06/04/2007

Va. cyber-sleuth paid to hack computers

By Bryce Baschuk
The Washington Times

If your computer has something to hide, David Townsend is one guy you don't want to see.

Mr. Townsend was recently named director of data collections and computer forensics for the litigation department of Aptara Inc., a Falls Church data management firm.

He is a cyber-sleuth who helps bring today's high-tech criminals to justice.

"My job is to oversee a team of professionals that grab relevant data off of computers, [personal digital assistants] and cell phones," said Mr. Townsend.

By filtering evidence from mundane computer data, Mr. Townsend and his team save taxpayers thousands of dollars in attorney fees.

"It's very time-consuming, and it takes a lot of training," said Mr. Townsend, who was trained by the government to conduct investigations and hack computers.

"Dave has been working for us for a couple of months now and has demonstrated a tremendous amount of internationally well-known expertise," said Brian Nimmo, chief marketing officer and senior vice president of business development at Aptara.

"We are putting him front and center of our organization," said Mr. Nimmo. "We have planned for him to coordinate with the U.S. Marshals and the Justice Department."

Mr. Townsend is a self-proclaimed military brat who enlisted in the Air Force after high school. After serving four years of active duty at Andrews Air Force Base, he decided to enter the world of law enforcement.

His interest in computers led him to a police task force in San Jose, Calif., where he worked on cases of computer theft, hacking and child exploitation.

After retiring from the Santa Clara, Calif., Police Department in 2002, Mr. Townsend founded a computer forensics firm called EFor Computer Forensics in Tracy, Calif.

The small startup gained notoriety when Mr. Townsend became an expert forensic witness on high-profile cases such as Scott Peterson's sensational double-murder trial, Michael Jackson's child molestation trial and the investigation of John Mark Karr, who claimed to have murdered JonBenet Ramsey.

"I've had a pretty good career," Mr. Townsend joked.

His goal at Aptara, he said, is to expand the company's litigation unit and make a bigger impact in the marketplace.

"D.C. is a huge market for us," he said. "It's a center for litigation as well as a big marketplace for computer forensics."

Mr. Townsend said his work varies depending on the case his company handles, "but every time I pick up the phone it's something new and exciting."

Last week, he began working on an employment fraud case in which an employer was accused of stealing $2 million from its workers.

"You constantly have to stay up with the technology. Whether the information is used with Windows, Macintosh or Linux, we have to track the digital footprints of criminals."

Mr. Townsend is a member of the American Bar Association, the California Association of Licensed Investigators and the International Association for Counterterrorism and Security Professionals.

Mr. Townsend resides in Tracy, Calif., with his wife and two children. He spends half his time traveling to the District and other markets where his company does business.  

Copyright 2007 The Washington Times

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