Thursday, 25 October 2012



So I've submitted my written treatise and source code online.
My thesis is officially finished!

The prototype focused on implementing the proposed design for Facebook. I also included a detailed Readme file to assist in the setup required for the prototype. The prototype not only exports a .dot file, but renders a personal social network on screen. An example network is visible below.

I am very pleased with the results of the prototype, and I hope my presentation in a few weeks goes well.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Draft Treatise Submission

I just submitted the draft of my treatise through eLearning.

In my draft I've completed the:

  • Abstract
  • Acknowledgements
  • Literature Review
  • Design: Proposed Method and Implementation
I've also outlined the sections for the strengths and limitations of the proposed method and implementation.

The included prototype implementation authenticates the user with Facebook and retrieves their friends list. The prototype then prints the details of the target user and if the flag is set to true, the users friends list.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Brief Development Update

I've had a few midterm exams and assessments so progress over the past few weeks has been a little slow.

Scribe seems to be the way to go so far as establishing a connection to Facebook. I was able to retrieve information from my own profile. I'm now working on customising it for my own needs, and determining what permissions and data I will be retrieving.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Development Update

I've continued developing over the past week, just trying to get a solid base to build my application on.

Connecting to Facebook in a way to get data is proving to be a little tricky. I've discovered that I cannot get the information directly from a users profile page, like I wanted to, as it is a breach of Facebook's terms and conditions. They will allow you to use automated data retrieval if you obtain prior written consent, but that is a little unrealistic for this project.

I've also implemented a PropertiesRetrieval class to return settings from a .properties file. Considering extensibility and the probably need to store a Facebook application id and secret key, it would be inefficient and ridiculous to have the required settings hard coded into the application. The externally configurable settings can now be set in the .properties file and the program will retrieve them when required.

The difficulty lies in that I'd like my application to be purely client-side. A lot of the support for developers on Facebook seem to focus on server-side applications and servlets. So it is difficult to find relevant information. I have had a play with a servlet implementation but it's not suitable for my needs.

I've found a java class called Scribe with lots of classes and methods for retrieving data from social media sites. I'm in the process of testing their demo implementation, but it looks promising!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Quick Update

Over the past week I've been working on my prototype application. I have a POJO called Person which I will use to store the retrieved data for each individual. I also have skeleton classes for the SocialNetwork to be constructed and for the connection to Facebook.

I'm aiming to target just the Facebook users who have upgraded to timeline. The URL to access their friends lists (if public) is The URL to access the friends list for non-timeline users is much more complex. As Facebook will soon be moving all users to Timeline there isn't much to gain by supporting those profiles.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Weekly Catch-Up

Today I had another catch-up meeting with my supervisor.

The progress I've made over the last few weeks has been good and should help reduce the complexity of my prototype.

My aims for this coming week are to have something written which can retrieve the friends of a targeted profile on Facebook. Once this is is accomplished, I can proceed to writing the recursive search to drill down through a social network and provide the visualisation for the program.

My supervisor recommended looking at Beautifulsoup, a python library to help parse html content. As I am programming in Java this may not be suitable but it will definitely be a good point to start.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Weekly Update

Over the last week I've made a lot of progress on the design and development of the proof-of-concept prototype.

Focusing on Facebook, I have discovered that the friends page location (relative to a users Facebook URL) is dependent on whether they have upgraded to the timeline view or not. Given that Facebook is currently in the process of moving all users to timeline, I have chosen to focus my tool on that setup, as the wall setup will soon be obsolete.

I have also made some decisions regarding the data storage for the tool. As this is only a prototype model, I do not intend to persist the raw data retrieved from the social networks. The analysed data however will be persisted, most probably through writing a file to disk. Further development of the tool would probably benefit from supporting database data storage, especially if the tool becomes more complex.

Finally, I have identified several useful libraries that will greatly simplify development of the prototype. These libraries will help me save time in development and hopefully allow me to include some additional features in the prototype.

Unfortunately my supervisor was unable to meet with me today. I look forward to showing him the progress I've made and receiving some feedback about my design next week.

Over the next week I would very much like to get most of the core functionality developed for my prototype, so that I might be able to include some additional features.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Progress Update

With only a few months left before my thesis is due, I developed a plan to help keep myself on-track and manage the time I have remaining. This will hopefully prevent any last minute rushes and give me plenty of time to review my work before submission.

The target dates for the main work items are:
  • Development: Friday 14th Sept
  • Analysis: Friday 28th Sept
  • Overall Project Review: Friday 5th Oct
  • Draft Treatise Submission: Friday 12th Oct
  • Complete Treatise Review: Sunday 21st Oct
  • Final Treatise Submission: Wednesday 24th Oct
  • Presentation Preparation: Wednesday 31st Oct
I've also made sure there is a week buffer in the detailed plan to allow for any problematic delays.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Weekly Catch-Up

So my progress didn't go so well over the mid-year break. Various family circumstances caused a lot of disruption, so only a design plan was accomplished.

I had a meeting with my honours supervisor today to discuss these circumstances and try to make sure my project is still completed by the deadline.

He suggested focusing on only one social media site for my tool development as a proof of concept for the project. I'm going to focus on Facebook as I have the most experience with it and already have a fair understanding of how their information is stored and managed.

I'm going to put together a project plan for the remaining time for our next meeting and look at how I can retrieve the public information on Facebook without using the OpenGraph API. I'm going to attack development one stage at a time, getting the basic data retrieval, analysis and storage completed and then adding the additional features as time permits.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012


So I've finished my literature review and I'm now waiting for feedback.

I'm now working on the design for the prototype analysis tool.
At the moment I feel that a modular design would be the best approach for the tool. This approach has been used in many of the papers I've reviewed and it seems to be fairly effective.

The other advantage of using a modular approach is that it will allow me to test each component of the analysis tool. It will also allow me to complete a prototype drawing data from only one social networking site. I can then expand the tool to draw data from other sites once the initial prototype is working. If time becomes an issue for the projects completion, a working prototype will still be completed.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Progress Report and Literature Review

So last Friday I submitted my progress report and literature review for my project. I'm running a little behind my originally proposed schedule, but I allowed for delays so I feel confident this will not impact my project.

I met with my supervisor on Monday, and he was pleased with my report and some of the sources I've found.

Over the coming weeks I will now start working on designing a tool for analysing online social networks. Hopefully I will be able to complete a fair amount of work before the beginning of semester 2, to reduce the pressure closer to the treatise submission date.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Weekly Catch-Up

I had a meeting with my supervisor yesterday to discuss my progress on the literature review and progress report.

He was pleased with the outline I gave him for the structure of the report and some of the papers I've found for the review.

I intend to finish a final draft of the review by Wednesday so there's time to read over it and get suggestions before I submit it for the progress report on Friday.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Paper Review: Social Snapshots

I've just completed reading through a paper presenting a novel method for harvesting data from online social networks. While this tool is not directly related to my study, some of the information presented in the paper was very interesting.

The tool presented is a hybrid system, which uses a custom third-party add-on for Facebook with a web crawling component. The tool creates a snapshot of a users social network data for Facebook containing the following information:

  • Contact Details
  • News Feed
  • Checkins
  • Photo Tags
  • Video Tags
  • Friends
  • Likes
  • Movies
  • Music
  • Books
  • Groups
  • Profile Feed (wall)
  • Photo Album
  • Video Uploads
  • Messages
The tool can retrieve a large amount of data however it requires the target users account credentials or initial authentication token to be known. I feel this is one of the major drawbacks of the tool as to retrieve a social snapshot without the account holders knowledge would require investigators to hijack the users social network session, potentially introducing many legal implications.

While the tool itself extracts more data than what is within the scope of my study and does not perform the social network analysis I am investigating, the research and methods developed will probably be useful for my research.

Social Snapshots: Digital Forensics for Online Social Networks
Huber, Mulazzani, Leithner, Schrittwieser, Wondracek, Weippl
DOI: 10.1145/2076732.2076748

Papers from the Journal of Network Forensics

Today I've been reading some papers from the Journal of Network Forensics. These papers discuss the growth of social networking sites and how they can be used by both criminals and investigators. These have been particularly useful in identifying the basic information I can use in my project, and how a social network analysis tool for social media would be useful for investigators.

There are also some case studies included in both of the papers where information from social networking sites were used in criminal investigations. The papers themselves seem to suggest that this information was found through manual investigation of social networking sites, opposed to using a tool to assist in the information gathering. I will be looking further into these case studies, particularly those which relate directly to the person of interests social networks, to determine how the information from the social networking site(s) was obtained and used.

The references in both of the papers I've looked at also appear to be closely related to my study area, and I will look further into them as well as looking at other papers from the Journal of Network Forensics.

At this stage I feel that my project is running relatively smoothly and on time.

Papers from the Journal of Network Forensics:

  • Social Networking Websites as Tools for Investigators, Bill Harshbarger (Volume 2, Issue 1)
  • Social Networking A Boon to Criminals, T.D. Datar and R. Mislan (Volume 2, Issue 1)

Monday, 21 May 2012

Project Plan

The following plan is an outline of the project plan developed for the Thesis Proposal submitted in April.

Project Plan Outline

    1. Background Research (April - May)
          a) Literature Review
          b) Case Studies
          c) Current Methods Evaluation

    2. Design (May - June)

          a) Algorithm Design
          b) Testing Design

    3. Development (June - August)
          a) Test Data Development (if required if unable to test on live/real data)
          b) Test Development
          c) Algorithm Development

    4. Testing (August - September)
          a) Preliminary Testing (conducted throughout the development phase)
          b) Expected Results
          c) Testing

    5. Analysis (September - October)

    6. Reporting (April - October)
          This will be conducted throughout the entire project

Project Plan Gantt Chart

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Problem Statement

The following aims for the study were developed for the project proposal:

  • To determine the current methods used in forensic computing to extract and analyse social networks from social media
  • To determine the strengths and weaknesses of these current methods
  • To develop algorithms which would be useful in forensic computing for extracting and analysing social networks
  • To measure the potential impact the developed algorithms could have on the forensic computing field

References So Far

Following is a list of the various sources found so far:

CHU, H. C., DENG, D. J. & PARK, J. H. 2011. Live Data Mining Concerning Social Networking Forensics Based on a Facebook Session Through Aggregation of Social Data. Selected Areas in Communications, IEEE Journal on, 29, 1368-1376.

INTERNETWORLDSTATS.COM. 2012a. Facebook Usage and Facebook Growth Statisticsy World Geographic Regions [Online]. Internet World Stats: Miniwatts Marketing Group. Available:

INTERNETWORLDSTATS.COM. 2012b. Internet Usage Statistics [Online]. Internet World Stats: Miniwatts Marketing Group. Available:

MALLERY, J. Unknown. Computer Forensics: More Places To Look - Social Networking and Cell Phone Evidence [Online]. Available:

WIKIPEDIA. 2012. List of Social Networking Websites [Online]. Wikipedia. Available:

XMT. 2012. Loco Citato [Online]. UK: XMT Partners. Available:

YANG, C., LIU, N. & SAGEMAN, M. 2006. Analyzing the terrorist social networks with visualization tools. Intelligence and Security Informatics, 331-342.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

A Delayed Beginning

This is the beginning of the blog for my honours project - The Use of Social Media in Forensic Computing to Analyse Social Networks.

The purpose of my project is to research the current tools and techniques available for use in the computer forensic field. Specifically, I'll be looking at those tools which use data from social media sites to analyse the social connections a specific person of interest has with other people. I'll the look at developing a tool of my own.

Due to circumstances beyond my control I am starting my blog fairly late into my project. So expect a large information dump about the work I've completed so far.