Computer Forensics Investigator: Career Guide

Computer Forensics Investigator: Career Guide

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Updated May 6, 2021 is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Computer forensics, or digital forensics, is a fairly new field. Computer forensics investigators, also known as computer forensics specialists, computer forensics examiners, or computer forensics analysts, are charged with uncovering and describing the information contained on, or the state or existence of, a digital artifact. Digital artifacts include computer systems, hard drives, CDs, and other storage devices, as well as electronic documents and files like emails and JPEG images. The fast-growing field of computer forensics includes several branches related to firewalls, networks, databases, and mobile devices. Digital forensics technicians can find work with many types of organizations: government (local, state, and federal), accounting firms, law firms, banks, and software development companies. Essentially, any kind of 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.

Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

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

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Steps for Becoming a Computer Forensics Analyst

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

  • Attend a degree program and/or gain experience in a related field.*

  • Become certified as a GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA).**

  • Apply for an open position as a computer forensics investigator.

  • Complete an interview.

  • Get hired as a computer forensics investigator.

  • Receive training on the job once hired.

  • *The degree level required depends on the job. Sometimes relevant experience may be used to supplement an educational requirement. Check the job posting for details.

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

    Computer Forensics Investigator Training

    Computer forensics investigators 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.

    Possible Job Titles for This Career

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

    Computer Forensics Analyst Salary and Job Outlook

    The salary range for computer forensics analysts and investigators varies widely depending on whether the job is in the private sector or in the public sector. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 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 $98,350 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 28% between 2016 and 2026.1

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    Frequently Asked Questions

    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 and available to work evenings and/or weekends 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, computer forensics investigators 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

    1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Information Security Analysts:

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