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Digital detectives discern Photoshop fakery

New software combs for clues in al Qaeda tapes, Harry Potter pages, and celebrity waistlines.

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The magazine photo-spread showed French President Nicolas Sarkozy in swim trunks, canoeing across Lake Winnipesaukee, N.H. But something was missing.

Earlier this month, Paris Match ran this picture of the shirtless Mr. Sarkozy sans – or love handles. With a slight digital nip-tuck, the magazine trimmed the flab that peeked above the presidential waistline.

"The position of the boat exaggerated this protuberance," explained Paris Match last week, after another French weekly, L'Express, exposed the touch up. "The correction was exaggerated during the printing process."

As image-manipulation software becomes easier to use and harder to detect, the problem of tampering has spread far beyond such celebrity "corrections." While fudged moments do little more than embarrass editors, there are far more important – and sometimes illegal – fakes to catch.

"The most common examples of doctored photos occur in the media, but there are serious cases of image manipulations in security and investigations as well," says Cynthia Baron, author of the book "Photoshop Forensics," scheduled for release in December. "There are researchers working as the frontline of defense against digital fraud." And they're developing some very tricky ways to spot shams.

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