The Internet. Social media. Chat rooms. The applications consumers use to navigate and manage their daily lives are also tools used as exploitation methods for bad guys.
ISIS is turning to Twitter to recruit others to its terrorist organization. Pedophiles use chat rooms and Facebook to lure innocent children to meet them or send them pictures. Cyber attackers are using phishing schemes to send emails to steal a person’s banking information. An employee uploads confidential corporate information to Dropbox and walks out the door.
Someone has to stop them. Someone has to help the law enforcement professionals responsible for our public safety, win the day.
Magnet Forensics is a technology company founded in 2011 by former Waterloo Regional Police Officer Jad Saliba. A specialist in digital forensic crime with a background in computer programming, Saliba began developing tools back in 2009 to help he and his fellow police officers uncover the invisible digital fingerprints criminals leave behind when they use technology to commit a crime.
“Almost every crime committed leaves behind some kind of digital evidence,” says Adam Belsher, CEO of Magnet Forensics. Adam, a former Blackberry executive, joined Jad in 2011 to help lead the company and craft its growth strategy. “Smartphones, a laptop computer, GPS technology in a car, a NEST thermostat—all of these devices leave behind digital traces of a person’s daily activities. Many of these devices are also connected to the Internet. So when a criminal uses technology—either directly or indirectly in the commission of a crime, all of that information is of investigative value.”
Magnet Forensics’s Internet Evidence Finder (IEF) helps law enforcement professionals find and recover evidence from hundreds of Internet, business computing and mobile artifacts; analyze the information to get to critical evidence fast; and present that information back in an understandable form for improved collaboration with colleagues or in a court of law. The company’s tools are now in use in more than 2,500 organizations in 93 countries around the world, and IEF has been instrumental in retrieving critical evidence required for convictions in some very profile criminal cases.
“We have the most sophisticated and well known law enforcement agencies using our tools to prosecute all kinds of crime,” says Adam.
Adam breaks the company’s rapid growth down into three phases, hobby, startup and small business.
“Back in 2009 when Jad first created our tools, he spent his weekends and vacation time building them to help his fellow officers in the law enforcement community. Then in 2011, we moved in to the Waterloo Accelerator Centre,” he says. “At that point, it was just Jad and I, and during that ‘startup’ phase we had revenues in the 100s of thousands. We graduated from the AC in 2012, and headed out on our own. And today, I’d say we’re in the small business phase. We are currently sitting around 50 employees and have revenue in the millions.”
The Magnet Forensics team is also about to make its third move in four years, moving from its current 4,900 square feet in Uptown Waterloo to an 18,000 square foot facility closer to the University of Waterloo. “We have very aggressive plans for growth over the next few years and this move will give us the room to grow,” says Adam.
Part of that growth includes a “halo effect” expansion into the corporate market. While public safety is still the core strength of the company, IEF is now used in white-collar fraud, IP theft and HR policy violation investigations in more than 75 Fortune 1000 companies.
“We have been fortunate to have corporations use our product; and we are continuing to add new capabilities that make the product more attractive to the corporate market,” says Adam. “Our early success in attracting large companies to our tools is definitely due to our heritage and success with law enforcement officials. That adds a lot of credibility in the Fortune 1000 world.”
But Adam is quick to point out that while the corporate market offers significant opportunity, Magnet Forensics still has lots of room to grow in the field of public safety.
“When Jad set out to build a forensic tool in 2009, he was really at the tip of the spear. Technology and social media networks have literally exploded around us over that time. The challenge for law enforcement professionals is in keeping up with this new digital paradigm where crime is enabled by technology and has become a cross-border and multi-jurisdictional challenge.
“We are uniquely positioned to help public safety officials. There are companies out there who can get traditional information from documents and email. But the real nuggets of evidence are found in text messages, in chat rooms and in social messaging. These are the pathways criminals take. And this is where our flagship product, IEF, shines.
“Today we solve a very specific pain for law enforcement. But we want to do more for them. So we’re perpetually asking ourselves what other problems can we solve? Recent events such as the terrorist attack in Ottawa, and the NRC being hacked, or reports of child exploitation, and human trafficking – these are big issues that are top of mind for everyone. And law enforcement officials need better tools to help prevent and solve these 21st century crimes. The knowledge that we may be able to prevent a terrorist act, save someone’s life, or protect a child from exploitation gives our team a mission and purpose. It gets us all up and out of bed each morning.”