Bobby Balachandran, CEO, Exterro

Welcome, Bobby, and congratulations on the acquisition of AccessData! Why was a forensic company important to add to the Exterro portfolio and why AccessData specifically?

Thank you! The heart of the decision came from knowing that we have technology that can be extended into the forensics world to help fight crime, create safer communities and protect assets. I have a vision and mission to help make a real impact in support of the Rule of Law and to do everything we can to provide law enforcement with the best tools to help bring criminals to justice. 

To your question around the larger portfolio, we have been seeing for a while the converging market forces in the areas of privacy, digital forensics and incident response and e-discovery that pretty much demanded this acquisition. These solutions require the ability to identify, understand and secure data in a forensically sound manner, as quickly and inexpensively as possible within a consistent, defensible process that meticulously ensures and maintains data integrity. The acquisition combines all of these capabilities and will give organizations and agencies everywhere a holistic framework for their investigations. 

AccessData was the natural choice and a perfect fit! We only wanted to join forces with the gold standard in forensics and that meant FTK.

How did customers react to the acquisition? What should they look forward to in 2021?

Although it was a surprise to some, our customers and partners have told us that they are excited about the acquisition and look forward to the coming months as we integrate our technologies and solutions. There has been a lot of interest around what our plans are for FTK and let me tell you, it’s going to be an exciting year! In December, I sent a detailed letter to the forensic community, let’s share it here.  I want to be as open and transparent as possible with our roadmap so in it, I lay out the significant investments we are making to our DFIR products.

I want people to know that we are firmly committed to the FTK portfolio and to the global forensics community. We are putting massive resources towards reimagining this technology to accelerate the investigative process and maximize outcomes in ways only previously dreamed possible. And we deeply appreciate that end-to-end chain of custody is of paramount importance. So throughout the innovation process, it remains our highest priority to ensure evidence is preserved in a forensically sound manner, ensuring the highest degree of data integrity. We are not only working to modernize FTK, but we will reshape it with the more robust features users have been asking for, while injecting powerful new technology to deliver the future of forensics within the tool users already know and trust. 

This does sound exciting. Can you give some concrete examples?

Absolutely. One of the things I’m most excited about is to bring leading-edge Artificial Intelligence technology to FTK. This is going to help transform the investigative environment, empowering users with pioneering tools so that they can get access to evidence faster and help uncover more relevant findings when processing and analyzing data, understanding connections that could sharpen focus and direction. 

Exterro has mastered AI over the past five years and we have successfully launched two AI-driven products that have been battle-tested. We have the resources, experience, and expertise to bring this technology to FTK and are excited to incorporate it into forensic evidence processing and review. 

To put it into action, we will deliver “Smart Investigator,” as next-gen review. It will be fully integrated with FTK and will leverage the AI technology from Exterro. Smart Investigator will be your virtual investigative partner to help guide the investigation, reveal contextual insights across data at the earliest possible stage, uncovering immediate insight, shortening the time it takes to solve a case and cutting the extraneous data out so you can spend your valuable time on the investigation itself.

We also continue to meet today’s investigative challenges, such as how to combat the increase in data volume, complexity and data sources. From computers, mobile devices and other PDAs to data residing in cloud repositories, it has caused the data discovery, acquisition and review process to take longer than ever before. With the latest in FTK, investigators are able to get a holistic view of the most complex data types in one solution. Where FTK has made significant progress on providing the most advanced and easier mobile data review (iOS & Android) with QView integration, our Enterprise solution is bringing the ability to collect data from cloud data sources like Gmail, Google Drive, MS Teams, Microsoft Exchange, etc to our customers. We will further enhance this capability by integrating Exterro’s existing disparate & diverse cloud data sources into AD Enterprise. 

Allowing users to bring different data sources for mobiles (e.g., UFDR, XRY), allows them to use best of breed solutions for different use cases and yet review data under one single solution to present it in a more meaningful way across datasets and cases, eventually providing them greater insights and saving time. You can locate, manage, and filter mobile data more easily now with a dedicated mobile tab, quickly isolate data from message applications like WhatsApp or Facebook, plus review internet artifacts with URL detection and parsing capabilities across devices. Find Internet activity faster, bring in social media and Internet mail sources, and get the insights needed for unprecedented speed and accuracy in the investigation. Having one centralized view of your evidence helps connect the dots for greater understanding, bringing cases to resolution faster.

We are looking forward to seeing that! AI has so much untapped potential in the forensics market. Do you see changes like this coming more broadly to the digital forensics landscape? What do you think has changed, and what has remained the same?

Obviously, the global pandemic has changed how people do business, how criminals commit crimes and how law enforcement investigates. In addition, organizations are facing increased risks as employees have been forced to work from home, further increasing BYOD and creating challenges for remote and off-network collections. The rapid penetration of mobile devices, such as smartphones, laptops, and USBs to assist business continuity, have further accelerated the frequency of cyber-attacks. This coupled with the widespread adherence to data compliance regulations by all enterprises and the rapid deployment of the cloud are expected to act as key growth drivers of the DFIR market and we are looking carefully at all of these things.

What remains the same are the challenges of new and constantly changing types of data and devices, data overload and a skills gap when it comes to experienced forensic investigators. Those challenges drive us to evolve our products to be faster, better able to handle new data types and devices, all while being intuitive enough for non-technical users.

What are you personally proudest of this year? And what are you excited about for next year?

I’m proud of our collective team—our “global family” as we like to call it. This has been a challenging year, and everyone has stepped up and done their part and more to adjust when the pandemic shut everything down, ensuring stable business operations and maintaining the same levels of service to our customers. Like so many, our employees have had to juggle working from home, sometimes for the first time and with the added challenge of having their kids and partners at home as well. I’ve had to make similar adjustments and there’s no question it’s been difficult. But, everyone does what needs to be done, and we support each other and build each other up when it’s needed. 

One of the best things to come out of it in my opinion was the reminder to all that first responders are true heroes. They are on the front lines of providing support at federal, state and local levels, every single day, keeping us safe. Thank you to for your tireless service! 

Going into 2021, what are the biggest challenges facing law enforcement, government and enterprise customers?

Some of the top concerns that IT and Security leaders express to us are challenges around regulatory compliance obligations, protecting individual privacy rights, mitigating data breaches and business pressure to improve productivity and efficiency. Not to mention the growing challenge of BYOD driven by our current work-from-home environment, and gaining better control over emerging data sources like cloud and IoT. There has also been a rise in the use of cryptocurrencies and crimes on the dark net, which is driving a need for new investigative approaches.

The complexity of investigations at all levels of government and law enforcement is growing, which requires more sophisticated, specialized solutions. We intend to focus on this as a key initiative in 2021.

How will AccessData and Exterro’s customers benefit from this?

Our forensic collection, processing and analysis capabilities, along with our incident response and cyber forensic tools complement and round out Exterro’s existing e-discovery, privacy and information governance solutions. Our combined technologies, domain expertise and superior track records will benefit clients in a few key ways:

  • They can get to the facts more quickly and defensibly, at a lower cost. There’s no other company in the market that offers a truly comprehensive, integrated solution that will broaden functionality, streamline process and data management, and ensure time and cost efficiencies from within a single, secure, easy to use ecosystem, meeting all of your forensic, e-discovery and regulatory needs. This is key, as trying to efficiently address all the technical challenges with individual point tools simply isn’t feasible today. Organizations need a unified platform, and that’s what we provide.
  • Users will also benefit from processing speed we intend to take to new heights, proven machine learning technology that will help surface connections within data that might otherwise be missed and new mobile forensic analysis capabilities.
  • Organizations of all sizes can get deep visibility into live data directly at the endpoint. The combination of our forensic tools with Exterro will help users conduct faster, more targeted internal and compliance investigations and implement a consistent, documented, defensible response process in a single, robust solution.
  • Bringing together the best in FTK forensics and privacy solutions, our users across global organizations and agencies around the world will be able to easily orchestrate processes to comply with global regulations, including GDPR.

What New Year’s resolutions would you like to make for 2021? 

I’m ready to really dig into this exciting world of forensics and to get out and meet more users, hear directly from them, what they need and partner to make them as successful as possible. I see great collaboration happening! And between the Exterro and AccessData teams, we have a great group of minds brought together through the acquisition. We have a lot to learn from each other and apply to our business in order to help our customers achieve the best possible outcomes.

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