Sunday, March 15, 2015

CSI: Cyber - Season 1, Episode 0 - "Kitty"

CSI: Cyber started as a backdoor pilot in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. "Kitty" is the 21st episode of the 14th Season of CSI featured Patricia Arquette as Dr. Avery Ryan helping D.B. Russell (Ted Danson) investigate the murder of a casino owner's wife.

In this post, I'm going to review some of the computer science aspects of the episode. I realise that for the sake of clarity or entertainment the representation of technology can't always be realistic, but I think the CSI production are doing a good job within those constraints.

This episode features a murder in a smart home. A smart home is one where there is some automation of household controls, including lighting, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), appliances, and security systems. I have some experience developing them for the elderly and disabled, but rich people like Larry Ellison and Bill Gates have them also. Here's the computer display for the smart home controller, it looks perfectly plausible.

Dr. Ryan uses a biometric login, a thumbprint, instead of a username and password, this is becoming more common, but normally the scanner is a separate piece of hardware, not a function of the screen.

Following this, Dr. Ryan explains the "Deep Web", she says the Surface Net that most people use is 4% of the web, and the rest is the Deep Web which is web content that is not indexed by standard search engines. The 4% value is interesting, it could be right, but it's hard to know. It is worth noting that Avery also mentions she works the Darknet, which is a subset of the Deep Web.

Dr. Ryan is able to demonstrate that Kitty isn't a real person, but rather an algorithm, by overloading the algorithm by flooding the chat window with keystrokes, this is possible, but it's unlikely that the outcome would be as below, the skin falls off, and you can see all the polygons.

Kitty is a "computer animated avatar chatbot with machine learning, artificial intelligence", although we could restate that as an "animated  chatbot with artificial intelligence". Since the "avatar" phrase here is redundant, and "machine learning" is a sub-domain of "artificial intelligence".

Earlier in the episode, the main suspect's computer crashes. or is remotely crashed, with a load of error messages appearing on the screen -- we've all been there:

Avery manages to restore the crashed computer in a very cool animated sequence. My guess is that she is using something like Knoppix Linux, which is good from restoring deleted files and inaccessible operating systems.

She also discovers that the suspect's computer is infected with a virus that switches on his webcam. Yep, these are real, and very nasty. This is usually called "camfecting", and technically they are not usually viruses, since a virus tries to replicate into other code, whereas camfections usually just sit there. Based on the manner in which the suspect's computer was infected, using a "gift", we'd say it was a Trojan horse program, but this is real nitpicking.

The CSI's are able to trace the journey of the suspect's car using it's computer system, this is possible. 

The avatar was created from a real person, whose images were stolen off social network, Friend Agenda. Friend Agenda is a fictional social networking site that has appeared in various episodes of CSI. This happens a lot in real life, and is associated with "catfishing".

The "Gestalt theory of good continuation" - I love Gestalt psychology, extra bonus points for the mention.

The bad guy visits a Friend Agenda page 900,000 times, Avery exclaims "He DoS'ed her!" - DoS is a Denial of Service attack, where you saturate the target page with communications requests so that it cannot respond to legitimate traffic.

A really useful episode if you were teaching students about computer security.

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