A Q&A session with Eric Shirk, BDO Consulting Principal, Forensic Technology Services
Can you tell us about your background and experience prior to joining BDO Consulting?
I've built my 20-plus year career in technology. Early on, before digital forensics became a widespread business discipline, I focused on developing custom information technology (IT) applications. I stayed in that space for over a decade and advised clients in the government, transportation and financial sectors. In the mid-2000s, I decided to re-evaluate my career path. The business and technology landscapes both changed a great deal since I had started my career, and I felt I had a new opportunity to pursue a career that allowed me to leverage my technological experience and passion for solving unique business problems through cost-effective technological solutions. While I received my B.S. in Computer Information Systems from Missouri State University, I decided to further my expertise by becoming a certified computer and encase examiner. These credentials enabled me to join the consulting world, where I focused on collecting, analyzing and reporting on digital evidence in the context of government investigations for a wide range of agencies, such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice, among others.
What do you see as the top trends and considerations that organizations should be aware of in the digital forensics space right now?
Employee theft of information and misconduct continue to pose major challenges to organizations across the country and world. Businesses should give serious attention to these issues and have policies, procedures and responses in place to mitigate their exposure. For example, monitoring employee activity to ensure that employees don’t navigate to certain areas of the web is one avenue companies often take to proactively manage this risk. As for another trend, spoliation of electronically stored information among employees does not seem to be waning in activity; however, during the e-discovery process, it is possible to reassemble the timeline, identify if spoliation occurred, and arm the organization with a defensible position.
Lastly, a major trend that will undoubtedly have an impact on the e-discovery and digital forensic field is the global business environment. As businesses store more and more information around the world, multi-jurisdictional and multi-national investigations are increasingly the norm, resulting in a new level of regulatory complexity and cultural nuance.
As the volume and complexity of data continues to increase, what are some of the shifts you’re seeing in how organizations are approaching the e-discovery process?
To combat the growing volume and complexity of data, in-house legal departments at mid-sized companies are focused on becoming more efficient—to improve the quality and cost of the e-discovery process. As such, the application of data analytics and visualization techniques across the entire e-discovery process is being implemented more frequently. In addition, structured data, which is in a perpetual state of expansion, can be costly to handle from an e-discovery perspective because there is so much of it, and a lot of it is not relevant. Analyzing such a large population of data to quickly identify patterns or gaps can be extremely challenging without the proper tools, technology and techniques. Therefore, leveraging third-party providers or consultants with the expertise to mine and visualize the relevant data in a defensible way may help streamline the structured data process. Thus, data analytics and visualization can have a great impact on an organization’s e-discovery budget from both the unstructured and structured data perspectives.
BDO Consulting was very excited to learn about the patented technology you invented for preserving electronically stored information. Can you tell me more about what it involves, and what led you to create it?
Yes, it's called Tristan, and it’s a proprietary process for creating forensic images of targeted data sources without the need for specialized tools or training. The best way to think about it is that it is an easy-to-use wizard application that allows almost anyone to identify and target a certain subset of data and create defensible forensic copies of the data. Historically, if an organization needed to do this, it would have had to engage a trained individual to gather the data, which could be quite costly. For example, this may require them to send a consultant to, let's say, Angola, which has a high price tag associated with travel, visas and physical security. So, there was a need to provide clients with a value-added solution to manage the cost of the forensic collection of data--and we did just that.
What do you like most about the work you do?
I love my job. What's most interesting to me is working on investigations to locate and assemble digital facts to tell a story—a timeline of events—around who did what, when and how, in order to help build our clients defense or response to an investigation or litigation. In a way, we can do what many perceive to be impossible, such as overcoming anti-forensic activity—including recovering the attempted "shredding" of electronically stored information.
In joining BDO, I was struck by its local presence and global reach, as well as its breadth of internal resources and capabilities. Making these new professional connections has been extremely exciting and has created an immense opportunity to help our clients manage a wider range of issues.
Eric Shirk is a Litigation Principal in BDO Consulting’s Forensic Technology Services practice. With over 20 years of experience, he is a seasoned technologist who holds multiple certifications in computer forensics. Eric has served as an e-discovery project manager for a global Fortune 10 organization and has significant experience as an e-discovery project manager for matters ranging in scale from small slip and falls to multi-million dollar toxic tort cases. He is knowledgeable of best practices related to data preservation, collection, processing, review and production. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.