Industry News

A Conversation with Jad Saliba and Head of Griffeye, Johann Hofmann

Magnet Forensics Founder & CTO, Jad Saliba, had a chance to sit down with Head of Griffeye, Johann Hofmann while they were at Techno Security in Myrtle Beach recently — they reflected on the values of their companies, the importance of collaboration, and discussed where they see digital forensics going in the future. Read the conversation below.

Johann: The first time I heard the story about you and how Magnet Forensics came about was at a training I held in Zurich, Switzerland, probably 5 years ago. These guys where comparing Griffeye to this great company that was created by a police officer in Canada, who developed this great tool he needed himself, shared it for free, then decided to charge for it to build a business – and they loved it. The rest is simply a great story about doing the right thing at the right time for the right cause, and making a success from it. Please elaborate on this a little bit and definitely tell us something the story doesn’t reveal.

Jad: It really started for me with a sense that there had to be more information we could get from apps and websites like Facebook, especially the chats, or browsing history and the like. Before I joined the police force, I studied computer science and worked in tech a bit. When I was working in digital forensics, I was able to take that tech experience and leverage it to really look at apps and digital evidence in new ways. As you said, at first this was something I was doing for my team and me. We needed to be able to recover more from these apps and websites. I was passionate about the work we did and wanted to help other people doing similar work, so I shared it out to the world for free. I really didn’t foresee the demand that this type of artifact-focused recovery would have, but once more requests started coming in, I could see that the need for deep artifact info was growing. I wanted to create an even bigger impact by dedicating all of my time to the software and building a team to take things to the next level. I am incredibly proud of the work the team at Magnet Forensics does. It’s very humbling to start a business and then watch it grow. Hearing the great feedback from our customers, and partners like you, and their stories of how they used our products, it keeps me and my team going.

Johann: Canadians and Swedes are similar in that we don’t “brag” about our accomplishments, but please brag now: Throughout the years, what are you most proud of?

Jad: Ha! Yeah, it’s hard to pound our own chests sometimes. You just asked what I’m most proud of and I immediately want to brag about my amazing team at Magnet Forensics. They are smart and funny and we’ve built a real family. I am lucky that I get to hear from customers about when they have used our products in their cases and they will tell me how what they recovered and reported out was able to make a difference. When I hear that our software helped a team catch someone or prosecute someone, those are some my proudest moments.

Some members of my old forensics team at Waterloo Regional Police Services walked the Magnet Forensics team through an old case that I worked on as an officer and then helped with as Magnet Forensics’ CTO, and I watched the room. They were listening so intently, they are highly invested in being part of a team that helps law enforcement. That was a pretty proud moment too.

I did get to be involved in Operation Underground Railroad and I was able to participate in an initiative to stop a human trafficking ring. Being an active part of that investigation and knowing that the outcome had very real, very good impact on people’s lives was amazing.

(ED note – you can read more about that operation here: Making a Difference, One Child at a Time)

Johann: Based on your background, I’m sure that you’ve got some core values that are reflected in Magnet Forensics. Also, what do you believe is the most important trait in the Magnet Forensics corporate culture as you see your creation develop?

Jad: We have some core values that Magnet Forensics is built on, which include Trust, Selflessness, Pushing Boundaries, Passion, and Making a Difference. It’s not easy to choose a single one that is the most important, but every single person at Magnet Forensics understands the importance of being committed to making a difference. We can make a difference in our customer lives, in the lives of victims, in the lives of our communities, in the lives of the innocent.

With that desire to do good, to make a difference, and to be part of an innovative team that looks at problems differently and uses the latest technology to have great impact in the lives of others, our company’s continued growth will embrace a culture that we can all be proud of.

I have a team that greets each problem with enthusiasm and that looks for opportunities to collaborate. They love hearing stories from our customers and they take feedback openly and want to work with the industry to make things better. I am incredibly lucky to get to be part of this and I am really thankful to be part of such an amazing team.

Johann: For someone like me trying to expand a company without risking losing focus and our core values, can you give any advice?

Jad: I would say that you want to build a team with a mix of technical or professional skills, curiosity, a collaborative nature, and enthusiasm for the direction you are taking the company. Early on, we defined who we wanted to be and how we wanted the world to see us. Remaining true to that and building a team that is true to that as well, has helped us create a great atmosphere and work environment, not to mention build a team that produces some very cool, helpful tech.

Johann: Like us, you guys keep very busy. I’m not exaggerating when I say you’re groundbreaking. What is the next step, for you, Magnet Forensics, and the industry?

Jad: We have a few areas that we are keeping an eye on. In this last year, we supported Nest, OnStar, Fitbit and other IoT apps and technology. We want to keep seeing what investigators can leverage from those devices and apps. We are going to keep showing people the power of bringing smartphone and computer data together for examination. We’ve been doing this since 2013 and I think it is hugely important not to segregate your evidence. I think no matter what, the proliferation of digital evidence in almost every case is going to mean that if we keep trying to analyze the devices separately, we are going to miss something.

Another area we are excited about and investing time in is Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning. We believe this is a key area to focus on for today and the future and will help people analyze evidence in their cases faster and ensure they are not missing anything.

We are also working with customers to understand all of the different aspects of digital forensics and investigations that contribute to case backlog. We are interested in how technology can help law enforcement and forensics teams to combat this. We know there are criminals going free because of case backlogs, and the time it takes to go to court, and we want to help combat that. We have one customer who worked with us and AXIOM has helped them dramatically reduce their backlog. And of course, it started with artifacts, and it will continue to have artifacts at the heart of it for us. What are the new trends, where are people communicating, where is data being stored and shared. How do we make sure investigators can access those apps, or those data stores?

Johann: Looking ahead: Based on the insane pace of the digital revolution, we all work very hard to keep up, do great things, innovate and bring the most novel tools to combat digital crime into the hands of the guys keeping our society safe. With that said, what kind of challenges do you see ahead of us?

Jad: When we speak to customers and policing leadership, they tell us about areas of concern for them, and my team and I tend to mirror this thinking. The industry is concerned about the advancements of device encryption, security measures, locks, and so forth. How will we get to crucial evidence? What aren’t we able to see from a criminality stand point because of these advancements in device security? I think we can all agree that as encryption technology matures, we will have an uphill battle to make sure that our law enforcement teams have lawful access to that data. How do we balance the public desire for privacy protection with the need to protect society from a criminal element that is using encryption technology to commit horrendous crimes?

The dark web is clearly a growing issue. The anonymity provided by the dark web is frightening for law enforcement, especially those working to protect children. The increasing use of electronic currency like Bitcoin is concerning because it is harder to find the trail of these transactions and harder to find the digital evidence that can link devices and users to crimes. And of course, people are finding all sorts of new ways to use the dark web for a broad spectrum of illegal activities – from child exploitation, to drug sales, weapon sales, terror planning and more.

Another area of concern for our customers is the cloud and the technical and legal challenges around cloud data – storage and ownership. There is a lot of data moving around in the cloud and new ways for people to store data there and new sources of data being sent there.

Johann: What is your answer to tackle these challenges?

Jad: I wish there was one answer I could give to solve these incredibly huge issues. I will say that there are a number of things we will all have to work on to find solutions.

My team continues to look at the technology behind these issues – how do we recover relevant information from the cloud, from the dark web, from encrypted devices. But in addition to that, there is a great need for vendors, like Magnet Forensics and Griffeye, law enforcement, private corporations and the government to work together to find that balance that empowers law enforcement to access relevant information in lawful investigations. It’s a big issue, and it will take time to find the right path, but blocking access entirely doesn’t seem like the best path.

There are segments of society, like children and others who cannot defend, or fight for, themselves. They are relying on all of us to come together and find a way forward that protects them, and champions for them and ensures their safety, so we all really do need to come together for them.

Johann: How can we (not just Magnet Forensics, but all of us) as an industry even better support law enforcement in their everyday work in the future?

Jad: It’s important to try to understand the changing needs of law enforcement and to empathize with the difficult position they are in, especially with regard to public scrutiny.

I think we support them best by supporting them in general. These are our first line, our first responders, our heroes and we need to promote the successes and the stories of heroism. We need to showcase the energy and time they give to communities.

Johann: Griffeye is all about promoting the concept of collaboration within industry, like the work we do with you. To build better tools, and to solve more cases, more efficiently and with better results. What does collaboration mean to you and what benefits do you see?

Jad: The greatest impact we can have is the impact we have by working together. When I was building IEF, and then working with our team to build AXIOM, one thing that was really important was that we be able to work with other third party tools. We don’t want anything to get missed, so being able to integrate data extracted by other tools was paramount. There are ways to still differentiate our products and there are some areas where third-party integration doesn’t make sense, but where we find places to all work together to help LE get the best results, we should definitely be doing that.

Johann: Now let’s talk more specifically about the seamless collaboration between Magnet Forensics and Griffeye: Can you describe what we are doing together and what you believe are the benefits from a user, unit and organization point of view?

Jad: What we’re really doing here is to allow our customers to leverage the powerful analytical and categorization capabilities of Griffeye, along with Magnet AXIOM’s powerful picture and video carving abilities. We’re also making it easy when they want to integrate those findings in Analyze DI back into AXIOM and use AXIOM reporting to share out results that paint a more complete picture and offer deeper collaboration with other team members or legal teams, etc. In the past you would export all pics from AXIOM in the Project VIC format and load those into Griffeye to analyze them. When you brought the categorized data back into AXIOM, you had to add all of this as a new hash list and re-process it. Now, you can load in the categorized Project VIC data and just update the new categories and fields without needing to reprocess, which will be a great time saver. At that point, you can report everything from AXIOM.

Johann: Why Griffeye? And why Griffeye and Magnet? Why do you believe we are a great match?

Jad: Fundamentally, when two organizations have shared values the way we do, the relationship is starting on a strong foundation. Both Griffeye and Magnet Forensics want to help law enforcement, we want to use our unique skills and expertise to do more good in the world, or at the very least, empower those doing good.

We both know the importance of collaboration and working together – that this is the best way to offer the greatest help to our customers.

And we both have a unique understanding of the needs of law enforcement, especially those investigating child exploitation crimes.

Johann: For all the users waiting for the next generation of integration between Griffeye and Magnet, can you reveal any secret dates to the readers who managed to reach this far in the interview?

Jad: Hmmm. Keep your eyes on us this fall, and in the meantime, and for those in or around New York, Boston or DC, we had a great small roadshow in June.

Johann: Do you think that we will see more collaboration efforts like this in the future? Griffeye – Magnet Forensics, pushing boundaries together and ultimately making sure our joint customers deploy the most efficient workflow there is?

Jad: I certainly hope so! ?

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