Digital Forensics Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a digital forensics career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if working in digital forensics is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Digital Forensics

Digital forensics is the analysis of computer and electronic equipment to find evidence pertinent to a legal trial or internal investigation. Common job titles in this field include private computer forensic investigator, digital forensic science technician and information security specialist. Compare these careers below:

Private Computer Forensic Investigator Digital Forensic Science Technician Information Security Analyst
Career Overview Private computer forensic investigators recover data for internal or legal investigations. Digital forensic science technicians establish and provide digital evidence for investigations and court proceedings. Information security analysts establish security protocols and programs for companies.
Education Requirements Bachelor's degree in computer science or criminal justice. Bachelor's degree in computer science, computer engineering or information technology. Bachelor's degree in computer science or computer engineering, though some employers prefer a master's degree in information systems.
Program Length 4 years 4 years 4 years for bachelor's, 2 years for master's
Additional/Other Training Extensive pre-professional or on-the-job computer training is required. Extensive on-the-job training is common. N/A
Certification and Licensing Some states require private investigator licensure; voluntary certification is available through various organizations. Several organizations provide certification, which is voluntary. N/A
Experience Requirement 1-5 years of experience in digital investigation N/A 1-5 years working with computer systems security
Job Outlook for 2012-2022 As fast as average (11%) compared to all occupations (for all private investigators)* Slower than average (6%) compared to all occupations (for all forensic science technicians)* Much faster than average (37%) compared to all occupations (for all information security analysts)*
Median Salary (May 2014) $44,570 (all private investigators)* $55,360 (all forensic science technicians)* $88,890 (all information security analysts)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Private Computer Forensic Investigators

A private computer forensic investigator works for individuals, law firms and businesses to recover and analyze computer systems, as well as investigating the backgrounds of individuals. In the case of computer forensics, private investigators review information found on computers or other digital devices to find data, documents, e-mail records or programs that can implicate or protect a person. Some of these professionals work in internal investigations at a business or organization, reviewing workers' computers to identify company information theft. Some investigators specialize in identity theft, reviewing computer data to verify individuals' identities and informing vendors or banks of illegal transactions.

Like all private investigators, private computer forensic investigators typically work irregular hours. Investigators may be called in to review computer security issues or conform to the schedules of their clients. Much of their work can be done remotely from their work computers, but investigators may have to travel to businesses and law offices to review computer data. Although they may work alone, private computer forensic investigators usually interact with and interview clients, vendors, suspects and witnesses.

Requirements

According to the BLS, private computer forensic investigators typically hold a bachelor's degree in computer science, criminal justice or a related discipline. Some colleges also provide master's degrees and certificates specifically in computer forensics. These investigators also undergo lengthy pre-professional and on-the-job training. The BLS explains that most private investigators have previous computer training from a career in law, a career in computer programming or from working at financial firms. Those lacking such experience might attend computer forensics conferences or workshops to gain specific insight on forensic investigation. Additionally, some states require investigators in computer forensics to be licensed as private investigators.

Based on December 2012 job ads, some employers looked for the following:

  • A Virginia information technology company needs a computer forensic examiner to work with clients like government entities that need help with encrypted files and finding third-party applications in the computer systems. Applicants must be certified with a computer forensics organization, and the ideal candidate has forensic experience from a law enforcement job.
  • A Maryland information technology company needs a computer forensic analyst to review client computer systems to detect if intrusion programs have infiltrated the system. The candidate must have a college education and five to eight years working in counterintelligence. The candidate must also have credits from National Security Agency-certified intrusion courses.
  • An accounting firm in Missouri needs a computer forensic consultant to work with attorneys and accountants to review computer information on specific individuals or businesses. This information will be used in court for specific accounting cases. The candidate must have a bachelor's degree and two years of relevant computer forensic experience. The firm prefers to hire a candidate who has certification from a computer forensic association.

Standing Out

Although some states do not require licensing for private computer forensic investigators, the BLS recommends seeking licensing as a private investigator anyway. Becoming a licensed private investigator gives you greater liberty and discretion to investigate individuals. Additionally, many organizations offer voluntary, professional certification in the field of investigative computer forensics. One example is the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (IACIS), which provides certification after applicants pass a 72-hour training program in computer forensics.

Digital Forensic Science Technician

Digital forensic science technicians review digital information related to criminal investigations. They often work in laboratories, analyzing computers as well as audio, video and other digital devices to find information that can help in the prosecution of potential criminals. For example, digital forensic technicians might manipulate recorded phone conversations to identify who is talking in the recording and if what they are saying constitutes criminal activity. Some digital forensic science technicians work for private firms, but most work for law enforcement agencies at the state or local level. Technicians usually work irregular hours, and they may be called in to prepare materials for court cases, testify in court and analyze evidence.

Requirements

Digital forensic science technicians typically hold bachelor's degrees in computer science, computer engineering or information technology. After obtaining employment, forensic technicians usually go through extensive on-the-job training and supervision as they learn to apply their academic background to the field of digital forensics. These workers may be required to pass proficiency exams at the end of their training, after which point they may take on cases independently and be able to testify in court cases.

Based on December 2012 job ads, some employers looked for the following:

  • A government agency in New York needs a computer forensic analyst to evaluate digital technology for state and local law enforcement and present evidence in court. The candidate must have a relevant bachelor's degree and two years of experience in computer forensics.
  • A county in Massachusetts needs a computer forensic examiner who can analyze computers, phones and other digital equipment. The candidate needs a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field. Certification is a preferred.
  • A Texas branch of a federal law enforcement agency needs a computer forensic examiner to direct activities in the computer forensics office. The examiner must prepare the evidence gathered from the devices for court cases. The candidate for the job needs a bachelor's degree and at least one year of experience in computer security.

Standing Out

There are several organizations that provide certification for digital forensic specialists. These certifications are mostly optional, though some employers require professional credentials. One organization is the International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners (ISFCE), which provides certification for computer examiners who have 18 months of verified work in computer forensics. Certification may help digital forensic technicians stand out and keep them updated on the latest trends in forensic work. Additionally, you might consider joining a professional organization like the High Technology Crime Investigation Association, which offers networking opportunities and informs members on the latest advancements in digital forensics. In fact, the BLS notes that keeping abreast of advancements in forensic technology is essential for this career.

Information Security Analysts

Information security analysts implement security protocols and programs into a computer system. These professionals work in information technology departments of corporations and businesses, where they create security programs like firewalls to protect computer systems from viruses. In addition, information security analysts create procedures for protecting and saving data in a computer system if that data is lost or corrupted. Security analysts often suggest improvements or beneficial investments to the computer systems to upper-management. The BLS states that most security analysts work full-time, but they are often on-call in case an emergency occurs.

Requirements

Information security analysts need a bachelor's degree in computer science or programming. Some employers prefer analysts to hold a master's degree in computer science or interdisciplinary fields like management information systems. The BLS adds that information technology experience is required by most employers, and information security analysts are typically promoted or hired from previous positions in information technology departments.

Based on December 2012 job ads, some employers looked for the following:

  • A Pennsylvania banking company needs an information security analyst who is capable of finding any security violation and neutralizing the violation before it harms the system. The candidate needs a bachelor's degree and three to five years of experience in computer security.
  • A company in Indiana needs an experienced information security analyst who knows how to establish security protocols and avert security issues. The candidate will also review files in the administration system and make sure they are not being tampered with by a third party.
  • An Arizona information security company needs another information security analyst to protect several clients' information systems and work on security projects. The candidate needs two to five years of professional experience.

Standing Out

Experience, both professional and academic, is one way you can compete with other candidates. It might be a good investment to enroll in a master's degree program or try to gain some security experience while you are in your position in an information technology department. The BLS also states that creativity is one of the main traits an information security analyst needs for this position. Since viral attacks from hackers can strike in unique ways, demonstrating your quick decision-making skills as well as a complex understanding of how viral attacks work can show employers your credentials in security analysis.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Strayer University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.S. in Information Systems: Computer Forensics Management
      • Master of Science in Information Assurance
      • M.S. in Information Systems: Computer Security Management Concentration
      • M.S. in Information Systems: IT Project Management
    Bachelor's
      • B.S. in Information Technology: Enterprise Security Technology
      • B.S. in Information Systems: Computer Forensics Management
      • B.S. in Information Technology: Cyber Security Technology
      • B.S. in Information Systems: Homeland Security and Information Sys. Concentration
      • B.S. in Information Technology: Digital Forensics Technology
      • B.S. in Information Systems: Cyber Security Management
    Associate's
      • Associate in Arts in Information Technology
      • Associate in Arts in Information Systems
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: IT/Information Security and Assurance
      • MS in Cybersecurity Management
      • MSM in Information Technology
      • Master: Information Technology
      • Master: Information Technology - Project Management
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Information Technology/Information Security and Assurance
      • BS in Cybersecurity
      • BS in IT in Business
      • Bachelor of Science in Information Technology
      • BSIT: Database Management
    Associate's
      • Associate: Information Technology
      • AASIT: Network Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Capella University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PhD: Information Security
      • DIT - Information Assurance and Security
      • PhD: IT Management (ACBSP-accredited)
      • PhD: IT Project Management
      • DBA in Information Technology Management
      • PhD - Information Technology
    Master's
      • MS - Health Care Security
      • MS - Network Defense
      • MBA: IT Management (ACBSP-accredited)
      • MS in General Info Systems and Tech Mgmt
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Information Assurance and Security (ABET-accredited)
      • BS in Data Management
      • BS - Information Technology (ABET-accredited)
  • Online Programs Available
    4. ECPI University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor's - Network Security
      • Bachelor's - Cloud Computing
    Associate's
      • Associate's - Network Security
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS Information Technology: Internet Security Concentration
      • MS in Cyber Security with a concentration in IT management
      • MS in Cyber Security
      • MS in Information Technology with a concentration in software application development
      • MS Information Technology
      • MS Information Technology: Web Design Concentration
    Bachelor's
      • BS Information Technologies w/conc in Database Administration
      • BS Computer Science
      • BS Business Studies in Computer Information Technology
      • Bachelor of Science Information Technologies - Des
      • Bachelor of Science in Information Technologies - Robot
      • BS in Accounting - Forensic Accounting & Fraud Examination
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Bridge to the M.S. in Information Technology Management
      • M.S. in Information Technology Management
      • M.S. in Instructional Technology
    Bachelor's
      • B.S. in Information Technology with an Emphasis in Cyber Security
      • B.S. in Information Technology
      • Bachelor of Science in Business Information Systems
      • Bachelor of Science in Applied Business Information Systems
      • B.S. in Computer Programming
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Ashford University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS/Criminal Justice - Homeland Security
      • MS/Criminal Justice - Cybercrime and Technology
      • MBA - Information Systems
    Bachelor's
      • BA/Sports and Recreation Management - Information Systems
      • B.A. - Business Information Systems
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Computer and Information Security
      • PhD in Business Admin - Computer and Information Security
      • PhD-TIM - Cybersecurity
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Applied Computer Science
      • PhD in Business Admin - Applied Computer Science
      • PhD-TIM - Computer Science
    Master's
      • MBA - Computer and Information Security
      • MSTIM - Cybersecurity
      • MSTIM - Computer Science
      • MSTIM - Information Systems
      • MBA - Management Information Systems
      • MBA - Applied Computer Science
  • Campus and Online Programs
    9. Full Sail University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Cloud Technologies (Campus)
  • Campus Locations:
    10. Lincoln Tech

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Technology and Skilled Trades

Featured Schools

Strayer University

  • M.S. in Information Systems: Computer Forensics Management
  • B.S. in Information Technology: Enterprise Security Technology
  • Associate in Arts in Information Technology

What is your highest level of education completed?

Kaplan University

  • Master: IT/Information Security and Assurance
  • BS in Information Technology/Information Security and Assurance
  • Associate: Information Technology

Which subject are you interested in?

Capella University

  • PhD: Information Security
  • MS - Health Care Security
  • Bachelor: Information Assurance and Security (ABET-accredited)

What is your highest level of education completed?

ECPI University

  • Bachelor's - Network Security
  • Bachelor's - Cloud Computing
  • Associate's - Network Security

What is your highest level of education?

Southern New Hampshire University

  • MS Information Technology: Internet Security Concentration
  • MS in Cyber Security with a concentration in IT management
  • BS Information Technologies w/conc in Database Administration
  • BS Computer Science

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • Bridge to the M.S. in Information Technology Management
  • M.S. in Information Technology Management
  • B.S. in Information Technology with an Emphasis in Cyber Security
  • B.S. in Information Technology

What is your highest level of education?

Ashford University

  • MS/Criminal Justice - Homeland Security
  • MS/Criminal Justice - Cybercrime and Technology
  • BA/Sports and Recreation Management - Information Systems
  • B.A. - Business Information Systems

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Computer and Information Security
  • PhD in Business Admin - Computer and Information Security
  • MBA - Computer and Information Security
  • MSTIM - Cybersecurity

What is your highest level of education?