If you’ve ever had charges on your credit card that weren’t yours or have blemishes on your credit report that aren’t your fault, then you’ve been a victim of Internet fraud. It’s a common occurrence that can cause a myriad of problems and be a huge mess to clean up. Ever wonder who the people are who investigate these crimes in the hopes of making the criminals pay? Well, along with law enforcement and several federal agencies, computer experts called Computer Forensic Investigators take on the task of tracing this data and catching the thieves who stole your bank account or credit card information. This specialized field focuses on illegal data activity, from skimmers at gas pumps, to stolen credit cards, and helps to capture the criminals. Along with this, they also work to design and create programming that will help prevent these things from happening again.
What Does a Computer Forensics Investigator Do?
A person who finds themselves working as a computer forensic investigator usually gets there by accident, though more people are deliberately seeking out the profession as it becomes more well known. First, many investigators started off as hackers. They had a knack for breaking into computer networks and systems and wreaking havoc. They then decided that they would use their skills for good and got the education and tools to do what they love legally. There are even cases of hackers getting caught, and in exchange for going to jail, they were given the opportunity to train and become one of the good guys. Others have always loved computers and just decided that become an investigator sounded fun.Read More
What are Their Responsibilities, Common Duties, and Tasks?
Entry-level computer forensic investigators perform the following tasks:
- Analyze breached data
- Recover missing data
- Track data to see where the information leads
- Work to secure networks and write code to prevent a breach
- Analyze recovered data
- Communicate results to investigators
- Work closely with law enforcement and other investigators to prevent breaches from happening
- Assist in the investigations of non-cybercrimes where data might be a factor in tracking down a criminal or analyzing devices left at a crime scene for evidence
Most of this work is done in an office environment, though at times it will be necessary to go to a site to analyze data or examine equipment. Though the job is not strenuous, it can be stressful because law enforcement needs information as quickly as possible and you may be dealing with disturbing criminal activity.
Becoming a Computer Forensics Investigator
This is still a relatively new field, but the most common path to becoming a computer forensics investigator includes the following:
- Earn a Degree
Many colleges and universities are adding a bachelor’s in computer forensics as a program, but a degree in computer science, computer information systems, or network administration are also acceptable in many cases. As for advanced degrees, a master’s in computer forensics and investigation is also available at many institutions. So, if you have a degree in computer programming and a master’s in computer forensics, that’s a good start.
- Attain a Certification
There are several certifications that a computer forensic investigator can seek to make them easier for employers to hire. The Certified Forensic Computer Examiner (CFCE) credential can be attained at institutions such as the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists. Investigators can also get the EnCase Certified Examiner (EnCE) certification from Guidance Software.
- Apply for Jobs
Most federal agencies such as the IRS, CIA, NSA and FBI have a need for computer forensic investigators. Some larger corporations also hire in-house investigators to keep threats at bay. There are also private firms cropping up that offer forensic services to agencies and organizations. Determine the type of investigation you want to do and then pursue positions at the locations that need what you have to offer.
- In some states
A private investigator license might be required in order to work as a computer forensic investigator. Check the regulations in the state where you desire to work.
Typical Requirements for Employer Hiring
A company or organization that is seeking an entry-level computer forensic investigator will look for the following qualifications:
- A minimum of a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, computer science, computer programming, computer forensics, or computer information systems - A master’s degree in computer science or computer forensics is preferred
- Certification such as CFCE or EnCE
- Computer programming skills in the languages used by the company
- Knowledge in network security, Internet protocols, electronic data processing, and systems administration
- Excellent communication skills
- The ability to repair and restore damaged computer equipment
- Excellent writing skills for reports and follow-up inquiries as needed
- The ability to use proper research methods to collect accurate data
- High acuity in mathematics (algebra, calculus, etc.)
- The ability to pass drug and criminal background checks
For a position that is above entry-level, along with the above, the following might also be required:
- Teaching experience
many senior CFIs run classes for law enforcement agencies to help them identify issues and help make them better investigators
- Several years of experience working as an investigator
- A private investigator’s license (in some states)
- Managerial experience
Ultimately, a potential employer wants an investigator that knows the tools of the trade, has the ability to use said tools and can communicate their findings to the client in an understandable fashion.
Additionally, those who want to work as a computer forensics investigator should also possess the following skills:
- Excellent written and verbal skills
- The ability to multitask
- Able to work in high-pressure situations
- Excellent people skills
- The ability to take complex data and explain it in simpler terms
- High attention to detail
- Typing skills
- Phone skills
Earning Potential and Salaries for a Computer Forensics Investigator
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a Computer Forensic Investigator (referred to as an Information Security Analyst) was $98,350 in 2018. The lowest 10% in the field, those most likely to be working in entry-level positions, earned $56,750, while those in the top 10% earned $156,580 in 2018. Salaries can vary according to employer or by the level of job responsibility. The level of education and experience in the field is also a factor in regard to salary. For example, those who hold higher degrees and certifications can command a higher salary than those with the minimum degree requirements.
Outlook & Jobs
In 2018, there were 112,300 people employed in the field of computer forensics/information security, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2028, that number is expected to increase to 147,700. This indicates that the field of information security is expected to experience 32% growth, much faster than job growth in other fields. The demand is based on an increase in the need for fraud and Internet investigation, as well as an increase in law enforcement using more technology to work on cases. There are also the traditional factors to consider such as a growing population using the Internet as part of their daily lives and ever-changing technology. Growth in the cyber forensics fields is going to continue as long as the use of the Internet continues to increase. The need will be for domestic as well as international investigation.