Cyber Forensics Technicians
Cyber forensics technicians combine advanced computer skills with investigative techniques to help solve online and network-dependent crimes such as credit card fraud, identity theft or hacked networks. Workers in this occupation often spend many hours seated in front of a computer.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree; some employers prefer master's|
|Degree Field||Criminal justice, computer science|
|Experience||4-10 years depending on the position|
|Key Skills||Data analysis, critical thinking, budgeting, and oral/written communication skills; knowledge of database management|
|Certifications and Clearances||Some jobs require security clearances through the Department of Defense or another agency; some jobs require professional certifications|
|Salary||$68,357 (2016 median for all forensics computer analysts)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job listings posted in November 2012, PayScale.com (July 2015)
A bachelor's degree is standard to work in this field, although some employers prefer candidates with a master's degree. Relevant majors include criminal justice and computer science. Depending on the position sought, 4-10 years could be required. These professionals should have key skills in data analysis, database management, critical thinking, budgeting, and oral and written communication. Some jobs require security clearances through the Department of Defense or another agency and some might require candidates to have professional certifications. According to 2016 earnings information collected by Payscale.com, forensic computer analysts earned a median annual salary of $68,357.
Become a Cyber Forensics Technician
Step One: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that forensic specialists, the overarching category that includes cyber forensic technicians and computer forensic technicians, require a bachelor's degree. Common fields include criminal justice and computer science.
In a criminal justice degree program, students may take courses in criminal justice theory, legal research, forensic investigation and information systems. Some criminal justice programs include introductory courses in cyber crime or computer forensics. In a computer science degree program, students take classes in programming languages, database management, networks and system security.
Schools may offer internships for computer science or criminal justice students. The National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance offers a 12-week internship to current students pursuing a career in cyber forensics. The internship involves work with various types of Internet fraud and malware, and creating reports about criminal activity on the Internet.
Step Two: Obtain a Job in Law Enforcement or Computer Science
Policing experience is an option for technicians who want to move into higher-level security positions. Law enforcement positions can also help computer science graduates learn investigative skills. Police departments require applicants to be U.S. citizens who are over 18 and in good physical health. Police candidates complete training at a police academy and may be subject to a personality test and background check. Applicants for federal agency positions complete a different training program, and must have a bachelor's degree and prior experience.
Step Three: Gain Security Clearances
Some positions require security clearances through the federal government. The U.S. State Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation are two governmental entities that evaluate candidates and grant security clearances. To obtain these clearances, an individual must submit to a background check. Candidates apply through their local FBI field offices. After background checks and adjudication by the Secret Service, a candidate must sign a non-disclosure agreement before obtaining his or her clearance.
Step Four: Complete Additional Training or Earn a Graduate Degree
After earning a bachelor's degree and obtaining work-related experience, cyber forensic technicians could benefit from additional training in cyber forensics, whether through a graduate degree or certificate program. Some colleges offer specific coursework in computer and cyber forensics, and a few focused graduate degree programs are also available. Classes are geared toward computer science students and law enforcement professionals seeking to enhance their understanding of cyber crime investigation.
Another option for those who have taken the criminal justice path is training from the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) for criminal investigators to learn specialized computer research skills. The Computer Network Investigations Training Program is a 2-week program offering general terminology and networking courses, as well as investigative techniques particular to e-mail, Apple systems and Linux. Students should complete the FLETC Seized Computer Evidence Recovery Specials Training Program prior to taking this course.
Yet another possibility is to go back to school and earn a master's degree in computer science or criminal justice, since some employers would prefer candidates with a masters' degree.
Cyber forensics technicians need at least a bachelor's degree in computer science or criminal justice, while a master's degree might be preferred. Security clearance might be required.