Backstory: Digital company thrives on cheating spouses and forensics

vbridges@newsobserver.comMay 27, 2013 

Derek Ellington, owner of Ellington Digital Forensics, at his Wake Forest office.


  • Advice from Derek Ellington

    • Sell what people want to buy.

    • Empower your employees. Give them responsibilities. And give them opportunities to grow.

    •  Never forget there are real people behind every job that you do, and even the smallest case is still very important to that person.

Ellington Digital Forensics’ services include slipping into homes to preserve snap shots of hard drives before divorce papers are filed, recovering erased text messages on cheating spouses’ cellphones, combing through computers and serving as an expert witness in civil court.

Derek Ellington, 45, founded the company nearly 20 years ago as Ellington Professional Services, but changed its name twice to reflect services that have evolved from building computer networks to preserving and investigating digital data.

After graduating from Erskine College in South Carolina, Ellington did computer-aided design work at a structural engineering firm in Wake Forest until it was bought in 1993. While he was looking for a new job, he started getting calls from architects and engineers asking him to set up computer networks.

“That fueled what became my own information technology company,” Ellington said.

In 2002, Ellington started providing information technology services to an established family law firm, now known as Gailor Hunt Jenkins Davis & Taylor.

An attorney from the firm wanted Ellington to be an expert witness in a case to explain basic computer and messaging concepts. Ellington was also asked if he could recover erased information on a computer.

“Retrieving information from a computer that has been intentionally deleted is not that different from getting information from a computer that has been accidentally deleted,” Ellington said.

Attorneys at the firm taught him how to handle evidence and be an effective witness. Ellington said he established his prices and services to address his clients’ needs and budget.

“If the attorneys know they can still get what they need, accurately and within the budget, that is where our successes lay,” said Ellington, whose services cost about $150 an hour, or from $1,500 to $2,500 per case.

The work included finding emails as well as financial documents and visited websites. Ellington would often testify in a case, and then the opposing attorney would seek his services.

“We would beat up an attorney pretty good with our data,” he said. “And they would call us for the next case.”

About five years ago, smartphones and social media use created new opportunities for Ellington’s firm.

In 2008, Ellington testified in a divorce case, and the attorney didn’t question his information, but his methods for taking information off the computer. The experience inspired Ellington to invest in software and hardware used by law enforcement and the military. The name of the business was changed to Ellington IT & Forensics.

The most significant challenge over the past five years, Ellington said, has been delegating responsibilities as the firm expanded to include a staff of seven.

“The secret to our success has really been the amount of responsibility that everybody (in the office) takes on and wants,” Ellington said.

About a month ago, Ellington changed his business name again, this time to Ellington Digital Forensics, to reinforce the focus on forensics.

“As we get more well-known around the state and around the country, we just want to make sure that we have a specific vision of the services we want to provide,” Ellington said.

Bridges: 919-829-8917

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