By Cynthia Hetherington
Coming up on the 20th anniversary of Hetherington Group’s founding, I’ve been reflecting on how much has changed since 1993, when I could be found, more often than not, sitting in my basement apartment surfing on a new thing called the “Internet.” I was hanging out with Veronica and Jughead—those early trusty search engines; as I navigated the Gopher protocol, I felt lost in space but also deeply grounded in something surreal. I’ll never forget the day I stumbled upon a Web page announcing that the FBI was looking for the Unabomber. Oh great! I thought. There goes all the fun!
I fell in love with the Internet after my first TALK session, but working in cyber intelligence or cyber anything, for that matter, was furthest from my mind. In those days, I was an inquisitive library student at Rutgers. Upon graduation in 1994 and was happily working at the Teaneck Public Library. One of my favorite parts of the job was assisting members of the public in tracking down information, often on the Internet.
One day, a patron stopped into the library—a private detective concerned that his client was being poisoned by her husband. He needed my help. As it turned out, my graduate student research skills and training came in handy: I identified a listserv comprised of forensic scientists, and, within an hour of my inquiry, I was able to put the detective in touch with a medical examiner. His hunch had been right: The husband was slowly poisoning his wife, and the information I’d located helped put the woman’s husband behind bars—and saved her life. It was my first sip at the investigator’s cup, but I was hooked.
When I realized that I my librarian skillset was useful in conducting cyber investigations, a whole new career path opened to me. It only took a few years for me to transfer my new-fangled skills as the Virtual Librarian (virtuallibrarian.com) to the crime community. Little did I know this passion and nerdy skillset would sustain my curiosity and solidify my commitment to exchange cyber knowledge with high-tech crime stoppers over the next two decades.
Yet, I still had a lot to learn.
As a librarian, my research work was free to the public. Once I became an investigator, I had no idea how to ask clients for money. Finally, one of my clients—a former Kansas State Trooper—said, “Good things are seldom cheap, and cheap things are seldom good.” I stammered at first and then declared, “It will be $50 per hour.” I used that first $50 to buy some marketing supplies, but I was still working out of my basement.
In the 1990s, I was one of the only women in this male-dominated industry, so I often was trailblazing it alone. I wouldn’t be where I am today, had it not been for several amazing male employers and managers who were able to look behind my librarian persona and recognize and further encourage my skills and hard work ethic. In these early days, we were all trying to figure out how to be “geeks with guns.” I worked as closely with Silicon Valley law enforcement and company security professionals as I did with law enforcement in my neck of the woods—the NYPD and the NJSP. We shared our favorite links lists, articles on cybercrime, and our accomplishments.
I couldn’t be where I am today—celebrating 20 years with a staff of eight—without the generosity and encouragement of my law enforcement colleagues, private investigators, and intelligence communities. I’ll always be Big Brother’s Lil’ Sister!
And I’ve always got your back.
In 2018, I traversed the United States 25 times to train over 7,000 investigators, security professionals, attorneys, accountants, auditors, military intelligence professionals, and federal, state, and local agencies on best practices. With a focus on how to conduct cyber investigations to uncover threats to corporate brands, reputations, and assets, I had the honor to conduct training sessions at the National Council of Investigations and Security Services, the Institute of Internal Auditors, ACFE Global Fraud Conference, Global Security Exchange by ASIS International, Amazon, Dell, and the National White-Collar Crime Center, to name but a few.
2019 is set to hit a new all-time record.
And then, there’s our clients. There is no Hg without your trust in our work and process. From the small mom & pop shop to international investigations for Fortune 500 companies, we feel privileged that you’ve trusted us to lead investigations in corporate due diligence and fraud, personal asset recovery, and background checks. Your piece of mind is as important to us today as it was twenty years ago. Our commitment to your needs fuels our responsiveness to new threats, new compliance requirements, new technologies, and new opportunities.
Though this journey has been remarkable, the last five years of Hg’s super growth comes from within. The crew of eight manages Hg’s day to day operations, keeps our clients satisfied, and ensures that I can be on the road teaching, training, and sharing. Our publications, classes, and cutting-edge cyber sleuthing all happen seamlessly, thanks to the fine folks at Hg! Without them, Hg would still be operating in my basement apartment.
To all of you, thank you for twenty wonderful years! We are so happy to have been part of your security, investigations, and intelligence solutions. Let’s look forward to defining cyber intel for another 20 years!
Cynthia Hetherington, MLS, MSM, CFE, CII
Founder & President, Hg
Cynthia Hetherington, MLS, MSM, CFE, CII is the founder and president of Hetherington Group, a consulting, publishing, and training firm that leads in due diligence, corporate intelligence, and cyber investigations by keeping pace with the latest security threats and assessments. She has authored three books on how to conduct investigations, is the publisher of the newsletter, Data2know: Internet and Online Intelligence, and annually trains thousands of investigators, security professionals, attorneys, accountants, auditors, military intelligence professionals, and federal, state, and local agencies on best practices in the public and private sectors.