Computer Forensics Examiner: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for computer forensic examiners. Get the facts about education requirements, certification options, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Computer Forensics degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Computer Forensic Examiner Do?

Computer forensic examiners are a category of forensic science technicians. They work in law enforcement and specialize in computer-based crimes. Their job is to recover data from computers and computer data storage systems that may be pertinent to a criminal investigation. Criminal forensic examiners are responsible for logging evidence, following local laws and evidence-processing regulations, and for reporting their findings to law enforcement officials who are working on the case. They also must make sure all evidence is stored and secured according to procedure. Some examples of cases they might be involved in could be child pornography or fraud cases. The information they uncover on computerized systems may help establish the motives or criminal activities of those involved in the crime. Computer forensic examiners need a bachelor's degree, preferably in computer forensics or computer security or a similar discipline.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Forensic computing, computer security, computer science or similar field
Key Skills Good oral and written communication skills; problem solving skills; detail oriented; critical-thinking skills
Licensure and/or Certification Certification is voluntary
Job Growth (2014-2024) 27% (for all forensic science technicians)*
Median Salary (2016) $68,666**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com

What Is a Computer Forensics Examiner?

As a computer forensics examiner, you are responsible for examining digital technology to find legal evidence of criminal activity. Your services may be requested to uncover cases of fraud, identity theft, cyber terrorism or even murder. For example, you may be called upon to testify that an alleged murderer kept digital evidence of his or her crimes in e-mails, spreadsheets or hard drives.

When you work as a computer forensics examiner, you must be able to uncover, preserve and analyze digital evidence. You typically perform investigations on static data, or images taken from digital sources, as opposed to actual computer systems. Some other duties might include recovering erased files or encrypted passwords. You must also be able to present gathered evidence in courtroom proceedings.

What Education Might I Need?

If you are interested in becoming a computer forensics examiner, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests that a bachelor's degree in computer science is typically more helpful than a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Your primary goal is to learn how to navigate computer systems and recover lost data.

Some schools also offer bachelor's and master's degree programs related specifically to the field of computer forensic science. A Bachelor of Science in Computer Forensics provides you with the skills necessary to search through computer systems and networks while analyzing data for evidence of a criminal or civil infraction. It should also provide you with an understanding of criminal law and civil proceedings. A 2-year master's degree program in the field provides additional real-world, practical skills necessary to obtain a position as a computer forensics examiner in the public or private sectors.

What Certifications and Licenses Are Available?

While there are no licenses designed specifically for computer forensics experts, you may opt to earn an independent private investigator license. Once you have a position in the field, you may also earn voluntary certification from organizations such as the International Society for Forensic Computer Examiners (ISFCE). Upon completing a 4-part test, you are eligible to receive the Certified Computer Examiner (CCE) designation for up to two years.

What Salary Could I Expect to Make?

Forensic science technicians as a whole held roughly 14,070 jobs and earned a median annual salary of about $56,320 in 2015, according to the BLS (www.bls.gov). However, PayScale.com reports as of 2016 that most forensic computer analysts earned from $40,895 to $119,492 per year.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Computer forensic examiners are forensic science technicians who specialize in retrieving evidence from computers and computer data storage systems. Their work is comparable to the work performed by law enforcement officials, such as police and detectives, and to the work of private investigators. All of these professionals are involved in collecting or retrieving evidence that will be used to establish the motives or activities of parties who may be guilty of a particular offense. While it is not necessary to have a bachelor's degree to be a police officer, detective or private investigator, all of these professionals are trained in police procedures. Private investigators normally need prior experience in law enforcement, and it is common for those who are interested in being in command positions to pursue a degree before entering law enforcement professions.

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