Peers and clients say:
"Phil really is an outstanding forensic expert"
"Even as a competitor, I refer work to him"
Phil Beckett is a managing director with Alvarez & Marsal and leads the firm’s disputes and investigations practice in Europe and the Middle East and the forensic technology practice globally. Phil brings more than 20 years of experience in forensic technology engagements, advising clients on forensic investigations of digital evidence, the interrogation of complex data sets, data privacy, cyber risk and the disclosure of electronic documents.
What inspired you to pursue a career in digital forensics?
I started my career at a large accountancy firm performing IT audits and IT security reviews. During this time I was assigned to a fraud investigation where I got my first taste of digital forensics. I remember the case vividly and from that point forward I pushed my career in that direction. Combining deep technical skills with an investigative mindset in order to put the pieces of the jigsaw together to help tell the story and solve the problem is something I enjoyed on that first case and something I still enjoy to this day.
What do clients look for in an effective digital forensic expert?
There are many qualities needed to make a good expert. The most obvious one is technical ability – forensic experts need to know their subject area and not stray away from it, as that is where danger lurks! Digital experts need to be able to communicate the work performed and associated findings/conclusions in an easily understood manner – often acting as a translator between ‘technology’ and ‘human’. Forensic experts should have an inquisitive and open mind, making sure to consider alternative hypotheses for a case, as well as be confident enough to deliver findings, regardless of how they will be received – as experts cannot be unduly influenced.
In what ways does Alvarez & Marsal distinguish itself from competitors?
At Alvarez & Marsal we distinguish ourselves based on the quality of the people on our team. We engage with clients in a consultative way and always seek to understand and resolve their challenges, rather than delivering a standard product without understanding the situation. We also bring a range of skillsets to bear on a problem, not just from a technical perspective, which includes cyber, privacy and data analysis skills as well as forensics, but also from across the wider, integrated Disputes and Investigations team – including accountants, economists and investigators. Finally, the fact that we operate as a truly global practice enables us to bring local knowledge and experience on cross-border matters – whether that relates to localised technology services or local laws and regulations.
What are the biggest data threats your clients currently face, and how are you helping tackle them?
There are many data threats clients are facing: cyber, privacy and the management of large, complex datasets during a litigation or regulatory enquiry. However, one that stands out at the moment is the theft of intellectual property – be that via a departing employee or through corporate espionage – never mind external hackers. As more and more of a company’s inherent value is embedded within its data and intellectual property, the data becomes a larger and larger target. We work closely with clients to help protect their crown jewels and if the worst happens help them investigate any loss. This includes establishing the relevant intelligence and evidence that allows clients to take further action to protect their interests. This has always been a relevant risk, but at the moment with a lot of change following the pandemic, we are seeing an uptick in these type of matters.
What challenges has the shift to remote working presented from a digital forensic standpoint?
Remote working, or hybrid working, has introduced new technologies and applications into businesses as they seek to replicate and enhance the way they collaborate. When it comes to an investigation, all of these new technologies have to be taken into account. This includes an increased and varied use of cloud and virtual technologies, as well as the continued adoption of collaborative and communicative software such as Slack, Teams and Zoom. The key, as has always been the case, is to plan well in advance. Companies should make sure they understand their IT infrastructure – both from a technical perspective and from a user’s perspective. An understanding of how the technology systems have been designed and also how they are actually used – which are not always aligned – is critical.
To what extent has machine learning and artificial intelligence impacted how you approach investigations?
AI and machine learning, comprising a wide variety of technologies, adds to the toolbox that a digital forensic professional uses and will build on and enhance existing tools and introduce new techniques and approaches. It is critical that the expert understands how the AI works, what the technology is doing and what that means – experts cannot simply press a button and blindly accept whatever follows. AI will open many possibilities, some that can be foreseen and others that cannot, but they need to be appropriately scrutinised as part of the forensic process. Without a shadow of a doubt, AI will enhance a lot of what we do (and is already) and will unlock new investigative techniques. AI is something we, as digital forensic experts, are continually assessing.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I once heard a senior partner get asked what had made him so successful and he said it was the three As: ability, availability and affability. This advice is something that I have tried to follow – ensuring that, as an individual and team, we have the correct set of technical skills to solve a client’s problem, that we are always available when needed and that we develop good relationships with our clients. It is always important to enjoy what you do and who you do it with – one of the reasons “fun” is a core value at Alvarez & Marsal.