Digital Forensics Careers – Become an Investigator
We have all watched CSI, sitting on the edge of our chairs wondering who committed the crime and how the investigators will catch them. The part of the show that is not usually shown is the great influence that digital forensics has on modern day crime investigations. Because of the wide scale use of computers, the Internet, cell phones, email, and digital devices exciting careers in forensics has rapidly evolved to include the role of a computer forensics investigator.
What does a digital forensics investigator do? Put simply, he or she uncovers and analyzes evidence held in digital devices. What that means in regular terms is when someone has been accused of a crime or investigators are trying to solve a crime one of the greatest sources of information they have at their disposal is digital sources. Forensic careers are centered around the science of investigating crimes. Digital forensics is the science of analyzing digital evidence related to a crime or criminal.
As a computer forensics investigator you will have the opportunity to help solve dangerous crimes without having to go to the crime scene. Instead, the front line police officers or investigators will seize any digital evidence such as computers, cell phones, and hard drives and then deliver them to the computer forensics expert to analyze.
Who Hires Digital Forensics Experts?
This is a relatively new career and industry that has rapidly grown in the past twenty years due to the success that both government and private industry have had at solving crimes. A forensic computer analyst has become an indispensable part of a police task force.
Within the government a computer forensic investigator serves many different roles, they may be called upon to analyze a suspects computer for any traces of email conversations confirming his compliance in a murder, a computer forensics expert may look through a suspects cell phone records to confirm an alibi, or a digital forensics analyst may look through a hard drive for any evidence pertaining to a bank robbery. All of these roles have been fulfilled by a computer forensic investigator to solve heinous and terrible crimes or to help acquit an innocent man who was blamed wrongly for a crime that he didn’t commit. The analysts were a vital part of the forensics of the investigation.
Careers in forensics are not tied solely to government jobs. The private sector is also realizing the importance of having a digital forensics expert. With more and more sensitive data being stored on hard drives, in the cloud, or having information transferred through networks a computer forensics expert is vital to keeping their information secure or finding the criminal that breached the companies network. With the increase in cyperwarfare and cyperattacks digital forensic careers are proving to be in high demand and very lucrative.
Career Paths for Computer Forensics Expert
How does one progress in the computer forensics industry? Well, because it is a relatively new profession there are limited educational degree programs and accreditation certificates. However, 5 of the most important that have validity on a resume and within both the public and private sector are:
- Certified Computer Examiner
- Certified Hacking Forensic Investigator
- Certified Forensic Computer Examiner
- GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst and Forensics Examiner
Are all 5 of those certifications required to advance in a digital forensics career? Absolutely not, but as you’ll notice they each touch on a specific section of digital forensics. This is a key component of choosing your path in your forensic careers.
The common advice given to those planning to pursue careers in forensics is to get a base set of knowledge concerning digital forensics and then begin studying and becoming certified in one or two areas. These areas will become your specialty and will help you market yourself to potential employers both governmental bodies or private sector.
An entry level computer forensic investigator may be responsible for analyzing data that has been collected for patterns, or perhaps doing more mundane data entry. Not the most glamorous job – but a starting point and the gateway to the really exciting careers such as a Network Analyst Expert, or Data Recovery Specialist.
Computer Forensics experts are always called in when the stakes are really high – like a mass-murderer needs to be caught or a multi-million dollar crime has been committed by a hacker. Do you think a lawyer, company, or the FBI wants a computer novice on that important of a case? Of course not. They want a specialist who is trained and has experience in handling that aspect of the case. That is why it is important to get some experience under your belt, but all the while be training to specialize in a specific area of digital forensics. That’s where the big money is and more importantly where great life fulfillment is – you’ll be saving lives, helping the innocent, and putting away evil-doers – good for you!
Forensic Investigation Salaries
So how much does a digital forensic career pay? Great question – the easy answer: it varies, greatly! That’s why in discussing the career path we recommended specializing in a particular section of cyber forensics. As you’ll see below specialization leads to a much higher salary and greater demand for your skill set.
Overall forensic investigation has seen a dramatic increase in compensation, job demand, and perks over the past 10 years. As more and more cybercrimes are committed it is our estimation that the salaries will only increase. In 2014 the average Forensic Computer Examiner Salary was $95,000 per year. This is 65% higher than all other jobs in the U.S. Pretty great skill set to have!
Cyber Forensics – Security
We mentioned above that entry level computer forensics jobs were necessary in order to get promoted in your forensics careers. However, don’t worry – just because it is an entry level position doesn’t mean it doesn’t pay well. An entry level Cyber Security position for instance paid on average $44,000 per year. But if you decided to specialize in cyber security a Senior Cyber Security Engineer makes an average of $106,000 per year! And a Director of Information Security makes over $215,000 per year.
Entry Level Computer Forensics Jobs
You may be wondering if the only entry level job is with cyber security. It definitely is not. In fact, each specialization path within cyber forensics has it’s own set of entry level jobs. For a Director of Information Security the entry level computer forensic job of cyber security makes sense. However, if you are not interested in cyber security, but instead want to pursue data recovery then you could start as a data recovery assistant with a starting salary of $85,000. Now it is important to mention that even an entry level position within this sector of digital forensics requires a bit of knowledge and experience in working with databases, recovering, extracting, and analyzing databases and data structure. If this is the position you want to start with then it would be a great idea to begin working on your own with database systems such as MS SQL or any Oracle product. Then getting GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst will go a long way in you getting hired and promoted quickly. The best advice a senior Forensic Investigation Expert could give a beginner is “start with the end in mind”. Find out what you eventually want to do and then begin planning your career path on how to get there.
Different Forensic Investigation Sectors
We’ve talked a lot about specializing and choosing a sector to become an expert in for your forensics career. What are the main digital forensics sectors? Great question, below is not an all inclusive list as each day and each new technology opens up the possibility of a new job position but as of today these are the most common positions being filled today.
Computer / Cyber Forensics
A computer forensic expert is tasked with a broad range of specialties all concerning the analysis and recovery of information from computer systems such as a typical computer, embedded systems (like a tablet or security camera DVR), and static memory (such as a USB thumb hard drive)
Mobile Device Forensics
This subsection of digital forensics specializes in recovering information and analyzing data from mobile devices such as smart phones, cell phones, and tablets. They are typically tasked with analyzing call logs, confirming the date, time, and location of a suspects position based on when their phone was used. They also can track down and analyze the text messages and emails that were sent or received from the mobile device.
This position is typically a private sector job that is concerned with securing a companies internal and external network from cyber attacks and if a cyber attack or hacking has occurred determining the source.
Forensic Data Analysis
This section of digital forensics examines data recovered from a database. The goal typically is to find patterns or data that explain criminal activity. This position typically works to solve financial crimes or prosecute white collar criminals.
How to get a job in digital forensics
The digital forensics career is certainly a hot spot to be in. So, how do you get a job in this exciting space? The first decision you must make is whether or not you want to work with a government agency or with a private sector company.
A careers in forensics used in the government are primarily through the FBI. The task force called the FBI CyberTeam have very specific requirements:
- Must be between 23 and 36 years old
- Must have a bachelor’s degree from a U.S. University
- One year of full time experience in a computer related career
- Must be available for assignment anywhere where the FBI has jurisdiction
- Must be able to pass the FBI’s physical fitness test
- Must qualify for Special Agent Status
- More Information
The bottom line for a government job is you must have a computer based degree, have work experience in the tech sector, and be physically active. If you pass those requirements you could apply to be protecting our nation from cyberwarfare and cyber terror attacks.
So how to get a job in forensics for the private sector? The requirements are very similar to a government position. From the private sectors stance the degree is not nearly as important as work experience or proving your skillset in digital forensics. The best thing that you can do for a career in the private sector is to get an entry level position which typically does not require a college degree, but limited computer experience. Once you have secured an entry level position, begin learning everything you can about the specialty field you want to be promoted to. This is how to become a forensic analyst, a cyber forensics expert, a security expert, etc. for any position it is the same formula – get an entry level position, gain experience, learn learn learn, become certified, get promoted.
Data Forensics & Digital Analysts
Data forensics is a subset of the digital forensic careers. Their job is very specialized in that they do not deal with network security or pulling data out of physical devices. Instead, these data forensics experts specialize in analyzing the data that is recovered. They analyze both the actual data as well as the metadata of files and folders. Their specialty in analysis means that they are used all different types of crimes and cases.
By analyzing data, a data forensics analyst is helpful in financial fraud cases. Tracking down money trails, account numbers, hidden corporations and buried money. Essentially they are unwinding a spider web of financial complexity to uncover who is at the center of a financial crime and who all is effected. Because of the huge financial ramifications of them uncovering massive multi-billion dollar fraud you can imagine that a digital analyst salary is a high paying position – starting at $90,000 and going up from there.
Besides analyzing data they also research files metadata. Metadata is specific pieces of data that tell when a file was created, who created it, and where (or what computer) it was created on. The data forensics specialist will look at this metadata to determine who actually created a file, whether or not it was tampered with, and when it was made. This can help support a plaintiff’s alibi or prove that a culprit did in fact tamper with evidence. The metadata is a part of a file that most criminals don’t even know exists until it is too late (and they’re thrown in handcuffs and put in jail thanks to a data forensics specialist).
Become a Computer Forensics Expert
The exciting job path of a [WhAT IS FORENSICS]computer forensics expert is very straight forward. But, determining if this is the career path you want to take is an important decision. Before deciding to join the forensic investigation community and helping solve crimes you have to ask yourself – do you like computers? Do you enjoy learning and solving puzzles? Do you want to help prosecute criminals and prove the innocence of suspects? Do you enjoy working in an office in front of a computer?
All of these are important questions because they describe the average computer forensics expert day. If you don’t like computers then most likely a career in digital forensics is not for you. If you like computers but don’t want to be stuck in an office then you may want to look at other forensic investigation careers and see if you can work out in the field and assist with computer investigations.
However, if you are good with computers, enjoy learning, and want to help make a difference in the world then forensic investigation and becoming a computer forensics expert is an excellent career choice. Not to mention the average salary is $95,000 which is fantastic compensation for such a rewarding career.