Computer Forensics Firm Makes the Case for Office Efficiency


Sometimes, the best witnesses in a divorce case, a sexual harassment claim, or an intellectual property dispute are ones that can't see, hear or speak. But that doesn't mean they can't be remarkably effective.

In fact, in the world of forensic science, computers can be star witnesses. They don't lie. They don't have any hidden agendas. And they don't argue or talk back. In truth, computers can be an incredibly valuable tool in building or breaking down cases involving a variety of crimes and civil suits.

That is the major premise behind the creation of Vestige Digital Investigations, formed in May 2004 through the merger of F1, Ltd., and Computer Investigation & Evidence, Inc. Working with a client's outside or in-house counsel, Medina (Cleveland), Ohio-based Vestige is one of the leading providers of computer forensic services for use in civil litigation, law enforcement, criminal proceedings and corporate policy administration. Although the company is relatively new, the two founding entities share over 10 years experience in computer forensics, over 20 years practicing law, and more than 30 years experience in information technology.

While many of Vestige's cases require intense investigation, it's no mystery that two of the most critical factors in the company's daily activities are protection of the computers used as evidence and quick access to the information stored within the computers' hard drives. Consequently, when Vestige installed a new, sophisticated computer laboratory - part of an expansion that saw the firm's office space triple in size - Vestige put a great deal of time and effort into the selection of the lab furniture.

After examining a variety of alternatives, Vestige ultimately settled on the Arlink® 8000 Modular Workstation System from Lista International, a world-leading manufacturer of storage and workspace solutions.

Arlink 8000 workstations can be arranged in a number of different configurations. Virtually no hardware or tools are required for assembly, and the Arlink 8000 offers the industry's fastest and simplest set-up and reconfiguration ability. According to Damon Hacker, CEO and president of Vestige, the modularity and ease of assembly were two of the most important considerations, due to his company's rapid growth pattern.

"As a fast-growing company, it was clear that our furniture requirements would be constantly changing," said Hacker, who bought the Lista workstations from KDF Company, of Butler, Pennsylvania. "We didn't want to have lab furniture that was built in, and we didn't want things that were going to be difficult to assemble, since we knew we'd be taking them apart and putting them back together frequently.

"With this equipment, we can easily mix and match pieces as necessary and reconfigure them almost instantly."

Hacker himself tested the ease-of-assembly promise, putting a workstation together with minimal assistance in one evening. Even when he ran into a slight problem during the assembly, he said that a customer representative talked him through the steps via phone.

Vestige elected to add the electro-static dissipative (ESD) package to the workstations, given the sensitivity of the computer equipment which is the lifeblood of its business. Interestingly, Hacker notes that the ESD package is as much about perception as it is performance.

"The electronic equipment that we're working with  not just computers but other electronic devices like cell phones and PDAs - are being used as evidence in some extremely important cases," he said. "Because of their value, we have to ensure that we're protecting and preserving this evidence. So the ESD package was certainly an option that we felt we couldn't do without."

The workstations are set up in an "L" shaped configuration, with each station dedicated to a specific aspect of the analysis. When a computer is brought into the lab, it is disassembled, either completely or partially, at a workstation in what is called the intake area. Another station, also located in this same area, subsequently receives the hard drive or computer disk. This station has a tool rack on it, with a full assortment of screwdrivers, wire cutters, and pliers at arm's reach. Anti-static mats at this location enhance the station's ESD properties. At this station, technicians start up the computer, generally looking for a couple of specific bits of information on the hard drive. To make this process as efficient as possible, the station houses a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and power cable.

At that same station, there is also a sloping wire rack that allows technicians to lift the hard drive off the tabletop surface and attach it to Vestige's "acquisition" computer - the computer used to extract the data from the hard drive. The wire rack has a lip on it, ensuring that the hard drive stays secure; often as many as 20 hard drives are situated on the rack at any given time. The wire rack also allows the company to keep all of the power cords in place, meaning they can be attached to the appropriate computer on a moment's notice. This not only makes the process efficient, but also helps the company maintain the lab's neat, ordered appearance.

"That was always a problem, crawling underneath the furniture or under the table to plug in power cords," recalled Hacker. "Having the power cords brought right up to the bench top is a big plus."

Another workstation is used to test the computers, while yet another is used to put the computers back together.
This new, streamlined process is a tremendous improvement over the traditional desks, credenzas, cubicles, bookcases and tables which once created crowding, inefficiency and frustration.

"We were moving equipment around rather than moving the evidence around," said Hacker. "If you completed one function and had to do a different one, you had to clean up the area you were using and then set up the new equipment. With our new process, we're able to keep the equipment in the right place and move the evidence through an assembly line procedure."

The space-saving aspect of the new Lista workstations is evidenced by the fact that Vestige is able to fit roughly two to three times the equipment into a lab space that is only about 25 percent larger than the old one. And according to Hacker, he has seen the increase in efficiency firsthand.

"I had a case where I was on the phone with an attorney and he asked me for some information that was only accessible by going to the original computer and plugging it in," he said. "In the past, I would have had to grab the computer, grab a key board, grab a power cable, set it up somewhere, turn it on, and when it was done I had to put all that stuff back. That whole process probably would have taken me 5 to 10 minutes."

"Instead this attorney called me, I put him on hold, walked into the lab to the first workstation, plugged the cables in, started it up, and was back on the phone in less than 2 minutes. And when I was done, I just put the computer back on the shelf and I didn't have to clean up anything."

Needless to say, the increase in efficiency, the protection of the valuable computer equipment, and the overall office aesthetics have made Vestige's purchase of Lista workstations a wise investment. Case closed.

Contact info:
Charlene Cloney
cdcloney@gr2000.com
Gray & Rice Public Relations
1 Washington Mall
Boston, MA 02108
1 617 367 0100, ext. 107

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