Government and Technology

PROFILE: ISA Forensics: Digging up dirt Forensics firm recovers evidence from computers, analyzes audio Much like his counterparts on TV's "CSI" or "Law & Order," Darren Miller ferrets out forensic information in pursuit of justice.

April 9, 2007

ISA Forensics Digging up dirt Forensics firm recovers evidence from computers, analyzes audio

Much like his counterparts on TV's "CSI" or "Law & Order," Darren Miller ferrets out forensic information in pursuit of justice.

But unlike his fictional colleagues who work for prosecutors, Miller and his ISA Forensics team work mostly with defense attorneys, looking for exculpatory and incriminating evidence that will help or hurt their clients.

Their crime scene: computers, tapes, disks and other data devices. Using the same sophisticated techniques, processes and programs as a government agency, Miller unravels a computer's 1s and 0s to reveal just what keys someone clicked and the data trail left behind on the hard drive.

Criminals are getting a lot smarter, hard drives are getting bigger and software programs' encryptions are getting more difficult to crack, he said.

"You'll never catch the smartest criminals, but you'll catch those who think they are smart," said Miller, 36.

Miller and a friend, computer forensics analyst Joseph Cheser, founded the company in 2001 without a business plan. They used their own money and funds borrowed from family members.

They had to buy sophisticated forensics software programs for each computer at $2,000 to $3,000 each. And they had to attend expensive workshops and seminars to earn the qualifications needed to bring in the business.

Miller, six hours short of a degree in computer technology and criminal justice at IUPUI, also draws on his 18 years of experience as a licensed private detective.

Still, ISA Forensics hit a bump when demand quickly outstripped capacity.

"We didn't plan well for expansion. We didn't have a rainy-day fund. It was difficult getting into this type of business and it would have been huge to have figured that out," Miller said.

Eventually, they added staff and equipment, and the venture continued to grow by word of mouth as Miller became active in several Internet listservs and Web blogs that specialize in forensics.

All of the employees are experts in computer forensics, but Miller is the only one who also can analyze audio.

Miller bought out Cheser in late 2004, and recently moved the business from Indianapolis to Fishers.

These days, Miller or his staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "I've had calls in the middle of the night from clients with data disappearing by the minute," he said.

Clients appreciate his dedication.

"What most sets Darren apart is his independent thinking and problem-solving abilities," said Indianapolis attorney David Hennessey. "He not only will perform the requested task, but [also] will offer novel and unique ideas to enhance your presentation or better your solution.

"Darren will stay with a problem until it has been completed as requested or he has figured out a way to solve it."

That kind of tenacity is important when starting a business, Miller said. His advantage was the "research, research, research. I talked to other people who have their own business, any business" to see what they learned from their experiences.

His persistence and expertise regularly comes into play in state and federal courts, including a late-2001 case in U.S. District Court in Indiana. The federal government charged a man with having Koranic messages on his computer disk.

"The government claimed he created them, and a forensics expert testified the messages had been deliberately done," said Linda Wagoner, the defendant's attorney and a Miller family friend. "ISA was able to convince the court that was not the case."

Wagoner has been an attorney for 30 years, practicing in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and Angola, where she now lives. She consults regularly with Miller, who keeps her up to speed on the latest court rulings regarding forensics.

"He's very accommodating to clients and their needs," she said.
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