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Thought Leaders Global Elite - Digital Forensic Experts 2021

Q&A

WWL Ranking: Global Elite Thought Leader

WWL says

Phil Beckett is lauded as a “seasoned forensic technology practitioner” with a wealth of experience advising international clients across the financial services, automotive and construction sectors.

Questions & Answers

Phil Beckett is a managing director and leader of A&M’s European disputes and investigations practice. He 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, information governance, data privacy, cyber risk and the disclosure of electronic documents. Phil is proud to have been named twice as Who’s Who Legal’s Investigations Digital Forensic Expert of the year.

On what types of matters have you enjoyed advising in the past year?

My work is varied, but always has a common nexus between technology and contentious legal issues – be it litigation, investigations or regulatory. There are three common themes that appear, including; (1) theft of intellectual property investigations – which vary from source code, to client lists, to confidential data; (2) investigating data breaches, whether it be an internal or external issue, or indeed a hybrid of the two; and (3) managing large datasets that need to be mined to identify relevant intelligence and information for a matter. These vary from complex investigations to litigation/arbitration matters, to an increasing number of competition and regulatory-related matters.

How has your role and the market evolved since you started your career?

My role has changed dramatically since I started my career as a graduate at Arthur Andersen as a technology risk analyst. There it was a case of performing specific tasks, be it cyber-related or data analytics, with appropriate supervision. Now my role encompasses many more things, although I still like to keep my hands ‘dirty’ performing technical work, it is more supervision and client-focused – looking at how best we can help clients tackle issues in an effective and efficient manner. Fundamentally, though, I still find myself helping clients solve problems, it is just that now I have a much broader perspective so I think about how Alvarez & Marsal can help clients across the broad range of services that we offer.

What are the main challenges of working on disputes spanning several jurisdictions?

The challenges fall under a number of different categories, but technology/data is rarely one of them, as structurally there are few differences when moving across different jurisdictions. There are some exceptions, specifically around social media and chat accounts, but the main challenges revolve around language, obviously, culture and the law.  We approach these using local resources where we have people across the globe, combined with understanding, empathy and experience.  It’s that global connectivity that helps bring local relevance. This helps us pre-empt a lot of the challenges with well-thought-out and tested solutions.

What challenges do you think investigations will face in a post-covid-19 environment? 

The post-covid-19 world is still a world that is somewhat uncertain so flexibility and responsiveness will be key in dealing with any challenges. We have been regularly dealing with investigations in lockdown without too many issues, post-covid-19, the situation is likely to get more varied as companies have a hybrid working from home/office-based approach to operation – therefore investigations will often have to deal with multiple scenarios. One thing is sure: the continued adoption of new technologies, such as Slack, Teams and Zoom is only going to increase, and data is going to become more and more distributed – therefore the early planning phases will become more crucial to the overall success of an investigation.

What new types of fraud are you seeing emerge and develop during the covid-19 pandemic? How are you ensuring that you and your clients are well equipped to tackle them? 

Regarding the new types of fraud, one of the most significant and worrying relates to abuse of government-funded covid-19 aid; however, we are seeing the emergence of accounting frauds exaggerated by the recessionary impact of the covid-19 crisis, whereby companies fail to properly reflect poor financial performance in their accounting and disclosure requirements, to the attention of lenders, investors and auditors. 

The main way for clients to address this risk is obvious, but rarely done, to refresh their fraud risk assessment as well as ensuring existing and new controls are verified to address these new and growing fraud issues – with a specific focus on cash management, new customers/suppliers and due diligence on investments. Never forgetting how advantageous it can be to utilise data, both internal and external, to help quickly catch issues and reduce the potential financial loss.

Which sectors do you anticipate facing increasing cyber risks in the near future?

During the last few months, we’ve seen a big increase in cyberattacks with a large proportion related to ransomware, attacking companies’ mission critical data and hijacking production systems. These include the so-called “double-extortion” attack: where, prior to encrypting data, the attackers extract important critical/sensitive information and threaten to disclose it if the ransom is not paid. The new attacks are targeting factories in the manufacturing, healthcare and energy sectors, with the retail and pharmaceutical industries being particularly impacted. For retail, the online business is becoming more and more important and critical for the retail sector, which needs to approach cybersecurity in a completely different way compared to brick-and-mortar shops. In the pharmaceuticals, covid-19 vaccine research has already been a target for state espionage. Attacks to steal critical information and/or stop the production are likely to continue to increase.

How would you like to develop your practice in the next five years?

I want to continue to attract great talent. Client problems evolve and change, so having people who are at the top of their game and have a real intellectual curiosity is critical. It’s a rare combination, and I want to continue to create an environment where they can thrive to ensure we continue to exceed client expectations. 

What advice would you give to someone starting out in digital forensics?

Don’t focus too quickly. You do not NEED to do a “forensic” degree to pursue a career in this area. In fact, I would prefer to see candidates with a more general computing/maths/engineering degree - you’ll gain specific qualifications during your career.

Attention to detail is also critical. A small error can cost a lot and prevent you from a successful forensic career.

Have an open mind and try to keep all your avenues open – you never know where they may take you.

Never stop learning – always challenge yourself.

WWL says

With over 20 years of experience, Phil Beckett is widely considered a "top tier" forensic technology expert.

Questions & Answers

Phil Beckett is a managing director with Alvarez & Marsal and leads the firm’s disputes and investigations practice in Europe. 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; information governance; cyber-risk; and the disclosure of electronic documents. He was WWL’s Investigations Digital Forensic Expert of the Year in 2017 and 2018.

How has globalisation impacted your technology-focused practice? 

As business in general has globalised, the investigations into these businesses have also globalised. This has led to projects that touch multiple jurisdictions across the world – each of which have different local legislation and cultures that need to be incorporated into investigations.

In what ways is the next generation of communication channels impacting investigations? 

As technology develops, and the gap between personal and business communication channels shrinks, there is a much more extensive range of channels and tools that must be incorporated into an investigation. This is something that is not always done – especially those tools that use ephemeral data, which must be considered differently.

There is an increasingly porous divide between the business and personal spheres owing to the advent of smartphones and more sophisticated communication systems. What issues does this raise for investigation specialists like yourself? 

As referenced above, the lines between personal and business communication channels continue to blur. This means that when conducting an investigation, we have to consider not just the computers used by the individuals but also their smartphones, cloud accounts and other devices. The investigation not only needs to incorporate the data from these devices into the workflow from a documen or communication review, but they also need to be investigated from a forensic perspective, meaning the analysis of internet history and other artefacts become a central component of an investigation.

What part does structured data play now in investigations, and how do you deal with this data? 

Structured data has always played an important role in investigations. It is essential that this data is considered in virtually every investigation, as it provides evidence of many business activities – not just the accounting data, but data that covers every part of a business. This is very different from communications and unstructured data, and therefore must be analysed in a structured and methodical manner. To do this requires a different workflow, as the underlying systems and data must be fully understood so that sophisticated analysis can be performed and included in the overall investigation. As ever, this part of the investigation must be fully incorporated into the wider investigation process.

How have you seen companies’ approaches to cybersecurity issues and data breaches evolve over the past few years? 

In respect to cybersecurity and related issues, the one change that has been evident in companies’ approaches to this has been the interest and involvement of senior company management. This is partially driven by the increased monetary fines related to the GDPR, but also the realisation that cybersecurity impacts every company and therefore is something that requires boards and senior management to take seriously. What is becoming increasingly important to those stakeholders is the need to fully understand the risks and how they should be mitigated, which involves not just a technical solution, but a defined process and human elements as well. Given the notification requirements of GDPR, and the ever-expanding global laws on privacy, these issues are only going to become more important to companies. 

What can we expect from government authorities in the future regarding cybersecurity? 

I think we’ll see increasingly proactive steps from government authorities, with more and more involvement from national technical authorities – both explicitly (ie, direct involvement) and through providing tacit support through briefings, alerts and guidance. In addition, I think we will see more support from government to address the cybersecurity “skills gap”, for example increasing STEM support, apprenticeships, reskilling support, etc. Not only does this assist businesses and the protection of critical national infrastructure, but also, for particularly sensitive projects, countries will want to use their home-grown talent and resources where they can.

What is it about your role as managing director that you enjoy most?

People is the short answer, but there are multiple dimensions to this. First and foremost, it is the team I work with. It is fantastic to work with intelligent and dedicated individuals and solve client problems with them, as well as helping and watching them develop throughout their careers. Secondly, it’s the law firms we work for. I enjoy teaming up with them to solve problems and come up with creative solutions – even if this is sometimes not myself or my team, but rather another part of Alvarez & Marsal or external firms. Finally, the ultimate clients we assist and support nearly always have interesting backgrounds and experiences, which makes much of our work very exciting, challenging and diverse.

You have enjoyed a very distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?

I have recently taken over as practice leader of A&M’s disputes and investigations team in Europe, and I am very much looking forward to the challenges, successes and different perspectives that this will bring. I hope to provide a greater range of solutions to the increasingly technical nature of the issues our clients face. Finally, I’m excited to see how we collaborate across all of the European practices to provide careers and challenges to our people. Interesting times ahead!

Global Leader

WWL Ranking: Recommended
WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Impressed respondents herald Phil Beckett as a goal-oriented expert who "drives solutions to achieve results for clients".

Biography

Phil Beckett, a managing director and Leader of A&M's European disputes and investigations practice in London, 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, information governance, cyber risk and the disclosure of electronic documents. He was recently named Who’s Who Legal’s Investigations Digital Forensic Expert of the Year in 2018 and 2019.

Mr Beckett has led anti-bribery/foreign corrupt practices act investigations,

incident-response engagements, kickback investigations, intellectual property (IP) theft cases, employment disputes, cartel/antitrust investigations, and compliance review exercises. He has also supported commercial litigation and international arbitrations.

Mr Beckett has regularly been appointed as an information technology forensics expert and managed the execution of multi-site civil search orders whereby he has provided expert testimony. Mr Beckett also served as an expert witness in Imerman vs Tchenguiz ([2010] EWCA Civ 908).

Mr Beckett has worked on a large number of high-profile e-disclosure cases, including litigation between Russian entities in the High Court, where data had to be managed in an extremely secure environment across the UK and Russia. Mr Beckett also managed a regulatory review of a global bank trader performed by multiple regulators involving data from multiple systems and jurisdictions, including instant message chat and voice data.

Mr Beckett earned a bachelor's degree in computing and management from Loughborough University, a master’s degree in forensic computing from Cranfield University and a master’s degree in computer and communications law from Queen Mary, University of London. He is a fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and won the ACCA Gold Medal in 2001. He is also a certified fraud examiner and lectures regularly on information governance and forensic technology.

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Phil Beckett brings over 20 years’ experience in forensic advisory services and data set analyses to top-tier clients. 

Biography

Phil Beckett, a managing director with Alvarez & Marsal’s disputes and investigations practice in London, brings more than 19 years of experience in forensic technology engagements, advising clients on forensic investigations of digital evidence, the interrogation of complex data sets, information governance, cyber risk and the disclosure of electronic documents. He was recently named Who’s Who Legal’s Investigations Digital Forensic Expert of the Year for the second year running.

Mr Beckett has led anti-bribery/Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigations, incident-response engagements, kickback investigations, intellectual property (IP) theft cases, employment disputes, cartel/antitrust investigations, and compliance review exercises. He has also supported commercial litigation and international arbitrations.

Mr Beckett has regularly been appointed as an information technology forensics expert and managed the execution of multi-site civil search orders whereby he has provided expert testimony. Mr Beckett also served as an expert witness in Imerman vs Tchenguiz ([2010] EWCA Civ 908).

Mr Beckett has worked on a large number of high-profile e-disclosure cases, including litigation between Russian entities in the High Court, where data had to be managed in an extremely secure environment across the UK and Russia. Mr Beckett also managed a regulatory review of a global bank trader performed by multiple regulators involving data from multiple systems and jurisdictions, including instant message chat and voice data.

Mr Beckett earned a bachelor's degree in computing and management from Loughborough University, a master’s degree in forensic computing from Cranfield University and a master’s degree in computer and communications law from Queen Mary, University of London. He is a fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and won the ACCA Gold Medal in 2001. He is also a certified fraud examiner and lectures regularly on information governance and forensic technology.

WWL Ranking: Global Elite Thought Leader

WWL says

With over 20 years of experience, Phil Beckett is widely considered a "top tier" forensic technology expert.

Biography

Phil Beckett, a managing director with Alvarez & Marsal, heads A&M’s disputes and investigations practice in Europe. He 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, information governance, cyber risk and the disclosure of electronic documents. Mr Beckett leads the forensic technology team across Europe. He was Who’s Who Legal’s Investigations Digital Forensic Expert of the Year in 2017 and 2018.

Mr Beckett has led anti-bribery/Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigations, incident-response engagements, kickback investigations, intellectual property (IP) theft cases, employment disputes, cartel/antitrust investigations, and compliance review exercises. He has also supported commercial litigation and international arbitrations.

Mr Beckett has regularly been appointed as an information technology forensics expert and managed the execution of multi-site civil search orders whereby he has provided expert testimony. Mr Beckett also served as an expert witness in Imerman vs Tchenguiz ([2010] EWCA Civ 908).

Mr Beckett has worked on a large number of high-profile e-disclosure cases, including litigation between Russian entities in the High Court, where data had to be managed in an extremely secure environment across the UK and Russia. Mr Beckett also managed a regulatory review of a global bank trader performed by multiple regulators involving data from multiple systems and jurisdictions, including instant message chat and voice data.

Mr Beckett earned a bachelor's degree in computing and management from Loughborough University, a master's degree in forensic computing from Cranfield University and a master's degree in computer and communications law from Queen Mary, University of London. He is a fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and won the ACCA Gold Medal in 2001. He is also a certified fraud examiner and lectures regularly on information governance and forensic technology.

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