Computer Forensics Professional

Advances in technology have left the world more connected than ever before. While this increased connectivity has benefited society in countless ways, it has also led to a rise in online crimes. Computer forensics professionals extract data found on computers, in order to connect it to a crime. The data then functions as evidence in civil or criminal legal proceedings. Keep reading to learn more about the computer forensics professional.

What Does a Computer Forensics Professional Do?

Over the years, technology has become increasingly portable, making it easier to exchange, access, and store information online. Computers, cell phones, and other devices store the tremendous amounts of data people generate each day. Sometimes, a device serves as the scene of a crime, or holds evidence relevant to a crime.

Digital forensics, sometimes called cyber forensics, involves uncovering and analyzing data stored on electronic devices. Computer forensics, a branch of digital forensics, refers to the process of extracting data from computer systems. If related to the case, the data acts as evidence in civil proceedings or the prosecution of criminals.

Computer forensics experts retrieve data from emails, documents, videos, photographs, and other sources found on computers. In some instances, they must recover data from damaged computers, which involves dismantling the system and rebuilding it. Other times, they must recover deleted or manipulated information.

After recovering the data, the forensic analyst makes a technical report outlining how he discovered it, and the steps taken to retrieve it. These professionals must also testify in court about the evidence collected.

In 2005, police captured the BTK Killer with the help of computer forensics. In 2004, after 10 people were found to have been murdered, analysts examined the killer’s computer disk for clues. They were able to link it to Dennis Radar at Christ Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas.

Professional Requirements to Become a Computer Forensics Professional

There is no specific educational requirement to become a computer forensics professional. However, obtaining at least a bachelor’s degree (B.S.) in forensic science or another related field greatly increases one’s job prospects. A bachelor’s degree program entails four years of full-time study.

Since even entry-level positions require some experience, students can benefit from completing internships. In fact, it is not uncommon for colleges to require forensic science majors to complete an internship. Some law enforcement agencies and corporate auditing firms provide this opportunity to students.

Additional Educational Requirements

Individuals wanting to further their education can acquire a Master of Science in Forensic Science. This program takes two to three years to complete, and provides the graduate with more job opportunities.

Additional Licensing Requirements

While not a requirement to work in the forensics field, certification can help advance one’s career. Various organizations offer voluntary forensic certifications to help students gain the necessary knowledge and skills. Certification is also ideal for aspiring forensic professionals already working in law enforcement.

Where Can You Work as a Computer Forensics Professional

Computer forensics professionals have several options when it comes to employment. Many work with local law enforcement agencies, such as city police departments. Some, however, choose employment on the federal level and work for the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, or another agency. Employment with federal law enforcement requires more experience and expertise. Generally, those employed by federal agencies gain experience by first working with local law enforcement.

Another option is working on a freelance basis. Law enforcement agencies may hire independent consultants when they lack the budget or need for full-time computer forensics professionals. Consultants have more control in the amount they charge, but typically have a more erratic work schedule.

Lastly, computer forensics experts work in the private sector at law or auditing firms. At law firms, they assist in collecting and presenting legally defensible evidence. Auditing firms use the professionals to investigate fraud, analyze records, and fight cybercrime.

How do Computer Forensics Professionals Get Paid

Computer Forensics professionals commonly get paid an hourly wage, though some receive salary pay. Hourly employees collect pay for every hour worked as well as overtime pay when they exceed 40 hours per week. Salaried employees receive a set amount of annual compensation, regardless of how many hours they work. Both hourly and salaried employees in the forensics field also commonly receive benefits such as health insurance, vacation pay, and retirement plans.

Independent consultants charge by the hour or the job, and they determine how much they earn. While they have more flexibility when it comes to their schedules, they do not earn a regular paycheck. They also do not receive benefits.

Computer Forensics Professional Salary

Computer forensics professionals earn a median annual salary of $98,522, though salaries range from $91,000 to $125,000. Geographical location, experience, and type of employer all play large roles in the exact salary earned.

Employment Outlook for Computer Forensics Professional

The BLS predicts the employment growth rate for computer forensic professionals to grow at a rate of approximately 28% between 2016 and 2026. As technology continues to advance, the need for computer science professionals in various fields also increases.

How to Get a Job as a Computer Forensics Professional

To get a job as a computer forensics professional, first make sure you meet the basic education and experience requirements. To start, visit reputable employment websites that connect employers and potential employees. Many even allow you to apply online or post your resume for employers to view.

For larger firms in the area, check the official website. Some have a career or employment page that list the available positions. They also instruct you on how to apply for the job. Another option is contacting companies that you have had contact with through entry level positions.

Essential Information

Degree Level None (bachelor’s or master’s degree preferred by most employers)
Degree Field(s) Forensic science, computer science, criminal justice
License/Certification Voluntary certifications available
Key Skills Comprehension of cybersecurity fundamentals, critical thinking, verbal communication, written communication, analytical, researching, observative
Number of Jobs (2016) 100,000
Job Outlook
28% growth rate (much faster than average growth rate)
Median Salary (2017) $98,522
On the Job Training Moderate term of on-the-job training
Top Earners Top earners in the field generally work in the field of finance

(*Source: the BLS)