Becoming a Forensic Computer Analyst?
Forensic computer analysts work in a variety of areas, including national defense, federal and local government, law enforcement and corporate and private sector investigative organizations. Analysts retrieve encrypted or erased data from computers, smart phones and other computing devices. The information recovered must be analyzed and restored to its original, undamaged state, a task that requires specialized skills and tools. This information is recovered for use in legal proceedings or in conjunction with criminal investigations or for national security purposes.
Forensic computer analysts usually work alone in a comfortable office setting, though they also might sometimes work in teams. They could also have to travel to serve several government offices or law enforcement agencies. Like forensic science technicians and other types of investigators, these specialists might have unpredictable work hours, since they can be on call to work cases at any time. However, like all those who contribute to solving crimes, they also have the satisfaction of knowing they are working to keep the public safe.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree|
|Degree Field(s)||Digital forensics, computer forensics, computer security, or related field|
|Certification||Voluntary certifications available|
|Key Skills||Good analytical and communication skills; comprehensive and accurate report writing; knowledge of all operating systems, digital storage devices, networking, data recovery, and evidence chain-of-custody procedures|
|Salary (2016)||$68,357 (median for forensic computer analysts)|
Sources: Forensic computer analyst job listings, Computer forensics/digital forensics degree programs, PayScale.com.
Aspiring forensic computer analysts typically need a bachelor's degree in a field such as digital forensics, computer forensics, or computer security. Multiple voluntary certifications are also available. These professionals should also have some key skills, such as analytical ability, comprehensive and accurate report writing, good communication skills, evidence of chain-of-custody procedures, knowledge of digital storage devices, and knowledge of all operating systems.
According to Payscale.com in 2016 forensic computer analysts made a median annual salary of $68,357.
Let's go over, in more detail, the steps needed to enter this career.
Step 1: Obtain a Degree
Forensic computer analysts require an educational background that prepares them for intensive computer-based investigative work. There are associate's and bachelor's degree programs that cover essential digital data coursework in forensics and operating system forensics, hacking, computer and network security, law and procedure. Some bachelor's degree programs offer digital forensics as a minor, while the student obtains a major in finance, criminal justice, law or computer science as the field where the candidate plans to conduct forensic computer investigations. Regardless of the degree level, the basic digital forensic courses remain very similar.
Those interested in the field should also:
- Consider takinga professional certificate program. Some schools offer professional certificate programs in digital forensics for working professionals who do not have a bachelor's degree. These programs focus strictly on computer forensics courses, allowing the professional to obtain computer forensics skills in less than a year.
Step 2: Find Employment
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some individuals working in computer forensics learn the specifics of their job while employed by a law enforcement agency. Law enforcement agencies may sponsor forensic training programs, which newly hired analysts attend to immerse themselves in the computer forensics world.
Agencies also employ civilians to perform forensic computer analysis. Forensic computer analysts are also hired by state and local government agencies to work in their administrative offices, which can be targeted by hackers and spyware. The legal profession makes extensive use of digital forensics experts to recover evidence from computer devices for civil litigation; companies hire digital forensic graduates to provide this service for litigation purposes.
- Be law-abiding. This is a career field that demands high moral and ethical standards. Certifying authorities and employers will often require candidates to undergo background checks and polygraph examinations. The background checks must show no felony convictions or disqualifying misdemeanor convictions. If there are disqualifying convictions, the candidate may not be considered for employment or certification.
Step 3: Obtain Certification
Several digital forensic certifications are available. Some apply to specific fields of forensic analysis, while others are more generic. The Certified Forensic Computer Examiner (CFCE) certification is offered by the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (IACIS) and involves a peer-review phase and a certification phase that includes a practical exercise and an examination. The CyberSecurity Institute offers the CyberSecurity Forensic Analyst (CSFA) certification after passing an FBI background check, a practical examination and a written test.
The International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners (ISFCE) offers the Certified Computer Examiner (CCE) certification to applicants who pass a four-part testing process. Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) offers the Certified Forensic Analyst Certification (GCFA) - which covers Linux and Windows computer systems - to candidates who pass an exam consisting of 115 questions. The Digital Forensics Certification Board (DFCB) offers certification based on an assessment of the candidate's education and experience and the candidate passing the certification examination.
- Choose the right certification. Some certifications carry more weight than others. Since so many certifications are offered, candidates face the risk that they may obtain a certification that is not exactly what prospective employers require. One way to decide is to review job listings offering the position for which the analyst is applying to determine the certifications that employers want.
Step 4: Continue Training and Education
No matter which certifications the analyst obtains, all of them will require the analyst to complete a minimum number of continuing education hours in order to re-certify. The forensic analyst who does not keep current with the latest technology will not be competitive in this field. Knowing how to use the latest tools on the latest computing devices ensures that the forensic computer analyst can continue to perform his or her data recovery duties effectively and efficiently, and maintaining certification demonstrates this knowledge to potential employers and clients.
- Consider a master's degree. Some universities offer Master of Science programs in computer or digital forensics. These are typically graduate programs comprised of a core computer forensics curriculum as well as a group of electives. Electives may cover extra-disciplinary topics such as criminal justice and communications law.
- Consider graduate certificate programs. Many schools offer graduate-level certificate programs in computer forensics. These programs may be open to students pursuing a degree as well as to non-degree students who wish to learn more about the field. They require coursework in fields like network security and computer crime.
In summary, those who aspire to work as forensic computer analysts should earn a bachelor's degree in digital forensics or a similar field before earning experience in the field, gaining voluntary certification, and possibly even enrolling in graduate level courses to stay atop of industry changes.