Computer Forensics Investigator

Computer forensics investigators meld skills in criminal justice and info sec. And, in this emerging field, play a key role in cyber security.

If you enjoy detective work, this is a high growth field. About 32% more jobs are in store for skilled computer forensic analysts by 2028. And a computer forensics degree may set you up to succeed!


What do Computer Forensic Analysts Do?

A computer forensic analyst looks for and describes digital artifacts. Digital artifacts are evidence like deleted emails, SMS, MMS and JPEG images. And may be on computer systems, hard drives, CDs, and other devices.
Computer forensics investigators (CFIs) and analysts work with law enforcement. They also play a key role in bringing cyber crimes to light. When working in the legal system, they also analyze data, file reports and testify in court. 
Digital forensics specialists work with firewalls, networks, databases and mobile phones too. As such, they may also provide many services that relate to data recovery.
One example is finding out how an unauthorized user hacked into a system. CFIs also protect computer system, restore deleted and encrypted data. 


Why is the area of Computer Forensics Important?

There are many reasons computer forensics is important. Especially if you manage info systems and networks.

For one, it ensures the integrity and strength of your networks. As such, it is part of a “defense in depth” tactic and is vital to security.

Computer forensics plays a role after a cyber attack too. Then, knowing the legal and technical aspects is useful. And here’s why.
If you do not, you risk destroying evidence. Or having evidence ruled inadmissible.
Understanding how to capture vital info on the network is a valuable skill. It may help you preserve and analyze the data. And, may help you prosecute the case if you find the intruder.
Computer forensics may also save your company money. The average cost of cyber crime for a business went up US$1.4 million to US$13.0 million in one year. But any protective tactic may guard against loss.


Computer Forensics Investigator Degrees

There are computer forensics investigator degrees at all levels. Bachelor’s, master’s and PhD.
Bachelor’s in cyber security and related fields are entry points to many careers. In fact, most info sec analysts (that includes forensic analysts) need at least a bachelor’s. This can be in comp sci, info assurance, programming or a related area.
Master’s in digital forensics are grad degree programs. These often add an element of management. So aside from technical courses, you may learn how to lead teams and plan defenses. 
Some employers may prefer applicants who have an MBA in info systems too. Master of Business Administration programs look at the administrative side of info sec. Things like how to budget, hire staff, and make data driven decisions.
PhD in digital forensics are research degrees. As the highest level of degree in the field, you may learn how to direct policy. Students at this level also problem solve and test theory. 


What Skills Do You Need to Become a Computer Forensics Analyst?

The main goal of computer forensics is to identify, collect, preserve, and analyze data. And do this in a way that preserves the integrity of the evidence collected. Especially so it stands up in a legal case.
To do this, a Computer Forensics Analyst needs to be able to use and understand industry software. Then also, solve complex problems with a systems mindset.


how to start a career as a computer forensics investigator

Computer Forensics Investigator Salary

Computer forensics investigators & analysts earn above average salaries. In May 2018 for instance, info sec analysts earned an annual average salary of $98,350. Since this is the mid point, some earned more than $156,580. And, some earned less than $56,750.

Salaries also vary by industry. For instance, those in computer systems design earn an average of $102,620. While those in the finance sector earned $101,130.

Other industries where computer forensics investigators & analysts earn high wages are information, management and support services. Average salaries for these jobs are $96,580, $94,180 and $94,120 respectively.



Experience Level and Salary Info for Computer Forensics Investigators & Analysts

The level of experience you have as a computer forensics investigator may impact salary too.


Experience Level Years Of ExperienceMedian
Entry-Level< 1 Year$56,000
Early-career1 -4 Years$66,000
Mid-Career5 – 9 Years$86,000
Experienced10 – 19 Years$100,000
Late-Career20 + Years$100,000


Top Paying Cities

Another factor that impacts your salary as a computer forensics analyst is location. Some cities, like D.C and Dallas, pay more than the national average at 38 and 33 percent respectively. But on the flip side, some cities, like Chicago, pay 12% lower than the national average.

LocationCompared to National AverageMedian Salary 
Washington, DC38% higher$98,000 
Dallas, TX33% higher $95,000
Boston, MA5% higher $75,000
New York, NY2% higher $73,000
Atlanta, GA 2% higher $73,000



Computer Forensic Investigator Job Titles to Look For

As an emerging career field, many job titles for computer forensic investigators exists. Some are computer forensic analysts, specialists or technicians. And others may go by these popular job titles.

  • Digital Forensics Specialist
  • Forensic Computer Examiner
  • Info Security Analyst

Professional Resources for Computer Forensics Certifications

Computer forensics certifications may help boost your resume. And some employers may only want to Certified Forensic Computer Examiners (CFCE).

There are a few ways to get the CFE Certification.

  • International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners (ISFCE)

Analysts who pass the ISFCE exam earn the credential.

  • International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (IACIS)

This certification for people with board approved training, who also pass the exam. Once you get it, you also need to renew it every three years.

  • Advanced Computer System Security or Advanced Computer Forensics

Another route that has fewer requirements is the ACFCE. These are Advanced Computer System Security or Advanced Computer Forensics credentials for analysts.

If this is your goal, you have to provide proof of adequate work experience / training. And, pass the exam.