How Magnet Forensics Uses Software, Data to Help Law Enforcers Battle Crime

Jad Saliba was working as a police officer in Waterloo, Ontario until a cancer diagnosis forced him off the street.

After a year of radiation and chemotherapy he returned to work but was unable to return to patrol duties, instead he was assigned to digital forensics—examining evidence stored on computers, devices and in the cloud.

That kind of evidence plays a big role in a growing number of investigations and it’s absolutely key in cases where children are lured by predators over the internet.

But Saliba, who had worked in software before becoming a police officer, noticed a problem: gathering evidence from cloud-based applications was extremely difficult.

“I created Internet Evidence Finder, the product precursor to our company, Magnet Forensics, to solve a challenge I was having at work as a police officer and digital forensic investigator. With the advent of social networking applications and smartphones we saw more and more evidence coming in digital formats but didn’t have the ability to deal with it effectively,” Saliba says.

RELATED: Magnet Forensics is hiring

Getting data from computers and smartphones was a challenge of its own, but cloud-based applications had made it even harder.

Investigators also needed ways to organize and sort through massive amounts of data to find the evidence they needed – all while making sure that evidence would be admissible in court.

That’s what Internet Evidence Finder was designed to do. It allows investigators to get information off of physical drives, whether those drives are part of a phone, a computer, or where a cloud services provider is ultimately storing the data uploaded to their app.

Initially, Saliba gave the product away from free but as the workload increased and more police forces began using the software, it became harder and harder for him to find enough time to keep up. That’s when Magnet Forensics became a real business.

“I felt I could make a positive impact by working on creating better tools to support law enforcement’s digital investigations full-time,” Saliba says.

The software has had a big impact.

“Almost every child exploitation, terrorism and other criminal investigations has a digital component today. Finding the key evidence amongst the volumes of data is where our products shine,” Saliba says.

It’s been used by FBI agents in Alaska to recover child pornography that had been deleted from a pedophile doctor’s computer, Irish police used it to solve a murder and the software was referenced dozens of times during the trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev.

Results like these appear to be driving strong growth for Magnet Forensics. In two years, the company has seen it’s team grow from eight people to almost 100.

“Our products are used by 2,700 agencies in 92 countries,” says Adam Belsher, the company’s CEO. “What we’re most proud of is that we’ve achieved this success by helping our partners in law enforcement deal with major areas of crime such as child exploitation and terrorism.”

Belsher, a former vice-president at BlackBerry, back when it was called Research In Motion, was employee number two at Magnet Forensics and has handled much of the business side of the operation, while Saliba focuses on the technology.

The company’s growth doesn’t seem likely to stop, in early December it signed a deal with In-Q-Tel, a not-for-profit venture capital firm that invests in new technologies that could help the United States’ intelligence agencies.