Abdeslam Afras, Executive Vice President of Investigations, Nuix

Abdes, many of our readers might recognize your name from AccessData. What brought you to Nuix this year?

First, thanks for the opportunity, it’s always great to speak with you and be part of the Forensic Focus community. It’s been an exciting move to Nuix! The first thing that drew me in was their people, who all have the same passion as I do and share a vision to provide the best tools to help bring criminals to justice. Nuix has built a tremendous foundation of tools, from the Nuix Enterprise Collection Center and Nuix Adaptive Security, to the power of Nuix Workstation, as well as the innovation within Nuix Investigate®.

And clearly the power of the Nuix Engine is second to none, which ingests and processes unstructured, semi-structured and structured data at unmatched speed and precision, enabling quick analysis and data artifact correlation. Using our patented parallel processing engine, users can make critical decisions early in the case, finding relevant evidence while it’s still processing. No other vendor comes close. Further, as the lines blur between the worlds of cyber, forensics and incident response, there is a need in the market for these technologies to also seamlessly interoperate, in order to improve the customer workflow and speed response times and investigations. It felt like a natural fit to join forces… and to work together to unite the technology and transform the investigative environment.

What are you looking forward to most about working at Nuix and what opportunities do you see in the DFIR market, where Nuix’s customers will benefit from your experience?

Well, with Nuix being so focused on heavily investing in the forensic space, I have the reins to set the vision, strategy and execution plans. It’s a very exciting time, so I’m most looking forward to having the resources to make a powerful impact for customers. I have been working with investigators for many years, listening to their needs and understand the areas where existing tools miss the mark. It will be rewarding to be able to have a hand in speeding time to finding the truth in data and bringing justice in new and unique ways.

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There are so many market factors at play today where Nuix is positioned for success. First, consider the increasing instances of cyberattacks on enterprise devices and government organizations. Attackers are using sophisticated tools to exploit the network, endpoint and cloud environments. Global agencies and organizations can’t just sit back … there is a huge and growing need to protect, detect, investigate and retrieve critical data.

There is also massive use of internet of things (IoT) devices. Consider there are expected to be 18 billion IoT devices in the next two years. Widespread use is in smart city projects, smart transportation, connected and autonomous vehicles, smart grids and smart homes.

Cybercriminals heavily target IoT and it’s essential for organizations to adopt forensic tools that can extract meaningful forensic data from these devices. In addition, the increase in mobile and the trend of working from home due to the global pandemic is increasing demand for forensics solutions and services and that is only expected to grow. Further, the pandemic has changed how people do business, how criminals commit crimes and how law enforcement investigates.

These are all key growth drivers of the DFIR market and we are looking carefully at all of these things. I’m excited to be on board now to help evolve our products to be better, faster and be able to handle all the data types and devices, while being intuitive enough for even non-technical users.

Where do you see the trends in investigations happening – and where does Nuix fit in?

An investigator’s ability to move quickly and make informed decisions is being crushed by the volume and exponential growth of data, burgeoning evidence sources, new data formats and the rising demand for data-intensive investigations. Adding complexity to investigations is data from different device types (routers, dash cams, drones); human activity data (door access logs, airline stubs); mobile and social media data, encryption and of course data in the cloud.

Traditional methods and tools simply can’t keep up. Multiple technologies that address only a single aspect of an investigation and tedious linear manual processes are contributing to budget blowouts and case backlogs. Isolated systems and siloed teams compound the challenge, making it difficult – at best – to share data and case progress with colleagues, slowing down momentum. And when time is of the essence, this is the worst possible outcome.

Nuix is unique because we provide serious firepower to solve complex investigation challenges. Traditional investigation solutions aren’t automated or collaborative – they focus only on niche aspects of investigations and lack precision. Nuix enables investigators to work smarter. Our proprietary engine makes it possible to quickly extract, correlate and contextualize thousands of data types – across people, objects, locations and events – enabling investigators to make faster and more accurate decisions and accelerate investigations. Automating repetitive tasks and workflows (such as entity extraction, search and tag, image classification) enables investigators to quickly filter out the desired data from the meaningless. Visualization capabilities make it possible to draw relationships between data artifacts, building a web of connected data and making it possible to see how different – and seemingly unrelated – artifacts are connected (who is talking to whom, how often, what about). 

Also consider our deep roots in e-discovery. We were built from the start to support huge volumes of data, often seen in the most complex cases. And as more and more agencies are moving to an e-discovery-like workflow, shifting the focus of the review more toward less technical users, Nuix is uniquely positioned. We are the best at providing a single view across multiple data sources within a single, scalable, collaborative technology with rich investigative analytics alongside traditional forensic capabilities, and mainstreams investigations for every type of user.

What do you see as the ‘new’ or ‘must have’ data types to include in your focus?

New forms of data are constantly emerging as the result of the internet of things, new devices that rapidly produce data as well as new data repositories – like the cloud. All of these are impacting the ability to conduct investigations more efficiently and effectively and to identify the relevant data for users to prove their cases.

There are also growing uses of technologies that provide anonymity to users, like encrypted messaging and cryptocurrencies. Anonymity leaves these technologies open to misuse by criminals and makes it much more difficult to assemble the evidence puzzle and prove that a crime has been committed. Lack of understanding around these technologies and how criminals exploit them is a real problem. We are looking at helping the investigative community through educational webinars and training materials around these topics.

What are some of the key challenges that customers have reflected to you in your first few months on the job? How do they differ across regions, and how will Nuix address them?

The resounding and consistent feedback has been around mobile devices, which will be the dominant topic of investigations in the coming years. People are really moving away from traditional computers and toward mobile devices; as they do that, the criminal activity goes with them. These devices bring with them a large number of new challenges and opportunities that we intend to pursue aggressively. We forecast strong demand from organizations looking for mobile device forensic tools that are tightly integrated with litigation support and eDiscovery tools. This is a sweet spot at Nuix, so we feel well-positioned for this.

When you aren’t at work, how do you like to spend your spare time?

Well I have three young kids, so I don’t have much spare time! Ha! When I’m able to get out of the house, you can usually find me playing or watching football (proper football to my American colleagues, where you use your feet ☺). I also just returned from a holiday with my family in Mallorca, so it’s back to work now and all focus is on an exciting new vision and path forward for Nuix.

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