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Computer Forensics in the Workplace

by Ellie Williams

Law enforcement agencies use computer forensics to prevent and solve crimes ranging from terrorism to murder to fraud. These same techniques are just as valuable in the workplace, where they enable companies to protect everything from proprietary information to their bottom line. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 allows employers to monitor usage of company-owned computers, meaning much of an employee's computer-related activity is fair game.

Data Retrieval

Computer forensics experts can uncover information long after its deletion or encryption and even after a hard drive has been reformatted. For example, they can help companies restore data lost during a system crash or after the damage of a computer. By analyzing Internet and computer activity, they can locate where an email or fax originated, determine who accessed specific files and when, and identify which websites a user visited or what files he downloaded.

Protecting Information

Many companies rely on computer forensics to safeguard both their intellectual property and their customers’ personal information from attacks by computer hackers. Cyber security is a growing concern for large and small businesses alike, with “USA Today" noting that cyber security firm Symantec reported a 400 percent increase in targeted cyber attacks in 2011. Companies can use computer forensics to not only track down the source of a cyber attack but also to routinely evaluate the organization’s computer system for potential weak spots that could expose the organization to attack.

Monitoring Employee Behavior

Companies can use computer forensics techniques to watch over employee computer usage, either by installing software or by hiring a computer forensics investigation firm. This allows employers to monitor their staff in real time, instead of waiting until a crime or security breach occurs. It also enables them to spot activity that drains worker productivity, as in the case of visiting social networking sites. With this technology, employers can track emails sent and received, save instant messages, identify websites visited and block specific sites.

Investigating Employee Misconduct

If an employee is suspected of misusing company computers or even of committing a serious crime, computer forensics experts can uncover evidence of the offense. For example, businesses can determine if an employee accessed sensitive documents without authorization, compromising valuable trade secrets. If one employee files a sexual harassment claim against another, companies can search for email or instant messages documenting inappropriate behavior directed toward the alleged victim. In the case of suspected embezzlement, computer forensics can prove that an employee moved funds without permission or lied about profits, losses or other financial information.

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