When a young employee of iRobot left the company known for the Roomba self-traveling vacuum, a competing product soon hit the market. After a period of surveillance, the company filed a lawsuit against the former employee for taking trade secrets.
Also making robots for the military, the company requires high security and hired Daniel Bellich, a former FBI agent who protected Pope John Paul II and headed major heroin busts, and Keith Chval, a former head of the High-Tech Crimes Unit at the Illinois Attorney General's office. They co-founded Claredon Hills-based Protek International, which specializes in computer forensics and investigations.
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Chval and Bellich do high-tech computer investigations to search for data, and when necessary, combine that with some old-fashioned, low-tech Dumpster diving to retrieve records. In the iRobot case, they later enlisted the U.S. marshals office to escort them to search the homes of the suspect as well as his parents and girlfriend.
"We found the girlfriend's laptop had just finished wiping out some data," Chval said. "And during the course of all this, he got a $250 million Department of Defense contract. But it was later voided."
Investigating computer-related cases started about eight years ago in a very non-tech way. Chval met Bellich were both were club officers volunteering at Lions Club events in 2003. They went into business together in 2005.
The iRobot case was just one of their key investigations involving the loss of computer files or intellectual property. Another involved the Heartland Institute and global warming wars. A memo with confidential information went out by email to someone who should not have received it. The men were hired to track the electronic trail.
"Our business has steadily been increasing," Chval said.
Chval thrives on solving cyber crimes and handles many cases on behalf of companies and individuals. They often use the investigation to help quietly stop the activity or refer the case to law enforcement for prosecution.
Despite many warnings that computer users receive at work and at home through their Internet service, phishing and other scams prevail. Stolen information is another top crime.
"The trend now is how frequently corporations get information stolen," Chval said.
An individual leaves and takes a client list, supplier information or trade secrets of products and uses it to benefit their new company, Chval said.
Companies and individuals need to assess how valuable their information is and what they can do to protect it or duplicate it for emergency use, or what equipment or software they need to ensure its safety, Chval said.
"It's all about awareness and education," he said.
If it's your data, or your employer's, you need to know the risks involved with that information being compromised or stolen, he said.
"You must take it seriously and let them (the scammers) know you'll be watching closely," he said.
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