Nuke it from Orbit, It’s the Only Way to Be Sure: Cybercrimes and Criminal Law

We live in a digital world. Unfortunately, many criminal defense lawyers simply do not understand the details of technology. How data is transmitted, how it is stored, how it is archived, and where it might be.

What’s more, many criminal lawyers do not understand how the details of how data is stored, archived, searched, and maintained on the Internet. They don’t understand how to advise clients who come to them with cases that involve the use of computers.

And since so many cases these days deal with computers – whether they are financial crimes cases, cases involving the information that may be on Facebook or Twitter, or cases that may involve chat networks such protocols as IRC, ICQ, Jabber, or cases that involve the storage of files in the cloud or on harddrives – it’s crucially important if you’re being investigated or accused of a crime that involves the use of computer technology that you find a lawyer who is familiar with all of these details, from TCP/IP protocols to cloud-based computing, Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption software, to copyright infringement issues involving ripping and sharing through Peer-to-Peer networks and through BitTorrent.

One thing I do want to mention: Some people who call me explain to me that they have material that may be incriminating on their personal computers. They say “well, I wiped the harddrive clean” or “I formatted the harddrive.”

A harddrive that’s been wiped clean by disk erasing software has not been wiped clean. That’s because, depending on the type of software used, either all or fragments of the incriminating material can be left on the harddrive. Some disk-drive wiping software merely changes the “Boot Sector” of the harddrive which is like a table of contents for the harddrive. It does not delete the entire drive, so the table of contents may be erased, but not the actually incriminating materials.

Here’s what I would recommend. If you have material that you would not like to be found again, you can take apart the harddrive with a screwdriver, and smash the plates inside. Or take a drill, and drill through the harddrive in multiple places.

Do not donate the harddrive. Do not give the harddrive to Best Buy for them to wipe clean. Do not give the harddrive to friends for their use. Do not leave the harddrive in a closet. Do not throw the harddrive in the trash without thoroughly and physically smashing the harddrive.

Or, as Sigourney Weaver said in the movie Aliens, “Nuke it from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.