05 Nov

Dark Web Monitoring: A New Approach to Threat Intelligence and Risk Management

Forensic Pathways have developed their own in-house ‘dark web crawler’ for monitoring the dark web for potential data breaches and/or threats. The software has been built to refine and enhance your threat intelligence and risk management process. By incorporating the dark web monitoring into your processes you increase your visibility of the dark web and reduce the risk of exposure to your company, your data and your reputation.

The dark web lives up to its name, creating a platform that allows users to operate on the web whilst remaining in the shadows and avoiding detection from law enforcement. A community of cyber criminals now thrives on the dark web due to the levels of anonymity and lack of traceability reducing risks for criminals, who have created a community of advertising, discussing, buying and selling of illicit goods and personal information.

From guns to guides, stolen data to sensitive, confidential information, there is a market and a marketplace for everything; you can find a buyer and seller for almost anything illicit. This can create a crisis for businesses.

There are established marketplaces operating much like eBay, where sellers advertise what they have for sale, allowing buyers to review the offering and the sellers, all of whom are graded and ranked, helping other potential buyers to identify ‘legit’ sellers.


Figure 1 An example of an advert for a banking template found on a popular dark web marketplace. Identity of exploited company protected due to being a house hold name

Figure 2 An example of the review and ranking system of vendors

There are forums dedicated to discussing, sharing and selling valuable and exploitable information, from identified network frailties to stolen company data.

Unlike the ‘open web’ (the internet we use daily), the dark web is not indexed. This means that it can be very difficult to search for and detect specific information. However, as this labyrinth of information and intelligence cannot be neglected, Forensic Pathways opted to deliver a solution that could revolutionize how we identify and process intelligence found on the dark web.

Drawing on over 10 years of due diligence and open source intelligence experience, the company recognized that replicating services and techniques utilized in open web due on the dark web would create new opportunity for the company and its clients.

After conducting rigorous analysis on consumer needs, market trends and competitor offerings, Forensic Pathways have launched a new dark web monitoring and investigations solution that will significantly increase the scope and visibility of intelligence, offering clients a more robust, thorough and proactive solution to brand reputation and threat intelligence.
Forensic Pathways have developed our own in-house crawler, capable of crawling, harvesting and storing data that is searchable through a secure, password protected search engine. This allows users to not only draw on historic findings and locate possible threats, it also allows users to create an alerting system that will identify specific search terms and key words. Furthermore, our crawler is not restricted. There is no ‘focus crawl’ – we feel that vital information could be hidden away in the cracks and crevasses of the dark web, and so we have developed a solution that will blanket search multiple platforms within the dark web, ensuring investigations cover all angles and provide maximum visibility.

Figure 3 An example of the dark web search engine in use

Figure 4 The above search for ‘bitcoin’ found over 500,000 items in 38 milliseconds

This is just the beginning. Forensic Pathways have a very exciting pipeline and have ambitious aspirations for delivering the most innovative, thorough and robust dark web monitoring and investigation services. The capabilities the company will be adding to the current solution will revolutionise how we use the dark web as part of our threat intelligence and risk management processes.

For more information on dark web monitoring and investigation services and software offered by Forensic Pathways please contact sales@forensic-pathways.com or call 0121 250 3642.

Share this
05 Nov

Dark web monitoring: A new service from Forensic Pathways

The sale of drugs, weapons, personal information/data, illegal pornography and intellectual property is readily available to buy on the Dark Web as buyers/sellers can browse anonymously with ease. According to the World Economic Forums Global Risk Report (2018) cyber security attacks are the third-largest threat facing the world. The dark web plays a massive role in this global issue…

The dark web is still relatively new to most of us. Its anonymity has been exploited as an underground criminal platform for some time, however, there are not many companies currently operating within the field of dark web monitoring and investigation. As a company who always strives for innovation, Forensic Pathways feels it can help shape and develop the industry ensuring the solutions available are able to provide robust protection across industry sectors. Unfortunately for business the threat of the dark web is ever growing. Coupled with GDPR regulations organisations need to be prepared for cyber security attacks and data breaches. More companies are looking to the dark web as a means of protecting themselves from such exploitation. Forensic Pathways anticipate that, as always, criminals will continue to utilise the dark web and introduce more innovative ways to commit crimes without being caught, and as such, we envisage a great and growing need to continue to combat these threats by providing innovative technologies that will help identify and understand the illegal activity that occurs.

Forensic Pathways has developed its own in-house dark web crawler actively crawling and indexing the dark web, with over 15 thousand domains already visited. The crawler feeds harvested information into a searchable database that provides easy, prompt and accurate results when key search terms are entered by the investigator. Forensic Pathways has worked in multiple industry sectors, on dark web monitoring projects, including a nationwide anti-fraud assignment ran in collaboration with leading fraud detection agency, Cifas, who manage the National Fraud Database (UK).

There are some barriers for organisations wishing to monitor the dark web. For example, a large proportion of the websites on the dark web focus on drug/human trafficking, child pornography, and theft. Therefore browsing can be highly dangerous and/ or cause significant distress. For these reasons organisations wishing to monitor and investigate key words/phrases are likely to resist permitting employees to use platforms, such as Tor and I2P to search the dark web. Additionally, Forensic Pathways discovered that a large proportion of the dark web monitoring software solutions on the market requires users to ‘browse’ the dark web… Forensic Pathways has a solution – ‘Dark Web Monitoring As A Service’. 


For more information please contact
sales@forensic-pathways.com or call 0121 250 3642

Share this
09 Feb

Dr Richard Leary invited to attend 16th edition of SIFTECH

Dr Richard Leary invited to attend 16th edition of SIFTECH



Since its launch in 1995, SIFTECH has developed into an important event exhibiting the future direction and development of technology. The 2015 International Exhibition of the Future of Technology will see Algiers host the 16th edition of SIFTECH.

Placed under the patronage of the Minister of Post and Information Communication Technology, the 16th edition of SIFTECH will gather national and international businesses and stakeholders operating in the field of emerging technologies of information and communication. Attendees will be invited to observe the approach to strengthening telecommunications infrastructure and securing data and networks.

Dr Richard Leary MBE, Managing Director of Forensic Pathways, has been invited to attend the event which is focused on Data and Network Security. Dr Leary will deliver a speech about cyber security, including the direction of the cyber security industry as well as the use of new technologies used to enhance cyber defences, such as FPL’s Forensic Image Analyser.

The event will take place between the 24th – 26th February in the Palace of Culture, Alger.

Share this
05 Jun

ALIAS Forensic Ballistics collaborating with Forensic Pathways

ALIAS – the next generation of forensic ballistics – attracts EU distribution, technology licensing and product collaboration deal with respected UK criminal and business intelligence company Forensic Pathways

Contract signing at British High Commission in Ottawa, Canada marks first step in powerful alliance between Pyramidal Technologies and Forensic Pathways

Richard Leary & Ardavan

Left to right:  Richard Leary, MBE, Managing Director, Forensic Pathways Ltd, UK and Ardavan Tajbakhsh, Chief Technology Officer of Pyramidal Technologies Ltd

Ottawa, Canada – May 31, 2013 – Thanks to help from UK Trade & Investment, Pyramidal Technologies Ltd., creators of ALIAS, the next generation in forensic ballistics, has inked a strategic agreement with Forensic Pathways Ltd. Signed at the British High Commission in Ottawa, the agreement covers ALIAS product distribution throughout the European Union (EU), technology licensing, and ongoing collaboration to advance the state of the art in crime scene innovations that help solve gun crimes on both a national and international scale. The companies estimate that the market size within EU countries for this technology is $250 million.

ALIAS builds visually rich 3D cartridge case and bullet images, then provides powerful tools to analyze them using topographically sensitive colorization, adjustable light source illumination and axis orientation. Its product roadmap will now include proprietary image processing technology from Forensic Pathways created by that company’s multi-disciplinary team of computer science, optics, mathematics and photonics experts. Forensic Pathways’ unique software solutions in the area of criminal and business intelligence are patented in Europe, the U.S. and Australia. The company’s diverse client base includes top-level security agencies such as EUROPOL, New Scotland Yard and many other security organisations and private companies across Europe.

Forensic Pathways Managing Director Richard Leary, MBE, conceived the ODYSSEY project. The project, which ran from 2008 to 2011 and reported directly to the European Commission, involved research on the sharing of information about gun-crimes throughout the EU in order to combat organised crime and terrorism.

 “When we saw ALIAS in action, we immediately noted the synergies between our technologies and were thoroughly impressed by ALIAS’s capabilities. After further due diligence, we then quickly undertook to secure distribution rights to introduce ALIAS to security organisations thoughout the EU,” said Leary. “We will also be integrating our advanced image search technology to further improve ALIAS, and have identified several future possibilities to bolster ALIAS with newer technologies we are currently commercializing.”

Ardavan Tajbakhsh, Chief Technology Officer of Pyramidal Technologies, is thrilled with the market expansion and technology collaboration plans underway with Forensic Pathways. “I have long admired Forensic Pathways’ software expertise as well as its long history as a trusted partner to European security organisations and we see many opportunities to incorporate its software to establish unambiguous and unequivocal gun crimes evidence for prosecutors,” he said. “I can’t think of a better partner to advance the cause of ALIAS in the European market for forensic ballistics systems.”

UKTI & High Commission

Left to right:  Brendan McManus, UKTI Trade Officer; Corin Robertson, Acting British High Commissioner to Canada; Richard Leary, MBE, Managing Director of Forensic Pathways Ltd; and Ardavan Tajbakhsh, Chief Technology Officer of Pyramidal Technologies Ltd

ALIAS Product Description

ALIAS is a full 3D imaging, correlation, visualization and confirmation system that builds visually rich 3D cartridge and bullet images, then provides powerful software tools to analyze them using topographically sensitive colorization, and adjustable light source and axis orientation.

ALIAS image data is captured by the world’s finest Swiss-built, application-specific interferometer, then processed with a thoroughly modern 64-bit computing and application architecture that rapidly defines 3D data with patented algorithms and methodologies.

A human hair measures approximately 100 microns wide. ALIAS’s 3D cartridge images offer resolution of 2 microns, or 1/50th the diameter of a single human hair. This unsurpassed level of accuracy produces infinitely better results that vastly reduce the time it takes firearms examiners and technicians to complete their analysis.

To save even more time, ALIAS’s straightforward three-step imaging/correlation/confirmation protocol promotes simple operation, quicker ramp-up times, and less margin for error. ALIAS also allows law enforcement agencies to easily export 3D scans and associated demographic data to other visualization packages or departmental systems to ensure maximum compatibility with present and future systems in use by other agencies around the world.

More than the technology is revolutionary. Starting at $135,000 for its Data Entry Station, ALIAS is aggressively priced against competitive offerings. Pyramidal Technologies is taking ALIAS orders now with a three-month delivery time. Five annual support cost options range from zero cost for law enforcement agencies with available IT resources, to platinum coverage that includes 24/7 support and two-hour response time.

About Pyramidal Technologies Ltd.

Pyramidal Technologies Ltd. is an advanced technology company dedicated to transforming the forensic ballistic imaging industry with ALIAS. As a market-driven organization with a proprietary technology base, the company’s goals are to establish a new standard in forensic ballistics imaging and identification, and to be proactive around shared interests, purposes and values in delivering solutions that can support civil societies. For more information, please go to www.pyramidaltechnologies.com.

About Forensic Pathways Ltd.

Forensic Pathways is an international award winning company headquartered in the UK with an international distribution network, including an Australasia office based in Perth, Western Australia.  The company specialises in the development of unique software solutions in the area of criminal and business intelligence.  Its client base is diverse, providing technology and services to the security and law enforcement markets, along with governments, lawyers, finance industries, banks and insurance groups.  It holds a number of Patents within Europe, the US and Australia and has won a number of awards for innovation culminating in the Orange National Business Awards 2009.  It is a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact on Corporate Social Responsibility.

Share this
23 Nov

Richard Leary and Forensic Pathways is pleased to support important work on Evidence by William Twining, Philip David and Mimi Vasilaki

Richard Leary is pleased to support this important work on evidence. Richard Leary says…

“This book represents a new and evolving approach to evidence which is so very much needed inour globalised world. We are living in a world where our ability to produce information by whatever means (computers, people, machines, mobile, data etc) is not matched by our ability to manage and make sense of it. This book is an ideal reference and guide to any practitioner involved with processing or analysing data and across any professional sector. Phil is Professor of statitstics at Cambridge and has for many years promoted the greater use and understanding of formal approaches to the analysis of evidence. He is perhaps the worlds leading expert on the use of BAYESIAN statistics in evidential reasoning. William was Quain Professor of Jurisprudence at University College of London, Fellow of the British Academy and a Queens Counsel. He has promoted for many years the study of evidence as a discipline and is a world expert on Wigmorean approaches to the structuring of legal arguments.”

Edited by Philip Dawid, Professor of Statistics, University of Cambridge, William Twining, Quain Professor of Jurisprudence Emeritus, University College London, and Mimi Vasilaki.

Evidence – its nature and interpretation – is the key to many topical debates and concerns such as global warming, evolution, the search for weapons of mass destruction, DNA profiling, evidence-based medicine. In 2004 University College London launched a cross-disciplinary research programme “Evidence, Inference and Enquiry” to explore the question:

“Can there be an integrated multidisciplinary science of evidence?”

While this question was hotly contested and no clear final consensus emerged, much was learned on the journey. This book, based on the closing conference of the programme held at the British Academy in December 2007, illustrates the complexity of the subject, with 17 chapters written from a diversity of perspectives including Archaeology, Computer Science, Economics, Education, Health, History, Law, Psychology, Philosophy and Statistics. General issues covered include principles and systems for handling complex evidence, evidence for policy-making, and human evidence processing, as well as the very possibility of systematising the study of evidence.

The launch of the book is at 6pm on 29th November at the British Academy and we are proud to announce that we will be sponsoring the event.

 Any body interested in ordering the book please contact Forensic Pathways directly by calling 01827 255170

Share this
27 Jul

West Midlands Regional Offender Manager

Forensic Pathways was commissioned to provide insight into offender need for the purposes of the Regional Offender Manager‟s Commissioning Plan. A specific, complex database containing over 1.8 billion items of data was built and analysed. The name of the database is Pathway. Data was obtained from a number of sources for the Report. Connect and OASys were used for the main database and the remaining sources were used as control samples.

To download the full PDF click on the link below:

Share this
27 Jul

A European Networked Firearms Intelligence Database

Forensic Pathways was Commissioned by the Homicide Working Group at EUROPOL to assess the feasibility of developing a Pan European approach to the management and use of forensic ballistic evidence and intelligence across the European Union (hereafter EU).

The purpose of the study was to assess the potential impact of the management of ballistics evidence and intelligence on controlling and reducing organised crime across the EU in accordance with the EUROPOL Convention. The Convention states:

“To improve police cooperation between Member States to combat terrorism, illicit traffic in drugs and other serious forms of international crime.”

In undertaking this research and writing this Report attention has been paid to the Conventions Principle Tasks for EUROPOL namely:

  • The exchange of information between Member States
  • Obtaining, collating and analysing information and intelligence
  • Notifying Member States without delay of information concerning them and of any connections identified between criminal offences
  • Aiding investigations in Member States
  • Maintenance and use of computerised systems to collect information

This Report focuses on two specific areas of work by EUROPOL; Firstly, the EUROPOL Homicide Working Group in focussing on the prevention of organised crime, including homicide and especially in relation to people from vulnerable groups where firearms are involved; Secondly, the work of EUROPOL in focussing on better ways to manage and use ballistics evidence and intelligence across the EU in support of its Principal Tasks.

To download the full PDF click the link below:

Share this
27 Jul

Towards a Financial Fraud Ontology

This document discusses the status of research on detection and prevention of financial fraud undertaken as part of the European Commission funded FF POIROT (financial fraud prevention oriented information resources using ontology technology) project. A first task has been the specification of the user requirements that define the functionality of the financial fraud ontology to be designed by the FF POIROT partners. It is claimed here that modeling fraudulent activity involves a mixture of law and facts as well as inferences about facts present, facts presumed or facts missing. The purpose of this paper is to explain this abstract model and to specify the set of user requirements.

Keywords: legal ontology, knowledge modeling, financial fraud analysis, user requirement analysis, facts, evidence, law, WWW.

To download the full PDF click the link below:

Share this
21 Mar

The Missing Link

Mobile telephones are fast becoming not only a means to communicate verbally, but also a means to transfer data, pay bills, order products, plan journeys, book hotels, order food and socialise. This is where problems begin to emerge because the sheer volume of data makes analysis time-consuming and difficult. In fact, it cannot be done without the aid of sophisticated computing.

read more
Share this
21 Mar

Confirmation Bias, Ethics, and Mistakes in Forensics

Confirmation Bias, Ethics, and Mistakes in Forensics

“The eyes are not responsible when the mind does the seeing.”

– Publilius Syrus 1


Confirmation bias is when people observe more, give extra emphasis to, or intentionally look for evidence that would validate their existing beliefs and expectations and are likely to excuse or completely ignore evidence which could reject their beliefs. As such, it can be seen as a type of bias in gathering and analyzing evidence. 1 Although some might disagree, this type of bias does not exclude scientists who pride themselves on their objectivity. 2

Scientist and researchers have recognized for centuries that bias influences human thought and behavior. In 1620, a philosopher named Francis Bacon found that once people adopt an opinion, they will look for anything to support and agree with that opinion. Bacon also noted that it is a “peculiar human tendency” to be more moved by positives than by negatives. 3 In 1852, a journalist named Charles Mackay stated “When men wish to construct or support a theory, how they torture facts into their service!” 3 However, in spite of all the previous work on bias, a study completed in 1959 by psychologist Peter C. Wason was considered by most as the beginning for much of the work on confirmation bias.

“Confirmation bias is perhaps the best known and most widely accepted notion of inferential error to come out of the literature on human reasoning.” 4

To begin this study of biases, ethics, and mistakes, there are a few questions that need to be asked.

1. Should irrelevant information or opinions about a case be shared with the analyst prior to examining the evidence? Does confirmation bias limit itself only to verifications?

2. In reviewing other analysts’ work, is there an analyst that is correct 99.9% of the time? Is there an analyst with consistent errors? Is their work reviewed the same?

3. Would there be more time spent on a verification from another agency, a coworker, or a supervisor? Are the same criteria for verifying used for everyone?

4. When a print is identified, is there ever a question of identity prior to turning the case in for verification? What if, after matching the latent print to the suspect, it was found that the DNA in the case did not match the suspect? Could that information make an analyst question his or her results? Could that information make an analyst change the results?

5. What if another examiner with more experience asked for a tough latent print to be verified? Surely, a more experienced examiner would not make a mistake. If there were questions about the print or the identification, would they be asked? What if an acceptable answer were not given? Would the identification be verified anyway? What if pressure were applied to verify?

6. What if an identification is found in a serial rapist case and the police need this match as probable cause to arrest? Now the identification that needs to be verified was made at 5pm on Friday afternoon and the verifying analyst has unchangeable plans for 5:30pm that he/she had been waiting on all year? Does he/she feel pressure? Is the analyst that is asking for verification always right? If the latent is tough, is the time taken for verification or is the analyst’s word taken for it?

These questions should have helped to get the reader on track to see how easily bias, carelessness, and ethics can enter into the decision-making process. Bias is everywhere; it is the very fabric with which most people clothe themselves in daily. It is in politics, science, medicine, media, research, and almost everything that requires thought. Once this bias is realized, awareness of it makes us start to second-guess ourselves, not just in forensics but also in everyday life.

Everyone is biased to some extent, some of us more than others. There are several ways that bias can enter our lives. For example, we read an article and form our opinion on the topic of that article. How do we know the author of the article is telling the truth? It should be evident that we cannot research every subject and know the truth on everything in our lives.

Perhaps Rutherford D. Rogers said it best: “We’re drowning in information and starving for knowledge.”

For this reason, we want to believe what people tell us. We almost find it necessary to accept a person’s word, because we are overrun with information on a daily basis. However, in order to take a person’s word, we have to trust that person to begin with. All of us must trust to a certain extent because we know we cannot do it all ourselves. We have to focus on the importance of knowing the truth and search for it ourselves.

Becoming emotionally involved in a case can also allow bias to enter the analysis of the scene or evidence. The more our emotions are involved with a belief, the easier it is for us to disregard details and opinions that may have a tendency to challenge that belief. 5 An example of this would be at a crime scene where one becomes emotionally involved because of the information obtained from the investigating officer and then uses that information to determine how the crime scene was committed, what needs to be collected, and what needs to be processed.

Knowing what confirmation bias is and how it can affect your objectivity should make one rethink how to conduct day-to-day activities. Laziness is another way bias can affect our opinions. The application of laziness to forensics is when we allow other people to do the thinking for us, resulting in a loss of objectivity and a desire to learn, thereby steering our preference toward supporting rather than refuting. However, we should not support the identification of a print without challenging the validity of the opinion. An opinion on a verification should never be made by taking the word of the original examiner.

As Arthur Bloch stated “Don’t let your conclusion be the place where you got tired of thinking”

The last way that bias can affect our opinions is by grouping with people that think like us or have the same beliefs. People tend to group with others that share the same beliefs, because associating with people who do not share the same beliefs would require that person to think of a way to defend their beliefs. For this reason, it is better to spend more time with people who challenge our beliefs or opinions, because this will have a tendency to keep a person thinking, by having them process information instead of accepting information. This is an important part in learning to overcome bias, because when a person searches out all possibilities, it will be easier for that person to give an unbiased opinion.

Why does confirmation bias occur?

Confirmation bias occurs when we lose our ability to be objective. The reason that confirmation bias is so common is because, mentally, it is easier to deal with. 6 Studies of social judgment show that when people are in favor of a certain belief, they tend to seek out evidence and interpret information that follows their beliefs by giving positive evidence more weight than it deserves. 3 On the other hand, they do not look for or even reject information that would disprove their beliefs by giving less weight to negative evidence. This does not mean that we completely ignore negative information, but it does mean that we give it less weight than positive information. This is usually accomplished by leaving out, altering, or diluting any of the negative observations. 3 This is exactly what happened in the case Robert Millikan, who won the Nobel Prize in physics, for his research on finding “the electric charge of a single electron.” Millikan only reported a little more that half (58) of his (107) observations, excluding from the publication the observations that did not fit his hypothesis. 7

If we can only see one possible explanation of an event, then we tend not to interpret data as supportive of any other alternate explanation. There are others who tend to be so strongly committed to their position that they even disregard interpretations or explanations of others. 3 However, it is important to note that if our conclusions are based on solid evidence and objective experiments, then our tendencies to overweigh evidence based on our personal beliefs should not affect us as a general rule. 6 But, if we start overlooking evidence that refutes our conclusions, then we lose our objectivity and cross over to subjectivity, based on our preconceived beliefs.

Most people would admit that they do not like to be wrong. It is part of our human nature to argue in favor of our beliefs, even when confronted with contradictory evidence. Evidence that confirms our theories are typically easier to deal with cognitively, which is why we prefer supporting evidence instead of evidence which may refute our claims. It is easier to think of a reason to support our claims than to think of a reason that might contradict them. This is mainly because it is difficult to think of a reason why we might be wrong. 5 Bias can penetrate our objective thoughts and challenge or even change our conclusions. 5

The effects of confirmation bias The main difference between confirmation bias and other biases is that confirmation bias consistently keeps us floundering in deceit by preventing us from seeing the truth. 5 We might ask ourselves, what is the truth? Is the truth what we see or what we believe we saw, what we hear or what we thought we heard, what we read or how we interpret what we read? The truth is what it is, but it has to be sought out.

Those who take things at face value, without checking on the validity, are setting themselves up for disaster. When one objectively assesses evidence that leads to an unprejudiced conclusion, as opposed to constructing a case to rationalize a previously drawn assumption, an obvious difference can be seen. In the first instance, one takes a holistic view of the evidence and arrives at a conclusion that is based on an objective evaluation. In the second, one is selective with the evidence that is gathered and discards other evidence that seems to disagree with the supported position. 3 This is not to suggest that someone would intentionally mistreat evidence; one may interpret or select evidence along with one’s beliefs without necessarily being aware of a bias. 3 This would be consistent with an investigator’s not collecting evidence at the crime scene because it does not fit his/her theory on how the crime happened. However, some research has discounted the likelihood of people intentionally seeking to prove rather than falsify their hypotheses. 4 There is evidence to support that confirmation bias does not arise from a longing to confirm, but rather from people not thinking in openly negative terms. The basis of this phenomenon has been argued as cognitive breakdown and not motivation: “Subjects confirm, not because they want to, but because they cannot think of the way to falsify. The cognitive failure is caused by a form of selective processing which is very fundamental indeed in cognition – a bias to think about positive rather than negative information.” 4

Types of Errors

To understand confirmation bias, we must identify the three basic types of errors that are found in forensic science:

1. Ethics violation

A. Fabricated prints

B. Dry benching (estimating results without completing an examination)

C. Intentional erroneous results

D. Covering up mistakes

2. Honest errors

A. Lack of training and mentoring

B. Feeling pressure to complete work or being overwhelmed with work

C. Administrative errors or complacency in one’s work

3. Biased oversight

It should be noted that bias and honest miscalculations can sometimes overlap. An example would be the interpretation of a distorted latent could be wrong because of the lack of training and the fact that the officer informed the examiner that the suspect had already been visually identified by the victim as the perpetrator. Bias can also be interconnected with ethical violations; however, honest mistakes and ethical violations should never overlap.

Types of Bias in the Workplace

There has been a great deal of empirical evidence to support the fact that confirmation bias exists and that it appears in many forms. 3 Understanding how bias can enter into the thought process is vital to understanding bias, so before we can talk about how to avoid bias, we must first understand the levels in which we can have bias.

1. Observer or Expectancy Effect : This is when person anticipates the outcome from an initial observation or has preconceived expectations about the outcome of an analysis. This type of bias allows the anticipation to drive the outcome of the desired result. An example would be expecting an identification because the officer stated that the suspect was caught on tape and the officer just needs to have the print identified. This could also be seen when working crime scenes. If the initial contact at the scene tells the investigating officer that it is a suicide, then the investigating officer might anticipate finding a suicide. However, we cannot allow our expectations to form our conclusions. Previous experimental studies on hair analysis found that the error rates were much larger when the examiners were given suggestive information about the scene and the suspect being present. Similar errors should be expected from fingerprint examiners given suggestive information. 8

2. Selective Attention : This is the ability to give attention to items of interest and disregard contradictory information. The human cognitive system allows flexibility in where we focus our attention. In sports, it is like “being in the zone”, which means that we are so in tune to what we are doing that everything else in the peripheral is nonexistent. Prior expectations, along with selective attention, can push us into that “zone” by priming our mind to look for information that will confirm our preexisting beliefs and disregard all other information. This cognitive bias is stronger than one might believe. It can overpower the correct conclusion in an ambiguous case; however, it will not affect the conclusion in an unambiguous case. An example of selective attention in a latent print case would be using the matching details but filtering out the questionable areas in a close call. A crime scene example would be where the investigating officer collects evidence that supports his or her theory and disregards the evidence that does not.

3. Role Effect : This is the reason two people can enter a crime scene and see two different things. The selection of data by those two people and what they will remember will vary because of their roles at the scene. An example of this would be a dentist and barber entering a room full of people. The dentist would focus on or notice everyone’s teeth; the barber would focus on or notice everyone’s hair. Whatever role we play is where our primary focus will be.

4. Conformity effect : This is the act of conforming to the opinions, beliefs and behavior of one’s peers. For example, if several of your peers say it is so, then it must be so.

5. Need-Determined Perception : This is caused by having a strong motivation to reach a desired result. This motivation could come from wanting to help in solving crimes. It is part of our human nature to try and help when we can; however, making things fit is not helping. We must remain vigilant is in trying to win the battle of good and evil, but we have to be careful not to fall to the level of that which we detest. An example would be to want to help solve a high-profile case so badly that we look to the known print to find out what we need to be looking for in the latent print. Looking at the known print first can clutter our minds with information that may help us to see the preferred outcome.

6. Positivity bias : When there is a lack of compelling evidence, people are more prone to believe that a statement or conclusion is true rather than to believe that it is false. We tend to affirm the things that we want to be true. This is a prime example of why analysts need to be careful with verifications.

7. Primacy effect : When a person gathers information over a period of time and then comes to a conclusion, it is the information that is gathered earlier in the process (rather that later) that is likely to carry more weight in the decisionmaking. There is a tendency to form opinions early and then evaluate any subsequent information based on the previously formed opinion. An example would be reading or listening to any information being provided by the investigating officer about the suspect and or scene, prior to working the case. The information that is received in the beginning can drive the outcome or conclusion. Once the mind is primed, the eyes will fill in the details to see whatever it is that we want to see.

8. Overconfidence : No matter how much contradictory evidence is presented, an overconfident person will always argue that he or she is right. The more intelligent a person is, the easier it is to defend biases and beliefs. 9

The Desire to Believe

The previously mentioned types of bias are real and can be found all around us. Conversely, these biases are bound to reason. Forensically, the desire to believe may come from the items of evidence being presented in a suggestive fashion by an investigator or other analysts. 8 It is these suggestive comments that can bias an examination or analysis and ultimately taint the conclusions. But there is a limit to how much information can influence our decisions. As individuals, we are free to believe whatever we want, however, the significance we add to our beliefs can determine how much suggestion we allow. Additionally, “what we believe must appear to us believable.” 3 We are not going to believe something that is not believable. The evidence that is being interpreted would have to be very similar or provide a reason to believe that our opinions or our conclusions are correct. We can pick and choose the evidence that we collect, and we can even add weight to what we find, but in spite of this, we cannot totally ignore opposing evidence of which we are aware. 3 “When the questioned and known impressions are very similar, it is often easy to be convinced that the questioned impression could have been, or was in fact, made by the known tire.” 10

Avoiding confirmation bias and other errors

The complete knowledge of any science should include knowledge about how mistakes can occur and how those mistakes can be revealed and dealt with. 11 The key to avoiding bias and errors is awareness. The following is a list of eight steps that will help in ensuring against possible errors.

1. Seek training and participate in proficiency testing : In any area of expertise, there is a degree of variation in the training, experience, and knowledge of each expert. 12 This includes forensics. Every latent print has to be evaluated on quality and quantity of visual information to determine whether it is comparable. Thus, the training and experience of the examiner becomes the vital element in the identification process. 13 Methods in scientific reasoning must be taught if we are to avoid bias. 14 Analysts in training need to be taught how to handle certain data; scientific models provide the structure. 11 The bottom line is that our analyses and conclusions should be reproducible, verifiable, and open to all that want to scrutinize them. Wertheim summarized Judge Pollak’s second ruling as, “The reliability of the examiner through training, experience, and testing is the key to the reliability of the evidence they present in court.”15

2. Accept bias : Biases are part of out psychological makeup. Understanding this is paramount to have an opportunity to correct it. Past research has shown that biases are harder for older, more qualified analysts to overcome because “…their commitment to their theories grow strong…” 16 When we recognize that we can subconsciously add weight to evidence to make it fit or explain away differences, we will have a better chance at changing our way of thinking. 5 The greatest regulators for biases are an individual’s integrity and objectivity. 23 Each analyst must determine what his or her biases could be and then devise a way to correct them.

3. Limit daily pressures : The greater the pressure, the greater chance for mistake. An examiner should never allow someone to watch over his or her shoulder as a comparison is conducted; the need for instant results should never happen. Usually, pressure can be found during the verification process, especially when the results are needed quickly in a high-profile case. However, pressure can occur for negative results as well. (i.e., under pressure, it would be easier to accept a negative conclusion.)

4. Remain objective. Objectivity is paramount in the comparison process. The analysis is objective, the comparison takes into account objective observations, and the evaluation is based on the subjective information that has been gathered during the comparison process. 17 Any information that might lead to bias in the comparison process should be taken away. “It takes a conscious effort by the analyst to remain impartial…” 18

5. Seek to disprove : We only stand to gain in our scientific understanding by consistently trying to prove our opinions false. 19 All possibilities need to be sought out, not just the ones that support our beliefs. Search for the negative and seek to falsify, and if the information turns out to be reliable, then the opinion can be based on sound reasoning. 3 “This search for inconsistencies is so important that it cannot be overstated. Only by adopting this approach during the comparison process can the examiner exercise a truly unbiased attitude.” 10

6. Limit outside influence : Even though confidence improves comparatively with given information, accuracy does not improve comparatively with confidence. When evidence is given to forensic scientists, any information that does not pertain directly to the evidence could introduce bias and pose a danger to the objectivity and accuracy of the scientist’s findings. However, it should be noted that having irrelevant information does not constitute bias, but using that information to support or justify a conclusion does. The examiner must depend wholly upon what is seen, leaving out of consideration all suggestions or hints from interested parties…Where the expert has no knowledge of the moral evidence or aspects of the case…there is nothing to mislead him… 20

7. Use scientific protocols (ACE-V) : Counting points can lead an examiner to overlook more important factors in the comparison process that ensure reliability. 17 By using the ACE-V methodology, the comparison process includes a holistic evaluation of all the available ridge detail.

8. Limit overconfidence – The statement “it could never happen to me” is troubling because biases are real and everybody has them. While some harbor a hidden fear that seeking consultation at any stage of the analysis, comparison, or evaluation is an admission of weakness, the reverse is actually the truth. No one person knows everything or has so much knowledge and experience that he or she is never in a position of requiring some form of consultation. Those having that opinion are a demonstration of the very attitude that prevented this science from reaching its potential years ago. Experts must be free to discuss issues with their peers, confirm the presence of specific shapes or features that they see, and then form their own opinions. The comparison is objective; others must be capable of seeing the physical attributes that one sees. If one feels his or her objectiveness has been compromised due to the consultation, one should ask a third party to carry out the verification. 21

Cole states that, since 1981, five members of the IAI have had their certifications revoked because of erroneous identifications. 22 These figures could be twisted to show that, on average, one examiner every five years loses their certification because of an erroneous identification. However, these figures are actually from two erroneous identifications: three analysts in one case and two analysts in another case. The problem with these numbers is that they only include the erroneous identifications and verifications of certified examiners. The certified examiners are supposed to be the competent ones. Believing that one has obtained certification and is now beyond mistakes would be a grave mistake. Certification does not mean the examiner becomes infallible; it tests competency and excellence in the field of latent prints.


It is specifically because of mistakes, ethics, and biases that science in general incorporates the standard of outside verification and the testing of scientific conclusions. These types of errors reveal why there is such a critical role in forensic science for what most see as aggressive opposition from other analysts. However, if we can not presume that everyone will effectively test their own conclusions, usually we can presume that our peers will. 5 It should be part of our professional responsibility to challenge all findings and to reveal any erroneous or biased findings. For those analysts who accept this responsibility, their integrity and objectivity should never be in question. This is not to say that there should be a witch hunt, but rather an objective look at all of the evidence in any given case to determine the truth.

Confirmation bias is not the sole reason for mistakes. However, confirmation bias is real and it can play a significant part in evaluating and examining evidence from the crime scene to the laboratory. 3 We have to constantly remind ourselves that biases exist and aggressively seek out data contrary to our beliefs. Because this is not a natural thought process, it would appear that the average person will always have bias. 6 It is the responsibility of analyst to remain objective, seek quality training, and above all, to keep their integrity. 23

A pilot study on confirmation bias will be conducted at the University of Southern Mississippi over the next few years under close supervision and guidelines. This preliminary research will be presented at the IAI conference in Boston, Massachusetts, July 2-7, 2006.

For further information, please contact:

Jon S. Byrd, CLPE

Criminalist II / Latent Print Examiner

Colorado Bureau of Investigation

301 South Nevada Ave.

Montrose, CO 81401

Phone: (970) 249-8621

Fax: (970) 249-6308


1. Confirmation Bias, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.com

2. Kowit, Steve, The Mass Suicide of the Xhosa: A Study in Collective Self

Deception, Skeptic, Vol. 11, No. 1, 2004, www.skeptic.com

3. Nickerson, Raymond, Confirmation Bias: A Ubiquitous Phenomenon in Many

Guises, Review of General Psychology, Vol. 2, No. 2, 175-220, 1998.

4. Evans, J. St. B. T., Bias in human reasoning: causes and consequences.

Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. (1989).

5. Cline, A. Flaws in Reasoning and Arguments: Confirmation Bias


6. Confirmation Bias, The Skeptics Dictionary, www.skepdic.com

7. Henrion, M., and Fischhoff, B. (1986) Assessing uncertainty in physical

constants, American Journal of physics, Vol. 54, 791-798.

8. Steele, Lisa J., The Defense Challenge to Fingerprints, Criminal Law Bulletin,

Vol. 40, No. 3, (2004): 213-240.

9. Confirmation Bias, Disenchanted Dictionary, www.disenchanted.com

10. Nause, Lawren S/Sgt. Forensic Tire Impression Identification: Royal

Canadian Police Research Centre, 2001.

11. Allchin, Douglas, Error and the Nature of Science, 2004 at


12. Plumtree, Wayne, Expert Opinion – Fact or Fiction? Responsibilities of the

Expert Witness, SCAFO, Vol. 10, Issue 2, 1994.

13. Leo, William, Identification Standards – The quest for Excellence, California

Identification Digest. Vol. 12, No. 1, Jan/Feb 1996.

14. Ulrich, Clare, Dissecting the process of reasoning, Human Ecology, October

2004, 32 (2), 15-19.

15. Wertheim, P. Faulty Forensics. National Public Radio broadcast, June 10,


16. Sackerman, J., Cognitive Process and the Suppression of Sound Scientific

Ideas, 1997.

17. German, Ed, Latent Print Examination, onin.com

18. Bevel, Tom; Gardner, Ross, Blood Pattern Analysis with an Introduction to

Crime Scene Reconstruction, 2nd edition, CRC Press 2002.

19. Grobman, K. H. Developmental Psychology.org, devpsy.org

20. Proia, Michael, “Development of a model for minimizing the effects of

confirmation bias on fingerprint identification results,” May 1, 2005, FSC 491.

21. Ashbaugh, David R., Quantitative-Qualitative Friction Ridge Analysis; An

introduction to Basic and Advanced Ridgeology, CRC Press 1999.

22. Cole, Simon A., Suspect Identities: A history of fingerprinting and criminal

identification, Harvard University Press, 2001.

23. Monsoor, Doug, Do the facts tell the whole story, Identification Canada,

Vol.18, No. 3, Nov/Dec 1995.

Share this

© 2015 Forensic Pathways. All rights reserved. Website built by Squibble Ltd.