Dan Dollarhide, Sales Engineer, Oxygen Forensics

FF: Dan, let’s start with a little about you. How and when did you first get into digital forensics, and what made you stay?

Dan: I come from Law Enforcement, and while working as an Investigator I was assigned a collateral duty on the ICAC Task Force.  My eyes were opened to just how much technology was going to continue to play a role in cases, and not just those particular cases, but all criminal cases going forward. 

During that time, I met a friend and mentor, Gus Dimitrelos, who was the first digital forensic examiner in our area.  He said “put down the gun and pick up the mouse” because that was where everything was heading.  I took that for action and started pursuing training in the field through my department and my task force affiliations.

Your background includes private sector work and international training in addition to law enforcement. How did you hone your career over time, especially as digital forensics evolved?

My post-law enforcement plan had been digital forensics, so I set up my own consulting office and went to work.  To anyone who has not changed sides- going from law enforcement to defense or to more private and e-discovery roles is a pretty big changeup. Nobody had ever asked me for a Load file in my law enforcement life!  

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I really enjoyed the challenge of private forensic work but missed the camaraderie of being part of a team.  The training contracts won increasingly more of my time and attention because it put me back in regular contact with the community of military, intelligence, and law enforcement personnel that I was missing.  When the opportunity came along to join the Oxygen team, I jumped at it.

Is there anything — a particular case or challenge — that stands out to you from that time? Tell us more about it?

Well, you don’t forget your first time.  I responded to a murder scene as an Investigator.  At that point I had trained in computer forensics, but the first iPhone I had ever seen in my life belonged to my victim and was sitting next to him in the cupholder of his vehicle.  It kept ringing as I went about my investigation on scene — it was screaming at me.   

I KNEW that it held evidence. I also knew that traditional dead-box forensics rules were not going to apply to that thing and that I better start getting smarter.  I was awake for days straight working the traditional investigative leads and researching everything I could about mobile device forensics. I was able to get the evidence from the device that led to a Capital Murder conviction.  There is always a new challenge in digital forensics — ALWAYS. 

You’ve been with Oxygen Forensics for a little over a year. What attracted you to the company, and to the role of sales engineer?

Timing is everything!  I had spent the better part of the previous years traveling A LOT.  COVID came on the scene at the same time there was a family situation that was going to require me being close to home.  Oxygen reached out to me through some mutual contacts and asked if I was interested in the role of Sales Engineer. 

In all honesty, my background did nothing to inform me of what a Sales Engineer was or did on a daily basis. However, I already loved the software, and the role was going to let me stay within the forensic community and give me a whole new set of challenges. 

What does a day in your life currently look like; what are you working on?

I spend my days demonstrating the features of our tools to prospective customers, assisting our Sales Team on understanding how features can provide a benefit to our customers, testing workflow methods to help users get the most out of the tools, staying current on our offerings and mobile device technology in general, providing guidance and support to our pre-sale customers, and generally spreading the word about Oxygen Forensics.

What are the biggest challenges you see customers facing? Any you’re particularly proud of helping them solve?

I think a big issue in digital forensics is that there is so much data available now.  Those of us of a certain age learned to collect “everything” and then cull carefully to review what is “important” – which can be a moving target during an active investigation.  

Having terrific tools is important, having terrific knowledge is imperative.  Owning the best screwdriver ever made won’t make you significantly better at opening things but using the wrong screwdriver for the job will sure make it harder. 

Oxygen Forensics makes a terrific tool, and the amount of collective knowledge in the digital forensic community is awesome.  The challenge is being able to marry together the tools and knowledge when it matters.  This requires constant forward motion for investigators to grow their knowledge and companies like ours to innovate.

What are you most excited about for the future, for the field as a whole and Oxygen Forensics especially?

Events of the last few years have really changed the landscape for how everyone works.  A private collection job a few years ago was a plane ticket, a bunch of wiped drives, and a few nights in a hotel.  We are in the age of remote work now! 

So, we spend a lot of time tackling questions about the best way to collect and examine remotely and the best ways to collaborate across diverse geography – and all the unique challenges that come along with those requirements in work that requires pushing a lot of data around. 

And mobile phone security — what a cat and mouse game!  I don’t know if we all end up with cell phone hardware implanted in our brains and a charger port sticking out of our nose, but if we do, I want Oxygen Forensics to be the company with the first Trans Nasal Brain Phone Extractor™.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do in your spare time?

What is this “spare time” you speak of?  I am a lucky husband and father of three wonderful daughters.  My biggest hobby/indulgence is trail riding on my mountain bike (I live in a very flat region, so calling it mountain biking just doesn’t work).  I love camping, hiking, and generally being outdoors.  The Fall is for (American) football.  I spend way more time grilling than I should.

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