Forensics is Tulsa Company's Calling
03-06-2007, Daily Oklahoman - Jim Stafford
Tulsa-based Oklahoma Digital Forensics Professionals collects and analyzes computers, cell phones and other electronic devices, investigates the devices for information or evidence and then presents easy-to-read written reports, said Gavin Manes, its president.

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Gavin Manes held aloft a personal communications device that provides e-mail access and doubles as a cell phone.

"How do you separate personal and digital data on something like this, a cell phone with a keyboard?” Manes asked an Oklahoma Venture Forum audience at its recent monthly meeting. "Who is paying the bill for this?”

As president and director of research for Tulsa-based Oklahoma Digital Forensics Professionals, Manes makes it his job to discover all the digital information stored on digital devices, whether it is a computer, fax machine or a cell phone like the one he had in his hand.

The "discovery” process that courts are using in litigation has expanded to include all forms of digital information that now must be preserved by corporations. Nine out of 10 documents are created and stored electronically, he said.

Oklahoma Digital Forensics Professionals plays a role in the litigation process by recovering and preserving digital evidence.

"We collect and analyze computers, cell phones, all kinds of electronic devices,” Manes said. "We investigate those devices for evidence and information for our clients. We translate from Geek and Nerd to English.

"Our reports are designed to go straight to an attorney, an attorney in some kind of litigation where computer evidence matters.”

And it matters a lot, said Manes, who is a research assistant professor at TU but currently released from teaching time to concentrate on building the company that was founded in 2003. The federal court rules for evidence procedure are changing as technology changes, he said.

"Basically what these rules changes are saying is, ‘Paper is good, but this presentation is clearly on Powerpoint,'” Manes said. "‘If you produce it to me on paper in the courts, I want the original Powerpoint document, and I have the right to get it.'”

Requirements for digital evidence apply to cases that involve cases involving harassment issues, whistle blowers, employee separation, intellectual property and lawsuits between corporations. Federal rules dictate how long an electronic document must be saved and how it is to be retrieved for court use.

"You can never delete information on a computer,” Manes said. "If you delete information, it's not gone. That's what we're in business for.”

For instance, the investment banking firm Morgan Stanley was sued in 2003 and lost a $1.5 billion judgment in 2005 when the jury ruled for the plaintiff, Manes said.

"Morgan Stanley refused to produce a backup tape of e-mail,” he said. "The judge said ‘Assume Morgan Stanley has something to hide because they refused to cooperate with our litigation requests.'"

"The gray area is gigantic right now. Companies are going to have to figure out how to make that area much smaller.”

For many in the Venture Forum audience, archiving digital documents has become a routine. For instance, Oklahoma City-based Perimeter Technology Center is "racking up massive amounts of storage space” archiving e-mail and documents, said John Parsons, president. Among other services, Perimeter provides a secure data center that houses computer servers of scores of client companies.

"It's certainly a concern, but with the prevalence of IT knowledge out there today for the vast majority of companies, everybody has it covered pretty well,” Parsons said. "At least, it seems they do. Once you get into a lawsuit you find out that nothing is as 20-20 as hindsight."

"That's what you find more often than not is companies believing they have it all under control and then not realizing that they missed a few areas until it's almost too late.”

"The risks are expanding,” he said. "Businesses, individuals; it's not just divorce attorneys, it's not just oil companies suing oil companies. It's anybody who uses a computer.”

Or a fax machine. Or a cell phone.

"I don't know what it is or what the file represents, but I can tell you who downloaded it, who opened it, who viewed it, who edited it and who modified it,” Manes said.

The presentation was a sobering wake-up call for many professionals in an audience, many of whom use their BlackBerry or similar devices to swap e-mails routinely during the course of the business day.

"Dr. Manes, that scared me to death,” said Jeff Morton, Oklahoma Venture Forum president, as he took the podium at the conclusion of Manes' speech. "Would anybody like my cell phone?”