With the increased use of mobile devices, e-commerce and a heightened exchange of personal and professional information online, cyber crimes have become more and more of a concern. In recent years, digital forensics has become a streamlined field with an increasingly standardized best practice protocol taught through a variety of online and traditional degree programs.
Computer forensics investigators use specialized techniques to gather, analyze and preserve information on computer systems. Their objective is to find evidence of criminal activity, including who was responsible and what damage was done. They may also oversee compliance with federal and state reporting requirements in the case of confidential information being exposed during a security breach.
Coursework and Educational Programs
Like many of the specialty fields related to the IT boom, digital forensics is rapidly evolving. While professionals enter the field through a variety of avenues including technology, security, administration, and application development, there are a number of highly ranked and fully accredited programs that serve to centralize the skill set and offer an industry-wide standard of proficiency at different educational levels.
Professionals with a two-year degree and work experience in cybersecurity might move into digital forensics through job openings and additional training at their place of employment. Professionals with a law enforcement background might seek a specialty in digital forensics through a bachelor’s degree program, which provide the necessary training for most entry-level digital forensics programs. These programs often offer internships, fellowships, volunteer opportunities, or other programs for career development while obtaining vital education.
A master’s degree offers one to two more years of specialized information in the discipline, providing the level of knowledge required in certain positions. Investigative team leaders, policy makers, heads of forensics consulting firms and other elite professionals in digital forensics seek the prestige and expertise that can accompany an advanced degree.
In addition to formal education and ongoing online coursework, digital forensics professionals can benefit from professional associations such as the Digital Forensics Association. Many professionals find the connections made through professional associations vital to keeping their knowledge current. The DFA offers volunteer opportunities, hosts a discussion board, provides interaction through chapter meetings and offers other career enhancing tools such as access to a digital library.
Employers Seek Digital Forensic Professionals
A wide range of local, state, national and international law enforcement agencies hire digital forensic professionals to investigate evidence with a digital forensics team. Locating, compiling, recovering and identifying digital evidence takes a wide range of skills that extends beyond the high level of technical proficiency necessary for the job. Impeccable communication skills, strong organizational ability, top level integrity and the ability to work efficiently alone or as part of a collaborative team are all necessary components of this job.
In addition to law enforcement agencies, other governmental agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security offer a variety of opportunities in this field. Many private companies, large corporations and international security firms rely on the work of digital forensic professionals to shed light on possible wrongdoing, clear the names of those falsely accused and to prepare evidence for trial. In addition to the investigative and technical knowledge needed for the job, an understanding of related legal issues associated with this line of work is imperative for success.
Professionals in digital forensics need a wide variety of skills and knowledge to excel in this prestigious yet demanding field. Through securing a degree in a regionally accredited program, a student can be sure that they have the knowledge to effectively communicate with other professionals and network in the field with those who have obtained similar education.
Job Outlook and Salary for Computer Forensics Investigators
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that jobs for the category of workers known as information security analysts are projected to grow by 18% between 2014 and 2024, significantly faster than the national average of 11% for all occupations over the same period.
Employment can be found in organizations as diverse as hospitality and gaming companies, educational institutions, energy firms, government organizations and law enforcement agencies. As of May 2015, the average annual salary for information security analysts was $90,120, according to the BLS.
Regional market conditions will help determine employment opportunities and salary potential, as will an applicant’s work history and educational qualifications.