corrections, so you’re alerted to your potential mistakes before they become permanent.

                                    A free version exists, but the premium version will cost you between $11 and $30 a month, depending on how you pay.

                                    Download: Grammarly

                                    The Bottom Line

                                    These productivity apps should help you squeeze more productive hours out of every day, but they aren’t the only tools you’ll have to help you find success.

                                    Make the time to learn about and experiment with all the life hacks that can make you more productive. By improving your devices as well as your outlook and focus, you’ll be able to get far more done in a day, and feel better doing it.

                                    More to Boost Productivity

                                    Featured photo credit: Patrick Ward via unsplash.com

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