Being a digital forensic investigator doesn’t require you to be an eccentric cybersecurity genius. You don’t need to be a programmer nor a hacker. You just need to be willing to study, learn, and put in the hours. Many, many hours, possibly in an overheated office due to the multitude of computers and devices working at the same time as you are.
The field of computer forensic analysts is expected to grow and reach new heights. As a matter of fact, according to BLS, the demand for digital forensic investigators will grow 9 percent from 2016 to 2026. It’s not a lot but is faster than the expected rate for many other positions. So, yes, investing in a career as a forensic
analyst or digital forensic investigator is worth the effort. Especially, if you have a calling for computer systems and a passion for investigations.
What does a digital forensic investigator do?
A forensic investigator combines its knowledge of computers and technology with methods of investigation and a touch of “hunch” to bring to light information hidden on digital devices. These digital devices can be anything from computers and laptops to digital media. Their areas of expertise can be related to databases and networks, but also firewalls and mobile devices. For example, a computer forensics examiner analyzes data retrieved from a hard disk.
However, it’s important to remember that digital forensics is not a computer science discipline. It involves as many investigative skills as it is a technical challenge. Forensics examiners need to be creative and try to find ways to retrieve even the digital evidence that has been hidden or deleted from the device. This is when the thrill and excitement of the job step in and add fun to the experience of being a digital forensics examiner.
A computer forensics investigator usually works with law enforcement and contributes to investigations to solve cases that involve the use of digital devices. However, their extraordinary skills are also useful in private sectors, especially since nowadays companies are facing an influx of computer security breaches. Hundreds and hundreds of companies are exposed to data breaches. Computer forensic specialists determine the causes of the breach and help the companies to create better barriers against hackers.
In other words, digital forensic investigators are the ones who provide the much-needed information to solve a federal criminal case but also the digital evidence to unmask a person who is stealing intellectual property.
How does a digital forensic investigator do his or her job?
With a lot of patience, calm, and attention! This is a job for those who have an acute sense of justice and a passion for making a change. A computer forensics investigator needs to be responsible and ready for what the job might throw its way. Unfortunately, many of the cases they have to deal with are related to child pornography, torture, rape, and murder, so they have to learn how to cope with all this darkness and focus on providing protection and security. They can do this when they analyze digital devices and evidence and collaborate with police officers and detectives that work in the criminal justice department.
Just like no day is the same for a criminal investigator, a forensic examiner has always a new challenge ahead of him or her. They might be working on a high-profile case or dealing with a data breach, try to solve hacking incidents and trace sources of computer attacks, or simply use their skills to microfocus and recover lost or stolen data from storage devices. Regardless of the job they have to do for the day, the common denominator is to always make sure to preserve and not compromise the data they’re gathering. Moreover, in order to make sure the information is admissible in a court of law, they need to respect a chain of custody.
Digital forensics analysts need to have the necessary technical knowledge but also to rely on their instinct and passion for solving puzzles. Most of the time, their job is not as easy as connecting a special software to retrieve information from a hard disk or cell phone. They need to follow the crumbles and piece together the puzzle by choosing the active component from the non-functioning ones.
Forensics analysts spend some of their time studying documentation, as well as writing reports or examining other examiners’ reports. Depending on their cases, they can also be called to testify in court as this is often part of a complete forensic analysis. As you can see, this is a complex job that requires more than technological skills. It’s demanding and tiring and, at times, quite challenging. Not many manage to stay in this business for more than two years mostly because of the toll that the job takes on their state of mind and emotions. Dealing with the depravity of the world is more complicated than any technological challenge.
How to become a digital forensic investigator?
Obviously, if you want to become a digital forensics specialist you’ll need to have a vast knowledge of computers – hardware and software. A college education is usually required and recommended, especially if you can get a major in fields like Computer Criminology. Various community colleges have a two-year associate degree in computer forensics, so this might be exactly what you need to launch your career as a forensic computer examiner.
The next step should be a bachelor’s degree although this isn’t a must to follow this career. Nevertheless, it would prove really helpful, especially if the degree is in computer science. Now it’s time to get an entry-level position in the field and continue your education with professional certification. You’ll find various institutions that provide certifications. You can become certified as a GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA), Certified Computer Examiner, Global Certified Forensic Analyst or Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). Any certificate that attests your skills as a computer forensics specialist is going to help to get the job (and salary) of your dreams.
Speaking of salary, according to Payscale.comthe average salary for a forensic investigator is around $71,260, with the lowest being around $42,968 and the highest reaching an amount of $115,364 annually. Forensics examiners that work for public and governmental agencies make around $50,000 per year, while those who work for private companies and investigative firms are usually independent contractors and make around $200 to $400 per hour. However, these are just approximate numbers. The differences are made by education, certifications, and years of experience in the field, as well as the city where you’ll be working as a forensic examiner. Good luck!