Computer Forensics School and Career Guide
Learn about a forensics career that gets more important daily.
Computer forensics is the use of analytical and investigative techniques to identify, collect and examine magnetically stored or encoded evidence.
Computer forensic experts specialize in recovering data from computers for use in criminal or corporate investigations and hacking and phishing scams. They evaluate intrusions into computer systems and recover data from encrypted or erased files.
The information they find helps law enforcement agents fight crimes as wide ranging as prostitution, gang activity and cyber crime.
Computer forensic experts work in a variety of places including police departments, government agencies, prosecutors’ offices, law firms and insurance companies.
What They Do
The first step in many computer forensics projects is to make an exact duplicate of a hard drive and then run tests on the copy to get as much evidence from it as possible. This often involves retrieving deleted or encrypted documents. Computer forensics experts often find this the most challenging and fun part of their job. They also work on cell phones, tablets and cameras, or any other source of digital information.
Computer Forensics Education and Licensure
Most computer forensics investigators learn their trade while working for a law enforcement agency, either as a police officer or a civilian computer forensics expert. Some go into law enforcement specifically to get this training and establish a reputation before moving to the private sector.
To get computer forensics training outside of law enforcement, a computer science or accounting degree is a good place to start. A computer science degree gives you the technical skills needed, and an accounting degree provides good background knowledge for investigating financial fraud.
Because of the growing popularity of this field, many schools now offer certificate programs in computer forensics. These programs are for law enforcement officers, paralegals, or others already involved in investigative work. Some colleges and universities also offer bachelor’s or master’s degrees in computer forensics.
Because they work with rapidly evolving technologies, computer forensics experts never stop training. They continually learn about the latest software programs, operating systems and methods of fraud detection by attending conferences and taking additional computer forensics courses.
There are no licenses specifically for computer forensic investigators, but some states require them to be licensed private investigators.
Computer Forensics Salary
According to the 2016-17 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, computer forensics experts working as private investigators and detectives earn a median annual salary of $44,570.
If you practice computer forensics for a police department, your salary will depend on your rank and seniority. The median annual salary for police and detectives is $58,630.
Computer Forensics Career Outlook
Computer forensics is a relatively new field within criminal justice. With the explosive growth in the use of computers and the Internet, computer crime has increased dramatically, as has the existence of computer evidence in virtually all other types of crime. The outlook for job prospects and career opportunities for computer forensics experts will remain strong for many years to come.
Sources: computerforensicsworld.com; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics