Computer Forensics Job Description, Salary and Training
As technology improves and scientific knowledge increases, investigating and solving crimes involves a growing reliance on computer forensics. This is particularly true given the rising rates of cyber crime. Also referred to as digital forensics, this field uses a combination of scientific reasoning and criminal justice methodology in the identification and analysis of evidence.
Working as a computer forensics technician, analyst or investigator can involve a variety of tasks and responsibilities, although the positions often have some duties in common, such as preserving evidence and writing reports. Some forensics professionals use technology to analyze physical evidence; others focus on extracting evidence from computers or data storage.
Job Skills in Computer Forensics
Staying knowledgeable about new technology and tools is vital for effective performance in this profession, as is the ability to adjust to changing methodologies.
Written communication is another valuable skill in computer forensics. After collecting and analyzing data, computer forensics analysts and technicians must present their findings in reports that will be passed on to law enforcement officials and lawyers. They may also have to testify in court, so verbal communication is also important.
The ability to utilize critical-thinking techniques can help computer forensics professionals to uncover additional information and improve the progression of an investigation. Sometimes a single piece of evidence leads to further discoveries and fully scrutinizing data can produce a break in the case.
Computer forensics investigators work for private companies, crime laboratories, and local, state and national law enforcement agencies. Most computer forensics positions are in office or lab environments, although travel to crime scenes and other locations may be required.
Working irregular hours is also a possibility, especially during a time-sensitive case. Because of the stressful nature of criminal case work, computer forensics professionals must be able to remain composed under pressure.
Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not have a specific occupational listing for computer forensics professionals, many of the job duties are included under the categories of private detectives and investigators, and forensic science technicians.
Employment of private detectives and investigators is projected to increase by 21% from 2010 to 2020, according to the BLS. Forensic science technicians are expected to see a 19% increase in employment over the same period.
As of May 2012, the BLS reported a median annual wage of $45,740 for private detectives and investigators, with the top 10% earning at least $79,790. Forensic science technicians had a median annual salary of $52,840 as of May 2012; the top 10% earned more than $85,000.
Specific education requirements for computer forensics positions vary based on the employer’s preference. However, most jobs in the field require at least a bachelor’s degree and some positions, such as those in a crime lab, may require a master’s degree. Coursework for computer forensics degree programs can include subject areas such as data mining, examining digital evidence, computer systems and criminal law.
With technology continuing to advance, education and training should be an ongoing process for professionals in this industry. There are many options for professional certifications to help computer forensics technicians to master current proficiencies and learn new skills. Certifications include:
- Certified computer forensics examiner (CCFE)
- Certified ethical hacker (CEH)
- Certified reverse engineering analyst (CREA)
- Certified penetration tester (CPT)
Degree and certification programs are available on-campus and online, giving students many options to pursue education and training opportunities. Getting information about schools and programs is the first step for any prospective computer forensics professionals.