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Digital Forensics Career Options and Education Requirements

Digital forensics is typically studied by various types of law enforcement and investigation professionals. Continue reading for an overview of the programs, as well as career and salary statistics related to some career options for graduates.

Individuals interested in the field of digital forensics will find that they have many career options. Law enforcement and private investigators use digital forensics training to track criminals, and forensic technicians often process digital forensic evidence to help prosecute perpetrators. Whatever career option you choose, you will need an understanding of computer science and criminal justice to do well in this career field.

Essential Information

A career in digital forensics investigation involves examining a variety of digital evidence, including photos and video, digital devices, computers and data networks. The digital forensics field comprises a number of career paths, and an undergraduate degree and/or on-the-job training are sufficient for several of these jobs. These professionals typically do not major specifically in digital forensics; rather, they pursue related areas of study, such as law enforcement or computer science, and add digital forensics training.

Career Titles Private Detectives & Investigators Detectives & Criminal Investigators Forensic Science Technicians
Education Requirements Variable; a high school diploma and on-the-job training OR an associate's or bachelor's degree A high school diploma and police academy training Bachelor's degree
Projected Job Growth (2014 - 2024) 5%* 4%* 27%*
Median Annual Salary (May, 2015) $45,610* $77,210* $56,320*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Career Options

Those who work in the digital forensics field include law enforcement and criminal justice professionals, as well as forensic technicians. The following are three common career options:

Private Detectives & Investigators

These specialists research and analyze clues associated with the investigation of computer crimes or background checks. They collect lost computer data and e-mails and may present the material in court as evidence. Jobs for private detectives and investigators were expected to increase by 5% between 2014 and 2024, per the BLS. These workers received median annual salaries of $45,610 in 2015.

Detectives & Criminal Investigators

Detectives and criminal investigators are in charge of investigating cases where federal, state or local laws have been broken, and they work to prevent these crimes from occurring. Employment rates for detectives and criminal investigators were expected to decrease by 1% between 2014 and 2024, as reported by the BLS; although. the amount of available jobs for police and detectives in general was expected to grow by 4% during that same decade. The median annual salary for detectives and criminal investigators was $77,210 as of May 2015, per the BLS.

Forensic Science Technicians

Forensic science technicians include digital forensic analysts, who analyze data to investigate cybercrimes, such as identity theft. Jobs for forensic science technicians were predicted to expand by 27% during the 2014 through 2024 decade, which is a significantly faster rate of growth than most other career fields. Median annual salaries were $56,320 in May 2015, according to the BLS.

Education Options

Bachelor's and master's degree programs specifically in computer forensics are rare. There are some certificate programs available in computer forensics, but these are more beneficial for those who already have professional investigative experience and are looking to switch careers.

Investigative techniques for digital specialists are usually taught on the job through employee training programs. Some professional organizations, like the High Technology Crime Investigation Association (HTCIA) or the International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners (ISFCE), also offer professional training and continuing education programs.

Digital forensics professionals may choose to specialize their training in areas such as the following:

  • Computer-related crime investigation
  • Computers and digital devices
  • Data and network analysis
  • Image enhancement
  • Speech science

Certification

Professional certification is available for those with professional training and/or experience. One basic comprehensive certification is the Certified Forensic Computer Examiner (CFCE) from the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (IACIS). Another is the Certified Computer Examiner from the ISFCE.

While there are many options to choose from for careers in digital forensics, three of the most common career paths include private detectives and investigators, detectives and criminal investigators, and forensic science technicians. Education varies for these three professions, ranging from a high school diploma up to a bachelor's degree, and some positions require law enforcement training. Digital forensics workers can specialize in different areas of the field, and obtaining certification may help individuals prove their level of skills within those specialty fields.

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