Computer Forensics Examiner: Career and Salary Facts

Computer forensics examiners recover data and information from computers to help solve computer-related crimes. Learn how to become a computer forensics examiner, including education and certification options. Schools offering Computer Forensics degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

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?

Private detectives and investigators as a whole held more than 31,000 jobs and earned a median annual salary of about $42,000 in 2009, according to the BLS (www.bls.gov). However, PayScale.com reports as of February 2011 that the middle half of forensic computer analysts earned from $47,704 to $80,193 per year.

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