Computer Forensics Investigator Job Facts
If you're inquisitive, persistent and adept with personal computers and computer technology, then a career as a computer forensics investigator might be right for you. Learn more here about what you'll need to enter the field. Schools offering Computer Forensics degrees can also be found in these popular choices.
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 22% increase in employment of private detectives as a general category from 2008-2018 (www.bls.gov). 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 2010, Payscale.com reports that forensic computer analysts earned salaries in the middle range of $48,629-$77,465. Analysts with less than a year of experience earned $40,000-$55,622, while analysts on the high end of the experience time frame - 10-19 years - earned $54,537-$106,511.
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