Enigma Forensics experts investigate, preserve and recovery data to prove or disprove Trade Secret Theft. We have assisted many clients in financially recovering what was stolen from them or to help clear their name. Are you interested in learning more about trade secret theft? Check out Tesla’s latest law suit against a former software engineer.
A large portion of our business is forensically recovering and preserving data that is vital in proving or disproving trade secret theft. Enigma Forensics experts love to follow Tesla! We love the look of their beautifully engineered electric cars and we’re very interested in Elon Musk, the controversial character behind the engineering. Who is now labeled the most wealthiest man in the world. Our interest was piqued when we heard about Tesla’s latest lawsuit and that prompted us to write this blog.
On January 22, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Alex Khatilov, a former software engineer over Trade Secret Theft and Breach of Contract. Tesla contends that within days after Khatilov started his position on December 28, 2019, he began stealing thousands of highly confidential software files from Tesla’s secured internal network, transferring them to his personal cloud storage account on Dropbox to which Tesla has no access or visibility.
How did Tesla discover this trade secret theft or misappropriation of data?
On January 6, Tesla’s information security personnel detected Khatilov’s unauthorized download of a complete set of all the automation scripts produce by the Quality Assurance Engineering team for WARP Drive over the last twelve years! He was confronted the next day via Microsoft video chat due to Khatilov working remotely because of COVID-19 restrictions. Khatilov claims he installed a Dropbox desktop application to his Tesla issued laptop to allow him to upload administrative files to his personal Dropbox. He swore over and over that he only transferred administrative documents and then when he finally shared his screen with Tesla investigators he could be seen deleting the Dropbox files while on video chat confirming he had willfully destroyed evidence.
Why all the fuss?
How important are these scripts? These scrips are unique to Tesla and run on WARP Drive, the backend software for much of Tesla’s business. These files consisted of “scripts” of proprietary software code that Tesla has spent years of engineering time to build. When executed, these scripts automate a broad range of functions throughout Tesla’s business and only a few select employees have access to these files. It gets better! This is the good part…Khatilov contends he forgot about downloading thousands of confidential files!
The reality of this trade secret theft or misappropriation of confidential data is that Tesla has no way of knowing whether Khatilov copied the scripts onto a thumb drive, a mobile device, or a cloud based storage or most importantly sent them to another individual. To understand more thoroughly how important these “scripts” or trade secrets are…They map out Tesla’s innovations! Making them extremely valuable and beneficial to any competitor.
What measures ensure against trade secret theft or misappropriation?
Tesla limited the “scripts” access to only members of the Quality Assurance Engineering team in which Khatilov was one of forty employees to have access. The engineers that have access are not permitted to download scripts to the cloud or personal devices. This makes us wonder how Khatilov was able to download data!
Only eight people within the Tesla company are approved to grant access to these scripts.
Each engineer signs an extensive employment agreement and agrees to policy conditions of their employment with includes a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), that holds each employee to the strictest confidence of proprietary information, technical data, trade secrets so on and so forth.
The NDA also states that upon termination or departure each employee will immediately return to the company all original document electronic or hard copies.
Each physical facility has restricted access to only authorized personnel that are monitored by security guards and cameras.
All visitors must check in with security, sign a NDA, submit to a photograph and be escorted by an employee.
Tesla also used password-protected and firewall-protected networks and servers that are only accessible to current Tesla employee with the proper credentials.
Moral of this story is…
Even high level technology companies has issues with trade secret theft. If your company suspects something like this, immediately hire a computer forensics expert to electronically preserve data of soon to be departing or a departed employee that has already left the company. Enigma Forensics can analyze data that was misappropriated or stolen to help clients recover financial loss.
What are some of the potential problems for an organization trying to secure Windows 7? Cyber Security Experts Lee Neubecker and Atahan Bozdag say it’s analogous to owning a home and not maintaining it, eventually something breaks and it’ll cost you a fortune to fix!
Securing Windows 7 Environments
On January 14, 2020, Microsoft announced support for Windows 7 has ended. As reported by Microsoft, “Technical assistance and software updates from Windows Update that help protect your PC are no longer available for the product. Microsoft strongly recommends that you move to Windows 10 to avoid a situation where you need service or support that is no longer available.” It’s official…it’s the end of Windows 7! We have to end our love affair with Windows 7 and move onto Windows 10. What does that mean for the end-user? Well, if you stay on Windows 7, you will deal with constant security threats, and there will be no more updates or support. If you upgrade it’ll cost you approximately $139 for a home computer, $199 for a small to large business and $309 to upgrade a workstation that needs a faster powerful operating system.
Cyber Security & Computer Forensic Expert Lee Neubecker and “Fellow Forensicator” Atahan Bodzdag break down what impact is imposed on cyber security when computers no longer receive service patch updates or support for Windows 7. They discuss the usage of Windows 7 by the Health Care organizations that are resistant to change or have application that have not been ported to work with Windows 10.
Atahan Bodzdag provides an overview of top three items that all organizations dependent on Windows 7 should be undertaking to maintain cyber security resilience.
Window 7 Security Vulnerabilities
The Video Transcript Follows
Lee Neubecker: Hi, I’m here today with Adahan Bozdag. Thank you for being on the show Adahan.
Atahan Bozdag: Thank you for inviting me, Lee.
LN: Atahan is a fellow forensicator and cybersecurity expert. He works within the healthcare sector and works internally to an organization, doing some of the things I do as an expert witness outside an organization. And today we’re going to be talking about Windows 7, the end of the life cycle of Windows 7, and some of the cybersecurity issues relating to organizations that are in Windows 7 and are trying to prevent future data breaches. So, Adahan, could you tell everyone a little bit about what Microsoft did recently as it relates to Windows 7?
AB: Well, as you said, Windows 7 end of life cycle happened. It’s was January 14, 2020. They stop patching Windows 7 environment, so it is vulnerable to any attack after the date. January 14, 2020.
LN: So then when people report their CVEs, detailing vulnerabilities on Windows 7, eventually they’re up there for the hacker world to see. and to exploit because Microsoft’s not patching that operating system.
AB: Very true. It’s a dream come true for the hackers.
LN: Yeah, well, no more data patches means what exactly?
AB: It means that you are more vulnerable to attacks.
LN: So every day the risk of cyber compromise only grows for organizations still on Windows 7.
AB: Very true.
LN: So, what is for the non-technical person out there, could you explain what this is analogous to?
AB: Well, I can give you the house analogy. You buy a house and you don’t do any upgrades. You don’t do any maintenance. Something is going to break. So this is what’s going to happen with Windows 7. Because there’s no more patch, there are no more updates, there’s no more security involved in it. At one point if you still continue using it, you will get breached.
LN: So, it’s kind of like your locks start to fall off the door at a particular time
AB: Exactly, exactly.
LN: And if you consider the contents of a health care provider, to have sensitive data like patient medical records, electronic medical records, protected health care information, or PII, all of that stuff is vulnerable to exfiltration?
AB: Yes, very, yes.
LN: So, why are people still using Windows 7, given this threat?
AB: Well, some applications are not upgraded to work with Windows 10, and what happens. So then a lot of people working in the corporate environment are resistant to change because the applications are not working with Windows 10. So those,
LN: Or they just like the cleanness of Windows 7, relative to Windows 10, which
LN: It has a lot of bloatware loaded on it if you’re getting the version off the shelf.
AB: True, true.
LN: Who really needs to have all these games on their environment?
AB: Exactly. But at the same time, every healthcare company that, you know, even my company that I’m working for, we have a golden image that we create, which are stripped down from all those games and stuff like that. So we don’t use those. But, to get there, there is always an image needs to be updated in Windows 10.
LN: So what are some of the potential problems for the organization that stays on Windows 7 and just doesn’t get with the program to migrate off?
AB: Well, first thing is, APT.
LN: What’s an APT?
AB: APT is an Advanced Persistent Threat.
LN: That’s like that nation-state, Big Brother lurking on the chips of the computer device, waiting for a moment to attack, right?
AB: They can infiltrate you. They can do nothing, just sit and wait, and look at your data. And we have seen that in many breaches. The time that you found out that the company was breached, they’ve been in the system for more than six, seven months. So they were collecting data slowly by slowly, and at one point they turned the engine on, and then the doomsday attack starts. Suddenly you start losing data. Deletion happens and then, they grab everything out from your system.
LN: “So there’ ve been a lot of nation-states making threats.
AB: Oh, very much so.
LN: This could be a huge opportunity for certain nation-states to get themselves onto hackable systems and merely wait until the opportune time to strike is such that they could magnify the damage.
LN: We have a power outage,
LN: And they were to strike at that time, that would probably magnify the damage significantly.
AB: Very, very much. And now you’ve been talking about those in your other videos about these kinds of things. The cyber realm is another way of attacking our national interests. Health care is one of them.
LN: So let’s assume that an APT gets into a health care environment, health care provider’s systems, and they’re able to access electronic medical records, EMR, patient health care information, what might they want to do with that information?
AB: Well, patient records, especially the names, social security numbers, medical records, everything is sellable in the Darkweb.
LN: And it’s worth a lot more than just giving social security numbers.
AB: It is. True. It’s like a single record may go for $35. If you got about 10,000 records, 10,000 records times about $35.
LN: It’s likewise though, that data exfiltrates, and it gets out there in the market, the health care providers are looking at potentially significant financial damages, as well as reputational damage.
AB: Yes, yes. Because when these things happen, suddenly you have to report this either to the government or to the media. And then afterward the penalties will come. And investigations cost a lot of money. Penalties are really severe And doing all of these things, and if you’re still in the Windows 7 environment you’re actually opening yourself to these kinds of attacks.
LN: Yeah so, when these data incidents happen, as you like to call them, what do you see the role of internal IT investigations versus an outside computer forensic firm like myself specializes in data breaches and EMR. What is the typical role and function of the internal versus the outside expert witness?
AB: Internal it’s you know like myself, we do the investigation internally but we would love to hire, I mean we would like to hire an outside investigation, to give unbiased information. Saying that if you go to the legal ways that you will be able to say that hey, I’m not involved with this company I’m doing this…
LN: Sometimes, there’s benefit to having an outside forensic expert that’s independent speak only to the issues that are relevant and not necessarily have a knowledge of who was in IT that got fired or any of that other stuff that isn’t really relevant to the investigation but could create risk for the health care provider.
AB: True. True.
LN: So with regard to reporting obligations, let’s say you find that there was indeed exfiltration of patient data and that information left the organization, what are the reporting obligations?
AB: Well the best way that I can tell right now is if you were at the hhs.gov or consult your attorney it will actually tell you especially the website, will tell you what are the reporting obligations. There are multiple levels. If I go into details over here, it’s not going to last.
LN: Got it. And so, we talked about exfiltration but what can happen if someone gets in and actually deletes patient medical records?
AB: Well, the first thing is in hospital systems that patient who’s going to be either going into surgery or something like that, they will not be able to get, pull out the data.
LN: And so people who have a need for critical life-saving care, might actually die.
LN: Or worse yet, if someone were to alter the medical records
AB: That is a threat
LN: And say instead of your left lung having cancer it’s your right lung and you get the wrong lung removed, that’s a real problem
AB: It’s a big problem.
LN: So if you have to say, wrap it up what would be the top three recommendations you make to health care organizations to help defend against the potential future data breach that’s from running Windows 7?
Top 3 Measures to Defend Windows 7
First is implementing operate plan to leave Windows 7, immediately. That’s a given fact.
Second, isolate Windows 7 legacy into VDIs which we call the Virtual Desktop Environments. Isolate them from the network.
And the third, make sure that your disaster recovery is in place and you do periodic tabletop exercises.
LN: Well thanks so much, that was really informative. I appreciate you coming on the show.
A cardiac pacemaker is a lifesaver for many and is considered an implantable medical device. The FDA imposes regulations to protect these devices. Experts Lee Neubecker and Sterling Medical Devices, top engineer, Keith Handler examine FDA Quality System Regulations, ISO standards, and FDA guidelines used by Sterling Medical Devices that are essential to the manufacturing practices.
FDA Cybersecurity regulations in medical devices is a tough topic! Consider the cardiac pacemaker, probably the most notable life-saving implantable medical device. Did you know that it is operated by a computer chip? Just like any other computer they can be vulnerable to cybersecurity breaches.
Experts Lee Neubecker and Sterling Medical Devices, top engineer, Keith Handler examine the FDA’s Cybersecurity quality system regulations, ISO standards, and guidelines followed by Sterling Medical Devices to ensure cybersecurity for all their devices.
Tune in to Part 2 of our 3 Part Series on Medical Devices
The FDA Cybersecurity Regulations: Medical Devices Video Transcript Follows.
Lee Neubecker (LN): Hi, I’m back on the show today with Keith Handler, Keith, thanks for being back on.
Keith Handler (KH): Thanks again for having me.
LN: And Keith, again, is from Sterling Medical Devices, and today we’re going to talk about what measures are in place, that the FDA imposes to help ensure cybersecurity on medical devices, especially safety of PHI, and safety of the operation of those devices for end-users. Thanks again for being here.
KH: Yeah, thanks for having me. So, cybersecurity. It’s a tough topic, and the FDA is still figuring out how exactly to deal with it. They have issued guidance that attempts to categorize how high the risk is of cybersecurity for a device and the basic standards you need to follow in designing, and testing, and documenting your processes for developing that device. That guidance is currently how we generally implement most of our analysis processes and controls. The FDA has chosen to recognize certain certifications, such as UL 2100-1-2.
LN: And what is UL 2100-1?
KH: 2100-1 is a certification for network-connected systems, as far as cybersecurity is concerned, and 2100-1-2 is a subset of that standard, specifically for medical devices connected to the internet or a network. Mostly that standard follows the 2100-1, with a couple of modifications, based on the fact that medical is safety-related.
LN: Have you seen any changes in the standard since the WannaCry attack that took out a lot of the UK hospitals?
KH: Nothing that I can point to specifically. You know, that really comes down to changing specific vulnerabilities, our knowledge about them, and the attack vectors that we know that are capable of executing these things, cataloging them, making sure that we plan for them in future designs.
LN: So I know Bluetooth is a protocol that’s vulnerable to exploitation. I think at one point in time, there was a warning that everyone should take their pacemaker and get it updated. Were you familiar with that?
LN: Can you tell people a little bit more about what happened?
KH: Yeah, well, in that specific case, I’m not actually 100% sure what occurred there, but most of the time your issues are, with a lack of authentication, a lack of encryption, you need to be sure that what the device is talking to on the other end is exactly who they expect it to be, what they expect it to be, and you have to make sure that that communication is secured and unchanged, unaltered. Typically, that’s done by using specific security libraries, integrating them in careful ways, making sure that all communication over the wire is encrypted, things like an asynchronous key generation.
LN: I think, just from my memory of events, one of the problems they discovered is that these protocols, there’s a period of time before authentication occurs, in the preamble when there’s broadcast of the Mac address, the wireless name, and whatnot, where there’s a potential to create an overflow situation, to actually compromise a device before encryption and authentication occurs.
KH: Yes, in certain system designs it is that way.
LN: And, unfortunately, these protocols are, you know, they’re everywhere. So, at the time, I believe that the chip makers and various equipment providers, not just only in the medical area, but across the board, had to create fixes that help protect against these types of cyber-attacks.
LN: So, you were talking about UL 2100-1-2, what about TIR57? Can you explain what that is?
KH: So, AAMI TIR57 describes how to marry up the processes of medical safety risk analysis and security analysis. It’s an attempt to show that the security analysis process is actually very similar and very familiar for anybody that’s done the safety risk analysis before. More of less, it takes ISO 14971 and applies security risk management to it with a mix of a little bit of some NIST standards in as well. But the general idea is to really categorize what assets you’re protecting in your system, and the known vulnerabilities that your system has, and then from there, you attempt to determine a list of known attack vectors and categorize the profiles of your possible attackers. With a combination of that type of information, you can assess what the real vulnerabilities and risks are for your system, and design in controls, from the ground up, to make sure that you’ve protected against them.
LN: Yeah, well, this is really fascinating stuff. I appreciate you being on the show, and I look forward to our next segment talking more about cybersecurity and how to keep these devices safe.
KH: Thanks again for having me, Lee.
Don’t Miss Part 1 of this 3-Part Series on Medical Devices
Forensic Experts Lee Neubecker and Cat Casey from DISCO discuss Artificial Intelligence (AI) as it relates to improving Legal technology.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) thinks, learns and problem solves more efficiently than humans. AI is all around us and in almost everything we touch, it is an algorithm that is designed to make our lives easier and is sometimes referred to as machine learning.
In the case of litigation, it can save time and money by streamlining the process of document review, eDiscovery, and preparation for forensic cases. Computer Forensic Expert, Lee Neubecker and Catherine “Cat” Casey who is the Chief Innovation Officer for DISCO discuss how AI works to improve legal technology.
DISCO is a leader in legal technology is a developer of a cloud-native eDiscovery software for law firms designed to automate and simplify error-prone tasks. They provide a myriad of different types of analytics that will supercharge searching data dramatically reducing time and money.
Part 1 of our Three-Part Series on Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The Video Transcript Follows.
Lee Neubecker (LN): Hi, I’m here today with Cat Casey from CS DISCO. Thanks for being on the show.
Cat Casey (CC): My pleasure.
LN: We’re going to talk a little about artificial intelligence as it relates to eDiscovery and document review. Cat, can you tell us just a little bit about what your firm does to help speed up the review process and lower costs for clients.
CC: Absolutely, we’re a cloud-native AI-powered eDiscovery company. And what that means is we’ve got vast amounts of elastic computational power that we can use to run a myriad of different types of analytics on data to supercharge your searching and dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes you to get to that key actionable evidence. So, we’ve kind of flipped everything on its head. Instead of being a question of how quickly can I read through all of this data, it’s how laparoscopically can I surgically find all of that key information. The results that we’re seeing are pretty resounding. Up to 60% reduction in time to get to that key evidence. Freeing up attorneys to get back to what they went to school for, the practice of law. It’s pretty compelling. We’ve had some pretty interesting additions, including even today, we just announced, I think, the first true AI in eDiscovery with AI model sharing. Basically, with each iteration, with each type of case that you conduct with DISCO, our algorithms are getting smarter. We’re extracting insights and building in more robust taxonomy and analytic structure to parse data, which is going to yield better and better results for our clients. It’s truly exciting.
LN: So we’ve come a long way from the early days when the attorneys wanted everything printed and Bates-labeled before they looked at it. To now, moving ahead using TAR, technology-assisted review, like artificial intelligence, which fits into that, correct?
CC: 100%, we have a continual active learning model, so it’s more reinforcement learning than a standard supervised learning model. Basically, from the coding of document one, our algorithm’s getting smarter and making recommendations on highly likely to be similar documents. We battle test the algorithm on an ongoing basis. Whether it is an affirmative or a negative for a suggested document, the algorithm learns more, and because of that, we prioritize the most relevant information quickly and people are able to then accelerate their review speeds by up to, I think we’ve had over 180 docs per hour. So, it’s pretty compelling and this is just the beginning.
LN: So your platform’s all in the cloud, correct? So companies or law firms, they need no infrastructure other than a browser?
CC: 100%, the nice thing, in my prior life, I ran a global discovery program, and I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars a year just to keep pace, just to have storage, just to have basic replication and back up, and all of that. Now, even a small firm, all the way up to an Am Law One firm or a massive Fortune One company, they can have the same robust technology without having to set up a data center, without having to invest a ton of money. It lets everyone level up and has a better experience throughout the discovery process.
LN: One of the challenges a lot of my clients always have is they have a need to understand what the costs are going to be and to be able to communicate to their clients those expectations so they’re not throwing their clients on the eDiscovery rollercoaster of non-controllable bills. How does DISCO help to address those concerns?
CC: Transparency is a major pain point. One of the banes of my existence used to be trying to normalize this pricing model versus this, versus this service provider, versus this technology. We just throw that all out. We charge one flat amount per gig. It includes analytics. It includes processing. It includes everything, and we work with you to get the volume of data that is being applied to that one flat cost per gig down. It eliminates that hide the ball gotcha moment and it gives a lot of transparency. And of course, if someone wants a different model, we’re happy to accommodate that. But in general, straight, simple, honest. It’s really rewarding for our clients.
LN: So, what cases, what types of litigation case matters do you see as having some of the best benefits of being migrated into your platform?
CC: Yeah, I think any case can. If you’re a tiny company, it helps you be David versus Goliath. Even on a small data volume case, you can start getting insights and reduce the amount of time you’re having to spend doing something maybe you can’t chargeback for. For a big massive case, because we are an AWS and we were built on kind of convolutional neural networking, we’re moving, and we have such a robust computational lift, even we’ve had 150 million documents with hundreds of users and we still have sub one second page to page. We are still lightning fast. And so, whether it’s a big case, a simple case, a complex case, there is a value proposition for almost anyone.
LN: In terms of the types of law firms that are using your platform, do you see many smaller, medium-size firms using your–
CC: Tons, actually tons. That was where we got our teeth. Boutique, we started as a boutique law firm. We actually were a bunch of attorneys that were frustrated that all the tools were terrible, and so they built their own. And so, the foundation of DISCO, we had a family of tons of boutique law firms that we were supporting, we still do to this day. The tool we built though, had a longer vision. It was built to be much bigger and more scalable, and as a result, that’s why you’re seeing us with major, the WilmerHales of the world, very large firms and very large corporations because the tool itself can scale up so much.
LN: Great, what are some of the challenges of working, that law firms find that already have entrenched solutions? There are other review products out there and if they really want to make the benefit of your platform, don’t they have to kind of fully use it for the case?
CC: I would say you probably don’t want to split the baby with a case. If you’re processing with another tool, you’re not going to get the same benefit as working with DISCO. But you don’t have to move your entire litigation portfolio to DISCO day one. We’re seeing a lot of people that are sunsetting Legacy Product and Legacy Platforms moving towards DISCO, but it’s not, “I’m going to move every single case today.” It’s going forward, we’re going to start bringing in new cases. There tends to be such an improved experience and improved UI for the attorneys that they start to not want to use the other technology as much.
LN: I know as a computer forensic expert, oftentimes we’re going out initially collecting and forensically preserving the data. But your product sounds like it would be right for a firm that does forensics that needs to collect different data from computers, possibly harvest just an email. Filter the dates and times of the email to a PST and then they can take those PSTs and upload it into your platform, correct?
CC: 100% and we also, we’ve productized some advanced ECA, where we charge a much, much lower rate. So, you get three months no cost hosting. It’s half the usual rate, and you can do ECA for up to three months. And the goal of that is to let’s whittle down to the most surgical, teeny, tiny, laparoscopic piece of data set that you can have. An example was we had a 20 million document case and we were able to run the ECA, get it down to about 5.6 million documents. Run more coaling, run our analytics, get it down to about 200,000 documents. And usually, that would be when you have to review every single one, but we were able to, with our workflow, with CAL, get it down to 140,000 documents. And so, if you think 50 bucks an hour, an attorney can only do 50 docs an hour, the cost savings is monumental.
LN: So as someone uses your platform and they start to tag and prioritize certain documents, your software learns based on that taking. It helps find related concepts to those conversations and what not?
CC: 100%, 100%.
LN: So really, the more that are reviewed as responsive, similar concepts and whatnot so that important links aren’t missed.
CC: 100% and because we do automatic batching, is every new batch of documents a person gets because we’ve applied this artificial intelligence and continual active learning model, it is a more relevant subset of data and people are able to go through it more faster. And sometimes, they will get to a point where they can say, “I’ve hit all my relevant information. “The rest is not relevant. “I’m going to sample it and statistically determine “I don’t have to review those last 100,000 documents “that maybe aren’t relevant,” and it’s pretty cool.
LN: In our next segment, we’re going to be talking What the trends are in the industry impacting law and eDiscovery. And then finally, we’ll talk about some of the pitfalls of what companies, organizations, and law firms face if they don’t embrace artificial intelligence to help make their review process more efficient. Well, thanks for being on the show.
CC: My pleasure.
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View DISO’s website to learn more about AI trends in Legal Industry
When employees leave a company, it is common that departing staff may take electronic files belonging to their former employer. Matthew Prewitt, a trade secret litigator shares his experiences pursuing and defending against such litigation. The role of computer forensics and the importance it plays in getting to the truth is discussed in this informative interview.
Leading computer forensics Expert Lee Neubecker discusses trade secret misappropriation by a departing employee and how that can lead to a competitor gaining an unfair competitive edge. The Chair of Schiff Hardin’s trade secret practice, Matthew Prewitt, emphasizes the importance of working with a computer forensics expert to preserve digital evidence and perform effective discovery that can later be used if litigation is necessary. Enigma Forensics staff are experts when investigating a departed employee using computer forensics.
The transcript of the video follows:
Lee Neubecker: Hi, I’m here today with Matt Prewitt. Matt is the chair of Schiff Hardin’s trade secret practice, and is an experienced litigator that focuses on the area of trade secret theft. Matt, thanks for being on the show.
Matthew Prewitt: Thanks for having me, Lee.
Lee Neubecker: We’ve had cases we worked on before involving departed employees. Could you tell everyone a little bit about your experience in this area, dealing with trade secret theft?
Matthew Prewitt: Sure, I mean as a trial lawyer, I’ve litigated both sides, sometimes, defending the departing employee, and/or that employee’s new employer, other times representing as the plaintiff, the company that the employee left.
Lee Neubecker: So, can you tell people generally what happens when you’re on the side of that had the employee that left? What happens at ground zero?
Matthew Prewitt: Well, ideally, the company would already have in place a structure of trade secret protection, and contractual, policy, and technology protections against unfair competition by the departing employee. So, that framework consists of, typically, a confidentiality agreement with the employee, perhaps a set of restrictive covenants, like a non-compete agreement, and then, hopefully, handbook policies that govern the conduct of the employee. Those will be coupled with restrictions, of course, that integrate with the company’s relationships, with its vendors and customers. Basically what the company ideally should be doing, is sitting down with outside counsel, in-house counsel, IT, and thinking about all the places where the company has sensitive, competitive information, trade secrets, or other confidential information, that are at risk when an employee turns out to be disloyal.
Lee Neubecker: So, when a client calls you, and they suspect that someone took stuff, what do you advise them to do, initially?
Matthew Prewitt: Well, I mean the first is to assess the situation and, that consists of identifying, with these days, almost everything is electronic of course, so, the first part of the assessment is to identify the types of electronic information that the departing employee would have access to. Either legitimately, during the course of that employee’s work, or, by exceeding the policy limits or protections that the company had in place. You’re doing, you’re identifying those areas for two reasons, one, preservation of evidence is very very important. And there’s no way to know what you need to preserve if you don’t know what the employee had access to, or potentially could’ve stolen. And then the other reason is to assess the competitive risk, and to begin to develop a plan for the investigation, and perhaps litigation response if it turns out to be warranted.
Lee Neubecker: And, so, typically, I know part of that initial response, when I’ve worked with you in the past, you want a forensic image made of the employee’s computer, before anyone mucks it up.
Matthew Prewitt: That is a, certainly an important starting point. With the changes in technology, for better or for worse, the places where the relevant data reside and the places that need to be preserved are, are multiplying instead of getting narrower, so, the hard drive of the laptop remains a very important source, because, forensically, it is often times the area that is most susceptible to forensic analysis and investigation. But there certainly are other places, as well. Cloud storage, the company’s computer network, personal email account of the employee, personal phone, company-issued phone, it goes on.
Lee Neubecker: I know when I first started in this area many years ago, the misappropriation was on a CD-ROM, and now, you’ve got smart phones, you’ve got USB drives, but the cloud is a whole other area of concern, because, companies can connect to Dropbox, Box.com, various other place, AWS, and move data to the cloud, so that, that becomes another point of concern in a need to be able to collect and preserve data from sources other than the computer.
Matthew Prewitt: You’re absolutely right, Lee.
Lee Neubecker: So can you tell us any war stories about what, what’s happened in the past when you’ve used forensics to pursue a case, and what kind of result you’ve been able to get for your clients?
Matthew Prewitt: Sure. I mean the forensic examination is really a critical part of a trade secrets case, especially if you’re on the plaintiff side, because, in, when you’re in court, trying to enforce restrictions against a departing employee, the, for better or for worse, the court is typically going to start that process with having, with some sympathy to the departing employee. I mean we are in America, and people are supposed to be rewarded for their ingenuity and hard work, and, employee mobility from one company to another is a basic value of our society. So, showing the court that the employee cannot be trusted to do the right thing, to be an honest and ethical employee at the new employer, at the new, at the competitor that she or he’s goin’ to, is really really important for building an effective non-compete case, or trade secrets theft case as a plaintiff.
Lee Neubecker: So for instance, if your client had a policy of no USB drives, and didn’t use USB drives, but yet, your forensic expert reported that a USB device was plugged into the computer the day before they filed their resignation, and that various files appear to have been copied to that drive, that would be something that would be compelling in support of an injunction, correct?
Matthew Prewitt: It’s certainly a brick in the building that you’re trying, or the story that you’re trying to build from court, absolutely.
Lee Neubecker: So there’s other pieces too, have you had situations where you’ve petitioned the court to allow discovery of that departed employee’s home computer, or the new workplace computer?
Matthew Prewitt: Yes, part of the forensic exercise is demonstrating the need for that discovery. And so, what you’ll want to start with as part of your initial investigation, is to have your forensic expert look for evidence that will show that the employee has used her home computer, has used external devices, has copied to the cloud, and once you can show the migration of data, under suspicious circumstances, off the realm of the company-owned hardware or accounts, then that’s the central starting point for demonstrating the court that you need a more invasive approach into the personal devices and accounts of the departing employee.
Lee Neubecker: Great so, let’s say that the plaintiff attorney has established convincingly with their forensic expert that data was misappropriated, and that the data clearly is confidential, and trade secret-type information. If you’re advising the new company that hired the sales person, and you saw the report and you believed the report to be credible, how might you try to help that new employer end the litigation and get things to a peaceful place?
Matthew Prewitt: Hopefully that they, the new employer has already laid the foundation for that scenario by instructing the employee before arriving, that they should not copy or take things with them, from their previous employment, should not load things onto the company network that are… belong to the previous employer, et cetera. And, to have done that in writing. If that’s happened, that puts the new employer in a potentially awkward spot, because you have an employee who not only has, has taken his former, his or her former employer’s stuff, but then has also disregarded the instructions of the new employer as well. That’s the situation where the new employer may be seriously considering terminating its relationship with the new employee.
Lee Neubecker: I’ve seen that happen, I’ve also seen situations where, the employee who departs agrees to have forensic inspections on his computer, and, signs an agreement that pretty much guarantees that if he’s caught doing something with this, that he’s going to have, face massive legal costs, and admit to wrongdoing.
Matthew Prewitt: That’s where that trust factor or credibility factor, that comes, that’s one example of where it becomes really critical. Not only is the court typically going to be inclined to the defendant departing employee’s situation, and want that employee to be able have gainful employment, many courts are also going to want to give that employee a second chance. And the second chance here is the chance to turn over the, turn over the information, and provide exactly the kind of affidavit or certification you’re referring to.
Lee Neubecker: Great well, I appreciate you being on the show and talking about this topic. It’s one that impacts most businesses, so, thanks again for being on the show.
Keys to Investigating Departed Employees using Computer Forensics
Forensically preserve the departed employee’s computer storage media before any examination of the contents occurs
Look for recently accessed files as reported by shortcuts and other system activity logs
Analyze recently deleted files to look for evidence of trade secret theft
Investigate recent connections of external storage to the computer
Build a timeline of events that led up to the departure to assist in an efficient investigation
Hire an experienced computer forensics expert – that’s us