Computer Forensics Career Guide

Computer forensics, or digital forensics, is a fairly new field. Generally, computer forensics specialists, also known as computer forensics investigators or computer forensics examiners, are charged with uncovering and describing the state or the existence of a digital artifact, including computer systems, hard drives, CDs, and other storage devices, and electronic documents and files (like e-mails and JPEG images). The fast-growing field of computer forensics includes several smaller branches related to firewalls, networks, databases, and mobile devices.

Computer Forensics Specialist Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

Computer forensics examiners may provide many services, from investigating computer systems and data in order to present information for legal cases to determining how an unauthorized user hacked into a system to gathering digital information that will assist in the termination of an employee. The digital forensics examiner does many things in the course of these tasks – protects the computer system, recovers all files (including those that were deleted or password-protected), analyzes all data found on various disks, and provides reports, feedback, and even testimony, when required. A computer forensics degree will help you develop the skills necessary for a successful career.

How to Become a Computer Forensics Specialist: Qualifications and Requirements

A bachelor’s degree, in computer forensics or a similar area, is generally required to earn a position as a computer forensics specialist. Some community colleges offer two-year associate degrees in computer forensics, which allow aspiring digital forensics specialists to then transfer to a four-year college or university to earn a bachelor’s degree.

While certification in computer forensics may not be mandatory to finding a position, experts recommend taking the time to get certified. Some organizations require it while others look more favorably upon those applicants who have earned certification.

Computer Forensics Specialist Training

Computer forensics examiners can enhance their degrees and their experience by completing training courses and programs with such organizations as the National Institute of Justice and the National Computer Forensics Institute.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

An interest in technology, the desire to constantly learn to stay abreast of the latest technological advances, and the ability to effectively communicate both verbally and in written form are all common traits of successful digital forensics specialists. Analytical and problem solving skills are also key. Work experience in a computer-related position or in law enforcement could also prove beneficial.

Examples of Possible Job Titles for this Career

  • Computer Forensics Investigator
  • Computer Forensics Technician
  • Digital Forensics Specialist
  • Forensic Computer Examiner

Career Opportunities and Employers

Digital forensics specialists can find work with many types of organizations: government (local, state, and federal), accounting firms, law firms, banks, and software development companies. Essentially, any organization that has a computer system may have a need for a digital forensics specialist. Some digital forensics specialists opt to start their own businesses, giving them an opportunity to work with a variety of clients.

Computer Forensics Specialists Salary and Outlook

The salary range for computer forensics specialists and investigators varies widely, depending on whether the job is in the private sector or in the public sector. The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t provide salary data for computer forensic specialists but does provide data for the related occupation of information security analysts who earn a median salary of $86,170 per year.1 The employment outlook for digital forensics examiners and investigators is favorable due to the rapid growth of crimes involving computers (cybercrime). According to the BLS, the related occupation of information security analysts is expected to grow by 37% for the decade from 2012-2022.1

Frequently Asked Questions About This Career

What kind of schedule does a digital forensics specialist work?
Computer forensics examiners generally work a typical full time work week. However, the employer may require the specialist to be on call at times in the event of an emergency.

What is the best way to keep up with the newest developments in computer forensics?
Technology is constantly evolving, making it essential for digital forensics specialists to have a desire to continuously learn. Continuing education courses and networking with others in the field, both in person and online, are both effective ways to keep up with industry developments and news.

What are some of the topics generally covered in certification exams?
While certification exams vary, digital forensics specialists must have a firm grasp of ethical and legal issues in digital forensics, must know and understand the tools a digital forensics examiner uses, and must know how to recover evidence from a computer’s hard drive.

Additional Resources

International Assurance Certification Review Board – Certified Computer Forensics Examiner

EnCase Computer Forensics – The Official EnCase Certified Examiner

National Computer Forensics Institute – A Resource Guide for Computer Forensics Specialists

National Institute of Justice – Digital Forensics Training

The International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists – Digital Forensics Training and Certification

The International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners – A Resource Guide

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References:
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/information-security-analysts.htm
2. Lorain County Community College: http://www.lorainccc.edu/academic+programs/career+guides/computer+and+digital+forensics.htm
3. Craig Ball, Certified Computer Forensics Examiner: http://www.craigball.com/Becoming%20a%20Computer%20Forensic%20examiner.html

Page Edited by Charles Sipe.