- Who We Are
- News & Events
Stopping computer-related crime
March 1, 2012
By: Jane Kwiatkowski
As president of a digital forensics consulting firm, Michael McCartney specializes in retrieving data linked to computer-related crime. Many of his clients, he said, are employers who suspect the theft of digital information from the workplace.
At age 44, McCartney has worked more than half his life in law enforcement for the U.S. Attorney's and New York Attorney General's offices. He spent much time investigating high-profile crimes including narcotics smuggling, child pornography and terrorist rings. These days, McCartney and partner James Domres practice a different kind of surveillance. Their services are in demand.
People Talk: You basically are a private investigation firm.
Michael McCartney: This firm is a PI firm, but we don't go out and do surveillance on the spouse who's cheating on her husband.We look at the employee who's cheating on the employer.
PT: Tell me about your clients.
MMC: Very few ever go to the police. Then they would lose control, and their problem becomes public. They would rather hire us to solve their problem by Friday, and be confidential about it. We look under all the rocks the cops look under.
MMC: Yes we did. The biggest strength law enforcement has is the power of subpoena, and the ability to empanel a grand jury and issue grand jury subpoenas. So a lot of the information we try to get is protected. But if civil litigation is pending, we do have subpoena power.
MMC: No, I'm secure. I know the extent of security-- how far it can go -- and I employ it. But you're never completely secure with a computer unless it's turned off, unplugged and in the back of your closet.
PT: What was your retirement plan before this?
MMC: Before this? I was just being a law enforcement guy, so I probably would have worked security at the Bills games.
PT: Describe your personality.
MMC: I'm very organized, committed, driven, tenacious. It's a strange personality type that gets driven to law enforcement. I'm really a frustrated lawyer. I read case law as a hobby. I follow the Supreme Court. I really enjoy the analysis behind judge's decisions.
PT: Were you a hobbyist?
MMC: I was always a tinkerer, took stuff apart to try and figure it out. I'm an avid sailor, been sailing since I was kid. I still race on Tuesday nights on Lake Erie.
PT: What would you never put on your computer?
MMC: I'm a victim of habit, as you can see. I think that email is the killer for a lot of people. People say really stupid things in email, fortunately for us. I think it becomes so casual. Email exists in no less than four places: in the machine you created it on, on the server you sent it through, on the recipient's server and on the recipient's computer.
PT: What shouldn't we delegate to our computer?
MMC: People need to separate their personal lives from their professional lives. We've become a society where everything is commingled. You can easily use your G-mail account on your workplace computer,and email your baby sitter to pick up the kids from soccer Ñ or your girlfriend. That commingling gets people in trouble. That's the space we live in all day, that gray line that runs down the middle between business and personal.
PT: What case has you stumped?
MMC: There are cases that are unsolvable because there's a lack of electronic evidence. It doesn't mean it didn't happen, or what we expect didn't actually occur. The person used proper anti-forensic software to clean up the data, a degausser.
PT: Digital forensics was difficult to wrap your mind around?
MMC: No. It was obvious to me that this was something that had to get done, a field of science that needed to be pursued.Everything in this world was going digital, and it's not going away.
PT: People are too dependent on their computers.
MMC: For sure. The computer was designed for the long-term storage of information. That's why we use these things. Walk into any business today Ñ gone are the filing cabinets. All of that information now lives in a machine in a closet at the end of the hall. But the system is keeping information about you. The data lives on, and it lives on in multiple locations.
PT: How damning is digital evidence?
MMC: Extremely. Seventy percent of the work we do involves a former employee who has stolen intellectual property, trade secrets.It happens everyday, primarily because employees feel an ownership with their work product. We can forensically show the employee emailed the information to their personal account, accessed it from the network, copied it to a thumb drive and walked it out the door.
PT: What's the last song you've downloaded?
MMC: Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal."