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. Regis University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Information Assurance
      • Master of Science in Information Assurance - Cybersecurity Specialization
      • Master of Science in Information Assurance - IA Policy Management Specialization
    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate in Information Assurance Policy Management
      • Graduate Certificate in Information Assurance and Cyber Security
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctorate - Computer Science: Information Assurance (Executive Format)
      • Doctor of Management - Technology Management (Executive Format)
      • Doctorate: Computer Science
    Master's
      • MS - Management - Information Systems Security
      • MS - Computer Science - Computer Systems Security
      • M.S. - Information Technology - Security Management
      • M.S. - Information Technology
      • Master of Science in Cybersecurity Policy
      • Master of Science in Homeland Security - Cybersecurity Policy
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security - Computer Systems Security
      • Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security - Information Assurance
      • Bachelor: Information Technology
      • BS - Management - Cybersecurity Management
      • BS - Business Administration - IT
      • BS - IT - Security
  • Online Programs Available
    3. 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
      • Master of Science in Cyber Security
      • Master of Science in Cyber Security (Bridge)
    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
    4. 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
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Georgetown University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Masters of Professional Studies in Technology Management
  • Online Programs Available
    6. ECPI University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor's - Network Security
      • Bachelor's - Cloud Computing
    Associate's
      • Associate's - Network Security
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Certificate in Science, Technology, and International Security Studies
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Admin - Information Security Management
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science - Cyber Forensics/Information Security
      • B.S.s - Management Information Systems
    Associate's
      • Associate of Sciences - Information Technology
  • Campus Locations:
    9. Lincoln Tech

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Technology and Skilled Trades
  • Campus Locations:
    10. Virginia College

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Management Information Systems
    Associate's
      • Associate: Network Engineering
    Certificate
      • Certification - Network Technician

Featured Schools

Regis University

  • Master of Science in Information Assurance
  • Master of Science in Information Assurance - Cybersecurity Specialization
  • Graduate Certificate in Information Assurance Policy Management
  • Graduate Certificate in Information Assurance and Cyber Security

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctorate - Computer Science: Information Assurance (Executive Format)
  • MS - Management - Information Systems Security
  • Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security - Computer Systems Security

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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?

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?

Georgetown University

  • Masters of Professional Studies in Technology Management

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?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Certificate in Science, Technology, and International Security Studies

What is your highest level of education?

Keiser University

  • Master of Business Admin - Information Security Management
  • Bachelor of Science - Cyber Forensics/Information Security
  • Associate of Sciences - Information Technology

What is your highest level of education?