How to Become a Computer Forensic Analyst

Learn about the duties of computer forensic analysts, the education and certification requirements you need to meet, and the salary and job growth you can expect in this field. Schools offering Computer Forensics degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career at a Glance

Computer forensic analysts typically work for law enforcement agencies to recover, analyze, and report on data that evidences a crime. They may help catch online predators, track funds used for illegal purposes, or prove that other criminal activities have taken place online. Find out more details in the table below.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Information technology, computer science
Key Skills Problem solving, analytical, and communication skills; attention to detail
Job Growth (2016-2026) 28% (Information security analysts)*
Median Annual Wage (2019) $71,737**

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

What Do Computer Forensic Analysts Do?

Computer forensic analysts obtain evidence by analyzing computers and IT systems. They may investigate user patterns, search hard drives, and recover previously deleted information. They can also restore data from damaged hard drives or external storage devices.

These information technology specialists typically work with law enforcement to investigate cybercrime and gather evidence of illegal activities. They may hack into computers, diagnose IT systems, and track search histories or a person's activities in anonymous online networks to help bring criminals to justice. Their work can assist in combatting crimes such as data theft, protect children against online predators, or track funds hidden as part of bank fraud.

When working for law enforcement, the duties of computer forensic analysts can include writing detailed reports and presenting their findings before court. Alternatively, they may also be employed by government agencies or corporations that want to keep their IT systems as secure as possible. Here, they can work to identify security breaches, trace hackers, and find and remedy weaknesses in their employer's systems.

What Education Do I Need to Become a Computer Forensic Analyst?

To work as a computer forensic analyst, you typically need a bachelor's degree in information technology, computer science, or a related field. Electives in forensics and criminal justice could help supplement these degree programs. Some universities even offer specialized master's degree programs in cyber security.

Do I Need to Be Certified?

A certification usually is not required to work as a computer forensic analyst, but it can give you an edge over other candidates. Various certifications by different industry bodies are available in the field. Some of the available credentials include the Certified Forensic Computer Examiner (CFCE) credential from the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (IACIS) and the Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC), awarded by SANS.

Do I Need Additional Experience?

Aspiring computer forensic analysts typically need to prove prior experience in a related field to land a job in forensics. Stepping-stones can be positions in IT departments as computer systems or database administrators and other work in the field of information technology.

Ideally, students should take advantage of any internships or work experience placements offered by their universities to help them decide whether the profession is right for them. Working in computer forensics can be emotionally very stressful, as professionals have to view the material they recover and analyze. Depending on the area they work in, they could be exposed to images and video of child abuse or violent terrorist activities, and may therefore begin to suffer from trauma related to their work.

What Income and Job Growth Can I Expect?

PayScale.com's April 2019 figures show a median annual income of $71,737 for forensic computer analysts, with salaries ranging from $44,193 to $115,235. Job growth for information security analysts, which is the closest profession listed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is expected to be far above average at 28% from 2016 to 2026. The increase is due to a rise in cyber security threats, the BLS says.

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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