Who does not rejoice over the advancement of computer systems these days? Well, I can think of two businesspeople who now wish they had a bit less “connectivity” when their relationship went sour.
Advanced Micro Resource’s forensic services were called in to unsnarl a nasty corporate, legal and personal dispute over who owned data on a company’s hard drive.
The case provides some cautionary lessons for all of us who sometimes use our company computers to conduct our private business.
The subjects in this case had been long associated — one as a company executive (John) and the other as an attractive female contractor (Jane). Jane used the company’s computer for work and personal use.
What Jane did not realize until it was too late was that through the “mysteries of the cloud,” her personal iPad and iPhone had synched to the company’s computer. In other words, her personal computer and cell phone emails, text messages and other communications, including deleted photographs, had flowed from her personal devices into the hard drive of the company’s computer.
As business relationships often go, the subjects had a not-so-pleasant parting of ways. The company executive insisted Jane return the company computer, claiming it contained proprietary intellectual information owned by the company.
Jane returned the computer, but first removed its hard drive.
And that landed the two in court and Advanced Micro Resource’s forensics division in the middle of their dispute.
There seemed to be little disagreement that the company was entitled to the return of its computer. But Jane insisted the hard drive contained her personal files.
To resolve who was entitled to what, the court called for a digital forensic exam — a thorough analysis of the hard drive, which had been removed, but was preserved as evidence.
Advanced Micro Resource’s forensics division thoroughly examined the hard drive, searching for work-related files, as well as personal files. The findings were reported in open court.
In addition to many personal and work-related files, emails and text messages, we reported that we found more than 1,000 photos — many of them were embarrassing nudes involving the two subjects in a torrid undisclosed relationship.
The courtroom became very quiet. The two quickly realized that to proceed would risk damaging both of their reputations. The case was subsequently dismissed.
The lessons learned from this case:
• Separate “personal” from “business” when it comes to using company computers.
• Understand the capabilities of your mobile devices. These two were not the first to discover that their personal files, including embarrass ing photographs, could easily wind up floating around the cloud and landing in unintended computers or mobile devices.
• Check your security settings to ensure your files are, in fact, secure.
• Don’t connect your personal devices to company computers.
• There’s no such thing as a “secret file.” A good forensic exam can find your “hidden secrets and deleted information.”
• Don’t store or send nude pictures from your mobile device. It’s just not smart.
Because of the confidentiality of computer forensic cases, the names of the subjects involved and some of the identifying details of the dispute have been changed or not disclosed to protect the privacy of the individuals.
— Alphonso Rivera is the founder and CEO of Advanced Micro Resource, a Bakersfield-based digital forensic company that specializes in digital audits involving cell phone and computer evidence for attorneys, private investigators, human resources consultants and companies.