Part techie, part accountant, all cop

Hackers beware: Even the world's best cybercriminals leave clues ... if you know how to find them.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A sophisticated forensic-accounting operation with the technical chops to track cybercriminals around the globe is setting up in Syosset.

Accounting stalwart EisnerAmper LLP, which already boasts a high-tech “forensic accounting lab” in California, is assembling a second here on Long Island, with Nick Barone – a director in the firm’s Consulting Service Group and co-leader of EisnerAmper’s cybersecurity practice – heading the effort.

He doesn’t pack heat, flash a badge or work over thugs in dark alleys, but Barone is every bit a cop – a cyber cop, on the trail of some of the world’s most nefarious heavies. And even if he doesn’t have gum on his shoes, Barone’s hard-boiled fingerprints are all over some of the most infamous hacking cases in U.S. history.

Nick Barone: Mystery man.

Nick Barone: Mystery man.

“I have worked on national data breaches that you have read about in major media outlets,” Barone told Innovate LI. “One involved a very well-known restaurant chain that had stores on Long Island as well. One was a very large Midwestern university. Several were very prominent healthcare systems throughout the United States.”

All told, the computer-forensics specialist, certified fraud examiner and frequently called expert witness counts 43 states and 17 foreign countries among his crime scenes. He joined EisnerAmper in May specifically to head up the new Northeastern forensics lab, and while he can’t reveal too many specifics, he does note that his global investigations have invariably involved one of three types of cybercrime.

Barone historically gets the call after hackers penetrate networks and steal payment card information, protected health information or “personally identifiable information,” such as date of birth or social security number. During a 20-year career that’s included a stint as vice president for internal audits at multinational financial services corporation Morgan Stanley and another as director of large-scale projects for growth-strategy experts Navigant Consulting, he’s managed hundreds of incident-response and computer-forensic investigations around the world, often for Fortune 500 clients.

Those experiences have taught Barone that the need for topnotch cybersecurity efforts is enormous and still growing.

“It’s been very well publicized that cybersecurity is going to be the big job-builder over the next 25 years,” he noted. “I am here to expand the firm’s growing cybersecurity and investigation services. We already have a national presence and our West Coast operation, and I was recruited to come into the Northeast.”

The nature of cyber-investigations allows for plenty of remote work and “virtual teamwork.” The Syosset office will be built out to accommodate as many as 50 workers if necessary, Barone noted, but will actually be staffed by a team of about 15 – and even some of those will be remote operators.

However, even in a virtual world, “clients still have this expectation that you’re geocentric to their businesses,” Barone noted, leading EisnerAmper to establish a second forensic-accounting lab close to its New York City headquarters.

“You can have a lab anywhere, but there’s still an industry expectation of being locally based,” he said.

Like its Sacramento counterpart, the new laboratory will be able to probe those most-prevalent PCI, PHI and PII crimes, including the remote-collection of data critical to such investigations.

“That’s how these crimes are solved,” Barone said. “We need these facilities to be able to remotely connect to systems around the world to collect, analyze and report this data.”

While the new lab is most likely to start with those 10 to 15 investigators, EisnerAmper “certainly” plans to hire more people “in the New York City metropolitan area,” according to Barone, including new staffers for Syosset as the forensics operation there “continues growing.”

Whom, exactly, the Syosset laboratory will service is still to be determined, though Barone suggested there would be “no specific breakdown” on the client sheet.

“I would say it will be global,” he said. “All of my jobs are based on Long Island right now, but we have a couple of international jobs coming in. It always fluctuates based on client demands.”

Wherever his investigations lead, the digital detective will be happy to go there, even virtually – not happy because another major data breach has occurred, but thrilled to be fulfilling his lifelong ambitions in such a meaningful way.

“Cybersecurity was part of the presidential-election debate,” he said. “It’s the No. 1 threat to our country and to other countries and companies broad, from national-security and economic perspectives.

“I’ve spent my whole career being a criminal investigator for corporate America,” Barone added. “I always wanted to be a criminal investigator, and ultimately I came into [cyber-crime] because of the high technical complexity.

“It’s the passion of unraveling the complicated technical mystery.”