How to Become a Computer Forensic Investigator
Computer forensic investigators sleuth out malicious hackers, identity thieves, and internet fraudsters.
Cybercriminals are often ninjas at covering their tracks, but they usually leave a fingerprint or two at the crime scene. The facts of a cyber case may seem counterintuitive to the average eye, but someone who leaves no stone unturned can help to catch these cyber crooks. Do you have a knack for solving mysteries? Then you might want to consider learning how to become a computer forensic investigator.
As a computer forensic investigator, you’ll play a vital role in protecting the safety and financial well-being of the public. You’ll also help businesses and government agencies identify and neutralize security threats. With cybercrimes increasingly on the rise, it’s very unlikely you’ll ever run out of work. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 14% increase in forensic science jobs over the next 10 years.
Cyber criminals can deny their nefarious activities until they’re blue in the face. But the clues you gather just might tell the real story. If you’re ready to do some digging, read on to learn about the skills and qualifications you’ll need to get hired as a computer forensics investigator.
What Is a Computer Forensic Investigator?
A computer forensic investigator is an IT professional who extracts digital evidence of cybercrime from computing systems. The evidence they gather is often used in court or by companies facing a security risk. You may hear a computer forensic investigator called a forensic computer analyst, computer forensics specialist, forensic computer examiner, computer forensic expert, or forensic computer science technician.
What Does a Forensic Computer Analyst Do?
Think of forensic computer analysts as detectives who help to solve digital crimes. They sleuth out malicious hackers, identity thieves, and internet fraudsters to bring cyberstalkers, cyberbullies, and sexual predators to justice. The clues they uncover can also help solve crimes that occur in the “analog” world, such as murder, theft, and white-collar crimes.
The typical duties of a forensic computer analyst include:
- Gathering digital evidence from computer systems, hard drives, USB drives, and other digital storage devices.
- Utilizing disk and data capture tools, file viewers, network forensic tools, and database forensic tools.
- Using programs that analyze email, the internet, computer registries, computer files, and mobile devices.
- Recovering deleted or encrypted files such as critical documents and images.
- Providing written and oral reports of findings.
- Presenting digital evidence to company officials, law enforcement, and the court.
- Investigating security breaches and providing cybersecurity.
According to the BLS, most forensic computer analysts work for local government and law enforcement agencies. Some work for state agencies, national agencies such as the FBI, medical laboratories, accounting firms, law firms, financial institutions, and private investigation firms.
How to Become a Computer Forensic Investigator
To be considered for a computer forensic investigator job, you must have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, engineering, digital forensics, or cybersecurity. Many colleges and universities offer computer forensics degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate level. Some courses you can expect to take include:
- Cyber criminology.
- Computer forensics file systems.
- Forensic analysis of Windows.
- Malware and software vulnerabilities.
- Digital evidence.
- Computer forensics investigative techniques.
- Computer ethics.
Put your financial future under the magnifying glass, and apply to these computer forensics scholarships to help cover the cost of your education.
Even after you’ve met the forensic computer analyst education requirements, many agencies and firms prefer candidates who have one to two years of experience. If you don’t have any professional experience, you can pursue on-the-job computer forensics training through an internship. There are tons of internships available, including one offered by the High Technology Investigative Unit of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The skills most agencies and firms look for in computer forensics candidates are:
- Communication skills and the ability to put together reports or testify in court.
- Good judgment and critical-thinking skills.
- Keen attention to detail.
- An understanding of statistics, math, and science.
Computer Forensics Certification and Courses
Want to seize the opportunity to excel in your computer forensics career? Consider exploring further educational opportunities. The National Computer Forensics Institute (NCFI) offers a slew of digital forensic courses tailored to different experience levels. For example, their first responder courses are designated for candidates who aren’t currently conducting digital forensic exams but understand how computer investigations work. More intermediate and advanced courses are available to computer forensic investigators with more experience and a greater range of job responsibilities.
While it’s not required for candidates with computer forensics degrees, people looking to transition from other areas of law enforcement may benefit from pursuing computer forensics certification. The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies (NICCS) offers several certificate programs in digital forensics and cybersecurity.
One of the most popular is the Certified Digital Forensics Examiner program, which is taught over the course of five days at the Tampa location, online, or as a self-study course that’s completed at your own pace. The course covers the tools involved in:
- Forensic investigations.
- Seizure concepts.
- Incident investigations.
- Electronic discovery.
- Digital evidence.
How Much Does a Computer Forensic Investigator Make?
The median computer forensics salary is $60,590 per year and $29.13 per hour, according to the BLS. Salaries range from less than $36,630 for entry-level computer forensics jobs to more than $100,000 per year, depending on your location and experience level.
You can look up the average salary for computer forensic investigators in your location by using the Monster Salary Guide.
How to Find a Computer Forensic Investigator Job
Now that you know how to become a computer forensic investigator, gather the evidence and build a strong case for why employers should hire you in your resume and cover letter. Once you’re on the trail, check out Monster’s list of computer forensics jobs to find an opportunity that fits your talents and passions.
According to the BLS, the top five states with the most computer forensics jobs are:
The top five U.S. metro areas with the most computer forensics jobs are:
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