Eamon Doherty was a non-tenured professor in Fairleigh Dickinson’s department of computer science and engineering, teaching robotics and telephone communications related to his doctoral work, when the job market threw him a curve. During the last couple of years the outsourcing of jobs in telephone communications and robotics to India and China has forced him to find a new academic focus.
When Doherty found himself in the unseemly role of trying to market his classes to students moving in other directions, he switched to the department of administrative science at Fairleigh Dickinson’s Anthony J. Petrocelli College of Continuing Studies, returning to an earlier professional interest in security, computer forensics, and data recovery. He had developed expertise in this area working for Morris County from 1989 to 1995, setting up, ordering, delivering, and configuring PCs for the county probation office, its prosecutors, and its courts, and then teaching people how to use them.
In line with his current work, Doherty offers a workshop on “Computer Forensic Training on Handheld Computer Devices” on Monday, March 20, at 8:30 a.m. at the New Jersey Human Resource Development Institute in Trenton. For more information, call Gretchen Johnson at 201-692-7032.
Doherty finds it rewarding to be able to help security and law enforcement professionals as well as hospital information technology personnel keep current on techniques for investigating information on hand-held devices. His approach helps them to protect the community, the privacy of patient information, and corporate data and workflow. He talks about the general principles — and the technology — behind computer forensics:
Ensure that there is legal authority to investigate. “Everyone needs the authority to do what they’re doing,” says Doherty. In a large corporate setting, newly hired employees are asked to sign telephone and Internet usage policies that waive privacy rights if the employee violates the rules.
For example, if an employee steals corporate information, or even makes eBay purchases or plays games during company time, says Doherty, “the information technology group can take your computer and cell — whatever they have provided — and if you have violated company policy, you can be terminated or disciplined.”
From the perspective of the criminal justice system, a law enforcement officer or a private investigator needs a search warrant, which requires either proof of probable cause or exigency, for example, when people are missing and finding them may be a matter of life and death.
Create an image of the information using specialized software. Blackberries, cell phones, and PDAs are storage devices just like a computer, explains Doherty. Besides the obvious information about phone calls made and received and E-mail messages — including content — even the small devices can store illegal videos, corporate intellectual property like patents, stolen credit card numbers, or evidence of stalking activities.
Doherty uses software from the Paraben Corporation (www.paraben-forensics.com) called Device Seizure to pull all data off a device and to store it in a computer as an image. The image includes not only currently active data, but also deleted items that have not been written over with new material. In his seminars Doherty, who says “I don’t have anything to hide,” illustrates the process using his personal blackBerry, which yields 192 categories of information.
Ensure image security. To ensure that investigators have not changed any of the device data, the original image is placed in a secure place and then used only as an exact verified copy. The imaging process creates a number called a “hash mark,” which will change if the investigator makes any changes. “The hash mark ensures the integrity of the data collected,” says Doherty.
Although Doherty is committed to his current career path and believes that “computer security and forensics is important for national security and to keep the community safe,” he is also deeply involved in the work on computer-brain research that first captivated him as a graduate student. He volunteers in a nursing home, helping a paralyzed 40-year-old resident to put firewalls and antivirus software on his computer.
While at Fairleigh Dickinson, Doherty developed and patented, along with two students and the university, a special phone interface for people who are paralyzed and unable to speak. First, a program displays numbers on the screen and the user selects, one by one, the numbers in a telephone number — “clicking” on one by either thinking hard or making a face.
“Most have to make a face,” says Doherty, “because to think hard is exhausting and not reliable.” Then the program displays commonly used sentences, from which the user selects. Ultimately, the user selects the “talk” button, and the machine makes a phone call using the input information. Doherty has also worked with other bioelectric devices that help severely disabled individuals with a number of tasks, including playing video games.
Following his interest in brain-computer interfaces, Doherty recently wrote a book on telerobotics, “Computer Security and Telerobotics for Everyone.” In the book he explains how to create a robotic arm system that can be operated via the Internet from across the country or even the world. He envisions a disabled person using a robotic arm to handle hazardous materials, without having to be on the premises. “You always hear people being angry about globalism,” he says, “but it can be a good thing, too. I’m trying to enable the global workforce.”