Computer Forensics Investigator Job Facts

Computer forensics investigators identify, preserve and analyze digital evidence related to legal matters. Continue reading to learn about job duties, training options and earnings for these investigators. Schools offering Computer Forensics degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Computer Forensics Investigator?

A computer forensics investigator is the detective of the information technology world. After a data breach, an investigator is in charge of piecing together the events of the attack and determining the source. Aspects of the investigation include data mining, file recovery, and storage device manipulation. These professionals might develop expertise in recovering deleted e-mails or other sensitive documents. Investigators also make court appearances when necessary, in order to present their findings to a jury.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Required Computer science or criminal justice
Key Responsibilities Recover and preserve digital information for use as evidence
Licensure Requirements Required in most states
Job Growth (2014-2024) 5% (private detectives and investigators)*
Median Salary (2017) $68,671 (forensic computer analysts)*

Where Do Computer Forensic Professionals Work?

Accounting firms, private detective agencies and federal, state and local law enforcement agencies employ computer forensics investigators. A growing number of independent consultants are also entering the field. Alternative names for investigators include computer forensics analyst, examiner or technician.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 5% increase in employment of private detectives as a general category from 2014-2024 ( Growth in Internet-based crime and global financial activity will drive the increase. The BLS does, however, predict strong competition in the job market during that time period.

What Will My Job Duties Be?

Most of your work as an investigator will fall into four primary areas - sources identification, evidence preservation, evidence analysis and presentation of conclusions or findings. Identifying sources involves using a password cracker to access a user account or a hexadecimal editor to recover deleted files. Evidence preservation might entail copying a hard drive or other storage device for manipulation and recovery purposes, then locking the original in a secure facility to prevent alteration. Evidence analysis includes determining how digital files or parts of files, whether documents, photos or e-mails, fit into a pattern of wrongful or illegal activity. Presentation of findings may occur informally to an employer or formally in a court of law.

What Types of Training Programs Are Available?

You can find certificate, associate's degree, bachelor's degree and master's degree programs in computer forensics at public, private-not-for-profit and private-for-profit schools. Programs might be offered under another name, such as digital forensics. Some schools make their programs available both online and on campus.

Courses blend computer technology concepts with criminal justice topics. The former area is likely to include PC hardware fundamentals, operating systems, applications software, networking fundamentals, network security and malware. The latter includes criminal law, criminology, and crime investigation. Courses that combine the two areas of study include digital data recovery, intrusion detection and forensic science. Some programs offer emphases in phishing and identity theft.

What Certification Options Are Available?

The International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners offers a Certified Computer Examiner (CCE) credential for candidates who have completed accredited training programs or who have accumulated 18 months of professional experience in digital forensic investigation. The certification process consists of a written exam and three practical exams. Certification is good for two years, after which it must be renewed.

What Can I Expect to Earn?

Assuming you can find a position, computer forensics investigators receive fairly high starting salaries. As of January 2017, reports that forensic computer analysts earned median salaries of $68,671.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Those interested in investigations can apply their craft in many professions. Claims investigators are in charge of the evaluation of filed insurance claims, and make the decisions for insurance companies as to whether or not claims should be paid. Auditors and accountants are the assessors of financial operations and help to ensure the smooth operation of an organization's finances. There are also detectives in the police, who piece together the facts and evidence for various types of crimes.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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