Tales from the Hard Drive

Tales from the Hard Drive
Jeff Brenner, Esq., NJLPI and Steve Hilary, CCE, EnCE, ACE recently entertained the Camden County Bar Association with four case studies.

  1. John Dillinger – Bank Theft in the Digital Age
  2. The Time Traveler’s Document
  3. The Sexting Supervisor
  4. What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Computers–The Volume Shadow Copy Knows!

The cases educated the audience (i) how to digitally trace stolen files via thumb drives from one company to another, (ii) how to tell if an electronic document was forged or backdated using metadata analysis, (iii) how to find deleted/missing text messages on a smartphone, and (iv) some unusual locations where data can hide on the Cloud, a computer’s operating system, and on backups.

Maragell’s Computer Forensic Expertise Proves Instrumental in Federal Jury Trial Victory

Maragell’s Computer Forensic Expertise Proves Instrumental in Federal Jury Trial Victory
Steven M. Hilary, EnCE, CCE, ACE, was recently accepted in Federal Court as an expert in computer forensics. Mr. Hilary testified during the two-week jury trial how the defendants used their company computers to create a competing business (via Gmail communications regarding the new company’s logo, 401K documents, and a new company handbook), and then intentionally deleted all the files on one of them using the “Windows Reset” setting in Windows 10. With the Windows Reset feature, a user has the option to “Keep my files” or “Remove Everything;” the latter option was selected in this case.

Mr. Hilary also explained how the defendants spoliated cell phone evidence by selectively deleting their text messages. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t know that even when a text is deleted, if they “liked” the text using the Apple Tapback feature, the operating system within the phone maintained the Tapback icon (the “thumbs up”) as well as the text that (they thought) was deleted. Based on Mr. Hilary’s findings, the Court instructed the jury to presume the foregoing destroyed information was unfavorable to the defendants. The jury awarded our client a multi-million dollar verdict, including punitive damages.

Expanding the Walls of your Castle? Protect your Data and Remote Employee Devices


St Andrews Castle, once a stronghold of the Catholic Church, fell into the hands of locals when they tricked the residents by posing as masons sent by Rome to fix the walls. Don’t let yours suffer the same fate.


Your Expanded Office

As you transition your business to remote and home office locations you increase the number of openings and pathways into your castle.

To help counter the risks these extended office walls create (and the devices contained inside) Maragell, in conjunction with our sister firm Black Cipher Security, is offering an easy-to-install cybersecurity protection solution for as low as $250 per device per year.

The tool monitors the device in real time (24/7) for malicious activity and acts to stop attack vectors such as ransomware, identify unusual user activity, and stop and quarantine malicious processes, all with the oversight of our Security Operations Center. For more information, please complete the contact form displayed on this page.

Thank you for Voting! Maragell Named BEST Corporate Investigator for 2019

Dear Friends,

Thank you for your continued support! Maragell has been named in the New Jersey Law Journal’s 2019 Survey of Vendors to the legal community as the WINNER

Best Corporate Investigations Provider!

We were also voted a Top 3 “Best of” provider in the following two categories:

Best Expert Witness (Technology/Computer Forensics)
Best End-to-End eDiscovery Provider

On behalf of our entire staff, we thank you for your past business and we look forward to supporting you in the future.


Jeffrey Brenner, Esq., NJLPI

Best of News – SJ Magazine Top Attorney Night

Maragell, LLC was once again proud to sponsor the 2019 winners of the SJ Magazine Top Attorneys Awards. Congratulations to all the honorees, including our own Jeff Brenner who was named a Top Attorney in Computer Law.

See all the winners here:

Data Spoliation – Uncovering the Cover-Up

Concerned your adversary’s client altered a document and deleted the original? Worried your own client deleted key evidence from his computer before turning it over for inspection? Years ago, when a user hit “delete” it didn’t always mean “delete” and forensic examiners were quick to amaze litigants with their ability to reclaim the information. With improved hard drive technology and increased operating system security (combined with full disk encryption), today, delete can really mean delete. Or does it? Enter forensic artifact.
Just as the human brain tells the muscles in the arm to curl, a computer’s operating system tells the device what to do when a thumb drive is inserted, how to display a webpage, or when a file is deleted. These types of commands/ instructions, among thousands of others, are routinely recorded and stored by the computer’s operating system. By studying these items, a forensic examiner can often recreate the user’s activities on the computer, including the spoliation of information.By way of example, a user can remove a file from a computer by simply deleting it. Doing so “sends” the file to the Recycle Bin. This action creates a host of forensic artifacts depending on the (Windows) operating system of the computer (Mac computers have different artifacts). These artifacts can reveal when the file was sent to the Recycle Bin, the original location of the file on the computer, its original size, and the user profile involved.

The file remains in the Recycle Bin until either the user restores the file (either by undoing the deletion or simply dragging it out) or removes it (by deleting the contents of the entire Recycle Bin or selectively deleting the one file). Deleting the deleted file from the Recycle Bin “sends” it to the unallocated/deleted space of the computer. If the drive is an older one, this space may contain the “permanently” deleted data until the data is overwritten by new files created on the computer or until a cleanup process is performed. Until the data is overwritten, keyword searches and forensic file recovery software can be used to locate and/or reclaim the information. If the drive is new (solid state drive or a virtual machine), the file itself is likely unrecoverable.

But what if the custodian were to wipe the relevant files from the computer instead of just deleting them? When a person wipes a file using a software program such as Eraser, Window Washer, or PC Cleaner, generally four actions will occur: the software will rename the original file, it will overwrite the original file’s data, it may change the timestamps of the original file, and it will delete the original file (not necessarily in this exact sequence).

Many of these transactions can be found in the operating system files even though the file itself has since been destroyed. By extracting and analyzing these operating system files, an examiner can potentially determine the original file’s name and location on the hard drive.

If the file cannot be identified, using other forensic artifacts found in the operating system, the examiner may still be able to determine what program was used (assuming the user deleted the wiping program too), when it was installed, and when it was used. The mere use of a wiping program after a litigation hold is in place (or subpoena received) may be enough to impose sanctions even if the original files cannot be identified. And, if that evidence can be coupled with an examination of the user’s Internet history showing what searches were conducted (i.e. “how to permanently delete a file”) an intentional act can be established.

Another “hiding” place for lost files is the computer’s Shadow Copy (sometimes referred to as a “Restore Point”). Depending on the configuration of the operating system, the computer itself may create several Shadow Copies, each one containing a snapshot of the content of the computer at the time. If a file is missing from the computer, by examining this artifact, the examiner may succeed in locating it. The bigger question of why it went missing is a topic for deposition.

Practice Tips: By knowing the original file names and locations of the wiped files, an examiner can potentially restore them from Shadow Copies. In the event no Shadow Copies exist, knowing the wiped file names/folders even existed may provide sufficient evidence to claim spoliation. Finally, analyzing other artifacts on the computer may show when a wiping program was initially used, when it was last run and how many times, and whether the user searched the Internet for tips on how to destroy sensitive files, thereby providing circumstantial evidence of an intentional act.

A Cybersecurity Risk Assessment is the First Step to Managing your Compliance Burden

Traditional risk management is already a mission critical practice for businesses. Add to it the scourge of computer hackers tapping into IT systems via emails laden with malware or through insecure remote connections and it becomes a seemingly impossible task. Append those daily efforts to the increasing demands of state and federal regulators to be notified of potential breaches in almost real time and you get a business that may not survive the resulting costs and reputational damage.

The solution proactive businesses (and their counsel) are using to help identify how data flows through their companies, the risks it faces as it moves, and how to use that knowledge to rapidly respond the ever-changing data privacy/breach notification regulatory environment is a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment.

A Cybersecurity Risk Assessment focuses on the value of the information contained within a business’s computers and the losses it may incur if that information is exposed, destroyed, stolen, or becomes otherwise inaccessible. The Assessment identifies and categorizes the critical electronic data in the business’s possession or control, where that data is located, who has access to it, and the strength of the business’s current IT systems and controls to protect it from harm. This catalog of information allows business leaders, risk officers and legal counsel to build, upgrade, and maintain systems, processes and protocols which will ultimately reduce the risk of a cyber incident, limit the legal, financial and reputational exposure should an incident occur, and enable the business to respond to regulatory notification requirements in an efficient and cost effective manner. This strategy ultimately aligns with the goals of state and federal data and privacy regulations and responsibilities.

A Cybersecurity Risk Assessment is often confused with protectionist tools like cybersecurity audits, vulnerability assessments, and penetration tests. Each tool is important, but they are not interchangeable nor do they address the business’s IT architecture as a whole. These tools are designed to evaluate the strength or weakness of a particular piece of software (computer operating systems, programs, applications), or hardware (routers, firewalls), or business processes (data flow and usage), and the channels over which the business’s information flows (third party vendors, cloud storage, email). The results these tools yield become part of the Cybersecurity Risk Assessment and impact how the business re-organizes itself, its processes, and its equipment to better protect its data and the value it represents.

New Regulations to Come:

The Office of the New Jersey Attorney General recently announced that it will be creating a new civil enforcement unit, known as the Data Privacy & Cybersecurity Section, to investigate data breaches impacting New Jersey residents and to enforce federal and state data privacy and cybersecurity laws. New Jersey’s AG joins an expanding list of state AGs, including those of California, Connecticut, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and North Carolina, who are dedicating more resources to data breach investigation and enforcement actions.

In 2017 the New York Department of Financial Services released Cybersecurity Regulation 23 NYCRR 500 (DFS 500), a set of regulations that places new cybersecurity requirements on all covered financial institutions. In addition, the NY state Attorney General has proposed the SHIELD ACT, which would place a legal
on companies to adopt “reasonable” administrative, technical, and physical safeguards for sensitive data; the standards would apply to any business that holds sensitive data of New Yorkers, whether they do business in New York or not. The performance of a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment is a primary requirement for compliance with these regulations.
Pennsylvania is one of 24 states that requires customer notification, “without unreasonable delay,” when a data breach affects more than 1,000 residents. Pennsylvania’s attorney general is taking on a national role on data breaches in the midst of a wave of incidents impacting millions of Americans and Pennsylvanians. Attorney General Shapiro filed his office’s first-ever lawsuit under Pennsylvania’s Breach of Personal Information Notification Act against the ride-sharing company Uber based on a data breach impacting 600,000 Uber drivers in the United States — including 13,500 in Pennsylvania.
Performing a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment will not only improve the business’s security posture, it will help align the organization with these, and other state and federal regulations and activities (e.g. Sarbanes Oxley, HIPAA Privacy, PCI) and the most recent addition, the international data transfer requirements of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). Knowing where the data is, what personally identifiable information it contains, who has access to it, and for how long, will not only put the organization in the most efficient compliance posture, it will greatly improve its incident response time.
To learn more about how Black Cipher Security can help improve your outcomes, visit our website at or email

Thank you for Voting! Maragell Named One of the Best Computer Forensics Experts and Best Investigators for 2018

Dear Friends,

Thank you for your continued support! Maragell has been named in the New Jersey Law Journal’s 2018 Survey of vendors to the legal community as a Top 3 “Best of” winner in the following categories:

Best Expert Witness (Technology/Computer Forensics)
Best Corporate Investigations Provider

On behalf of our entire staff, we thank you for your past business and look forward to supporting you in the future.


Jeffrey Brenner, Esq., NJLPI

Don’t Get Digitally Burned by a Departing Employee

As a business owner, often your most valuable asset is your employees. But what happens when your best employee leaves without reason or mentions she or he is going to work for another company? This should raise a red flag if that employee has access to your company’s sensitive data and/or intellectual property.

Even if you don’t suspect any nefarious motives, in addition to conducting an in-depth exit interview, another pro-active measure a company can take to protect itself is to engage a computer forensic expert to forensically image the departing employee’s computer hard drive (i.e. create an exact bit-by-bit mirror copy).

By having the hard drive imaged immediately, the digital evidence is preserved just as it was the day the employee last laid his or her fingers on the keyboard. Preserving the hard drive has two primary benefits:

  • An analysis of the forensic image can be conducted quickly if needed (if, for example, the employee left and “failed to mention” he was going to work for a competitor or open his/her own shop); and
  • The evidence would not be trampled upon. Often the company’s IT department will re-issue the computer to another employee thus making forensic analysis more difficult). Even worse, the computer hard drive could be wiped/destroyed and a new one inserted into the shell.

In the event the forensic image does need to be analyzed, the electronic fingerprints the employee left behind can reveal (i) what files were copied to external devices (thumb drives / USB hard drives), (ii) the file folders to which the ex-employee browsed prior to departure, (iii) which websites/cloud storage sites the ex-employee navigated to on the Internet, (iv) the personal or company email the ex-employee sent to her/himself or the new company, and (v) the files s/he may have deleted.

The next time a key employee leaves your company, contact us to discuss which data preservation options best fit your needs.

Post by Steve Hilary, Digital Forensic Examiner
Certified Computer Examiner (CCE)
Encase Certified Examiner (EnCE)
AccessData Certified Examiner (ACE)
New Jersey License Private Detective

How to Use Social Media as an Employee Screening Tool

Social media is a staple in life.

Social media is a staple in life. It is the way in which many people obtain news, communicate with one another, and even conduct political conversations. Therefore, it makes sense that employers want to utilize social media when conducting employee screening investigations on potential employees. While using social media can be helpful, it is important to be mindful of the ways in which social media can, and should, be used in this delicate process.

Farm; Don’t Hunt with Social Media

Social media is a wonderful screening tool that can be used to farm information to create a full picture. The idea is to browse everything available to the public and get to know your candidate through this public persona. As opposed to running criminal background checks and credit reports, which allows you to hunt for specific information, social media is an open-ended search process. Anything can be found through the social media profiles and activities, whether the information is more of a personal nature or even a professional nature.

Therefore, do not be closed-minded when perusing a candidate’s public profiles and activities online. Reviewing information such as profiles, as well as postings, Reddit activity, Twitter follows, and even Instagram and Snapchat activity can create an in-depth picture of whom you are potentially hiring.

Stay Within Legal Guidelines

Since social media is an open book for those who offer public glimpses into their lives and activities, it is easy to get swept away in the idea that anything goes. However, this is still an employment situation with federal and state guidelines in place to protect the rights of employment candidates.

For instance, in New Jersey it is illegal to mandate an employment candidate provide you credentials to access their social media accounts. Employees have the right to privacy. Unless they have purposefully, and willfully added you as a friend or follower, you can only have the same access any member of the general public has to the candidate’s social media.

In addition, hiring decisions cannot be based on discriminatory facts, such as age, race, creed, sexual orientation, or other similar factors. Social media gives you an insight to all of these types of issues surrounding a potential candidate. Therefore, tread lightly and do your best to only focus on the activities at hand, as opposed to facts that you know to be discriminatory.

Finally, it is best to have a clear policy in place for your hiring staff and management regarding the use of social media for employee screening purposes. This is something to design with your HR team and legal team to ensure you are following the guidelines set forth by any and all laws affecting the hiring process.

Social Media’s Standard Practices

Beyond the legal issues (click the link to view a national summary), there are several standard practices that may be a good idea to follow when researching potential or even current employees on social media. While the following concepts may not be illegal they may put you into a generally difficult position, at best, or be unethical, at worst.

1. Do not “friend” employees or candidates on social media. This creates a level of personal connection that may be detrimental, especially if any adverse action is to be taken with that employee in the future.

2. Speak to the potential employee or candidate about the findings before making any decision. Sometimes social media is not truly an accurate portrayal of an individual. Maybe a photo was posted without the person’s permission. Maybe that photo was photoshopped and is not a truthful photo. Maybe the person was hacked and information on their social media account is inaccurate as a result.

3. Be cautious when making decisions based on findings on social media to make sure there is no breach of any legal duties.

It is not a bad idea to utilize all available resources to get to know the potential employee, however, when utilizing social media, make sure you are appropriately cautious in your approach. If you are in need of a company who specializes in employee screening and using all available resources while abiding by state and local laws, contact us at 856.429.0325. Our investigative experts will be happy to help you make sound hiring decisions without compromising ethics or legal requirements.