The independent, trusted guide to online education for over 24 years!

How to Become a Computer Forensics and Forensics Scientist

Digitized thumbprint represents computer forensics.

The world of cybersecurity and digital investigations is growing faster than ever. These days, many crimes occur entirely online, particularly those involving identity theft or fraud. We need computer forensics and forensic scientists in this modern age of digital criminal activity.

Computer forensics and forensics scientists are specialized professionals who collect important digital evidence. They often assist law enforcement personnel and may help solve digital crimes. However, their responsibilities and needed skills can vary widely from position to position.

Furthermore, that path to becoming a computer forensics scientist can be difficult and seem complex, even though it’s straightforward. Today, let’s break down how students can become computer forensics scientists step-by-step.

Computer Forensics Explained

The field of computer forensics is vast and ever-evolving. In a nutshell, it involves gathering digital data as evidence for use in criminal cases.

Compare it to physical forensics. A physical forensics specialist, for example, may gather physical evidence such as fingerprints, spent bullet casings, DNA, and so on to assist with solving a physical crime, like an assault or murder.

On the flip side, a computer forensics specialist will gather digital evidence to solve computer-based crimes. For instance, if a cybercriminal hacks a firm, a computer forensics expert could be called in to:

  • Examine firewall records
  • Examine breached programs or databases
  • Locate hints of the cyber criminal’s identity or tools they used
  • And more

Computer forensics involves gathering and analyzing digital data for criminal cases. It’s also sometimes known as digital forensics or cyber forensics. The importance of this field grows every year as more businesses move critical data online and as malware and other cyber threats become more dangerous and varied.

Careers That Use Computer Forensics

These days, many careers focus on computer forensics or a related field. Computer forensics jobs may have different titles, responsibilities, and pay grades. Generally, computer forensics experts go by titles such as computer scientists, computer forensics investigators, or similar titles.

Potential careers that use computer forensics include but are not limited to:

  • Information security analysts. These professionals plan and execute different security measures to protect computer networks and systems before a cyber attack.
  • Computer systems analysts. These specialists study organizational computer systems and help to design proactive who specialize in anticipating and dealing with malware attacks, specifically
  • Forensic computer analysts. These analysts primarily assist law enforcement officers. They help solve cyber crimes by retrieving and analyzing data from computers or other storage devices.
  • Computer security consultants. These consultants help firms build new security infrastructures or develop security protocols for future effectiveness.
  • Information technology auditors. These auditors examine different computer or networking systems. This way, they can help an organization tighten security measures before a breach causes damage.

What Do Computer Forensics Scientists Do?

Computer forensics scientists or investigators often wear many hats or may have several different roles. This is frequently contingent on how involved they are in a criminal investigation. For example, less experienced computer forensics scientists may only have to do one or two things. Advanced forensic scientists may have additional responsibilities or manage teams of other computer forensics specialists.

Computer forensics investigators and scientists often do things such as:

  • Investigate and analyze digital security incidents, such as malware attacks, phishing attacks, or data breaches
  • Locate different system vulnerabilities that may have allowed a cyber attack to occur
  • Evaluate cyber attacks scope and possibilities
  • Reconstruct lost digital information from damaged files
  • Recover any encrypted or deleted information from digital storage devices like external hard drives
  • Report any findings to authorities such as law-enforcement officers, lawyers, or courts
  • Extract digital evidence for use in legal cases or criminal investigations
  • Identify what assets, like data, were targeted or stolen during a cyber attack
  • Offer testimony in criminal cases if needed

A computer forensic scientist’s exact responsibilities and day-to-day duties will depend on their job position.

Who Should Study Computer Forensics?

Naturally, the computer forensics field is not right for everyone. However, it has become increasingly popular over the last few years. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the industry should grow by about 16% up to 2030.

People with exceptional aptitudes for computers and math can excel in this field. Students might consider studying computer forensics if they:

  • Enjoy computer science and computer analysis
  • Have an in-depth grasp of computer systems and how they work together
  • Enjoy solving puzzles, especially those that take a long time to complete
  • Appreciate different programming languages and are fluent in several
  • Like studying data and systems
  • Want to help law enforcement solve modern digital crimes
  • Want to do some good for society without putting themselves in physical danger

More broadly, the ideal computer forensic investigator candidate will have:

  • Computer skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Technical skills. For example, a computer forensic scientist must know how to use different programming languages like Java or Python. Furthermore, computer forensic specialists must know how to use digital forensic tools. These tools include EnCase, FTK Imager, and X-ways.
  • Communication skills. Practically all computer forensic scientists are part of teams. They need to know how to prepare reports and summaries that communicate complex information.

In many ways, computer forensics allows Computer Science (CS) specialists to do important police work. Computer forensics specialists primarily help solve crimes of a financial nature. However, they may also assist with drug trafficking and identity theft crimes.

How to Become a Computer Forensics Investigator/Forensics Scientist

Companies and government agencies need more computer forensics investigators and scientists. Those who pursue this path find a rewarding career. Students must acquire a lot of credentials and prove their worth before law enforcement departments or government agencies will hire them. Here’s how one can become a computer forensics scientist step-by-step.

Step 1 – Acquire a Degree in Computer Forensics or a Related Field

Firstly, students must earn a degree in either computer forensics or a related field. To become a computer forensics specialist, you need a bachelor’s degree.

A computer forensics degree will be most helpful for those who know they want to become forensics specialists. These programs emphasize:

  • Modern cyber forensics skills
  • Case studies of previously successful computer forensics efforts
  • Literacy in several programming languages
  • In-depth CS knowledge
  • In-depth networking and Internet knowledge
  • Some knowledge of the law and legal codes

With such knowledge, computer forensics graduates assist law enforcement professionals in tracking down cybercriminals.

What Degrees Should You Pursue?

You can also become a computer forensics scientist with a related degree. Related degrees include but are not limited to:

What Are the Most Important Skills for a Computer Forensics Specialist?

The exact required skills for a computer forensics scientist depend on the position and specialization. However, the most common skills needed by employers include:

  • Good proficiency with the latest cyber response, reverse engineering, and forensic skills
  • Understanding of latest exploit technologies, methodologies, and philosophies
  • In-depth knowledge of cyber investigative methods
  • Knowledge of how to locate electronic data or cyber kernel signatures
  • In-depth knowledge of modern technology and software, especially mobile operating systems and hardware
  • In-depth understanding of malware, ransomware, and other types of viruses
  • Extensive experience with forensics software and hardware
  • Knowledge of password cracking strategies and techniques
  • Some ability to design or build custom processes when needed to collect digital evidence
  • Knowledge of metadata cleansing for both Microsoft Office and PDF documents
  • Knowledge of encryption protocols and technologies for both software and hardware
  • And more

Additionally, most employers require cybersecurity forensics specialists to know specific computer languages. Today’s most important computer languages include C++, Java, PHP, Python, and Bash.

Online or In-Person Degree

Additionally, you should consider whether you want to acquire a degree online or in person. Online degrees offer flexibility and provide a worthwhile alternative to traditional education.

Online degrees are frequently asynchronous. These online programs allow you to complete coursework on your schedule. Because most computer forensics degrees do not require in-person training, they work well with online instruction.

However, students should ensure that any university with an online degree in computer forensics is accredited. Accredited universities are trustworthy. Future employers look for graduates from accredited programs to assure a candidate’s worth.

Consider Experiential Learning Opportunities

Students who wish to become computer forensics specialists should also consider experiential learning opportunities. These include fellowships, internships, and part-time jobs with relevant employers.

Experiential learning opportunities:

  • Help students gain essential experience in computer forensics and computer science.
  • Allow students to build up their skills with specialized, on-the-job training.
  • Give students valuable experiences to bolster their resumes.

In some cases, experiential learning opportunities can help students narrow their focus. For example, suppose a student doesn’t know whether they want to specialize in forensics or architecture. In that case, an experiential learning opportunity can help them pick between one or the other. However, experiential learning opportunities may only be available for students whose schedules allow it.

Step 2 – Acquire Computer Forensics Certification

Your journey to becoming a computer forensics scientist begins with your bachelor’s degree. You must then become certified as a forensics specialist.

Future forensics specialists can choose from many certifications. Some certificates demonstrate skills with specific software, while others focus on forensic concentrations or specific cyber skills. Regardless, certificates prove that a candidate has what it takes to succeed.

Note that computer forensics certification is not strictly necessary. But as a highly competitive field, candidates should not apply for jobs without at least one certificate. Potential certifications include but are not limited to:

  • GIAC or Global Information Assurance Certification. The SysAdmin Audit, Network, Security (or SANS Institute) offers this program. Considered the most crucial certification for computer forensics specialists, it helps students hone their investigative and cybersecurity skills. It also prepares students for higher computer forensics positions through additional training options.
  • CFCE or Certified Forensic Computer Examiner. This certificate, offered by The International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists, proves that a candidate has extra knowledge for examining computer systems for forensic evidence.
  • CCE or Certified Computer Examiner. The International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners offers this program that provides specific experience in examining computer systems.
  • ACE or AccessData Certified Examiner. AccessData developed this certification. As a vendor-specific certification, it provides specialized training for specific software platforms.

In addition, future computer forensics investigators may wish to pursue more education with the National Computer Forensics Institute. This organization offers many digital forensic courses. The courses focus on different specialties or experience levels.

Students can acquire extra certificates or classes to present themselves as the go-to candidate for a given position with this organization. For example, suppose a candidate has a general CS degree. In that case, extra certificates from the NCFI can help them qualify over another candidate for a job.

Step 3 – Acquire a Job and Experience

Once you have obtained your degree and adequate certificates, you can start applying for positions. Potential employers of computer forensics scientists include:

  • The National Security Agency or NSA
  • Homeland Security
  • The Federal Bureau of investigation or FBI
  • Individual businesses or firms, including banks, law firms, and accounting companies

Remember, the cyber forensics field is growing and will likely continue to do so. That means new and qualified job candidates have ample employment opportunities in the future. Through holding positions in computer forensics, you gain the needed experience to advance your career. In the computer forensics field, in-person or on-the-job experience is vital.

Step 4 – Advance in Your Career

Lastly, computer forensics scientists can advance their careers by:

  • Successfully resolving attacks for their employers
  • Attaining more certificates or specializations
  • Taking promotions when offered

Over time, computer forensics investigators can lead teams of other specialists. Or they may decide to become IT or CS managers. Generally, computer forensics investigators earn a higher salary as they stay with the same organization, take on more responsibility, and acquire more skills.

For example, they can become senior forensics investigators. Alternatively, computer forensic scientists may start their private practices or consulting agencies. With these businesses, they can support whatever clients they choose. They can also set their own prices and have greater control over their work lives.

Continuing Education Requirements

Like many modern careers, computer forensics scientists must keep current with industry developments. As cybercriminals invent new ways to hack data, the field evolves continuously. While not necessarily required, computer forensics specialists should pursue continuing education to stay abreast of advances.

The High Technology Crime Investigation Association (HTCIA) helps forensics professionals stay updated on new developments in malware and cybersecurity.

Alternatively, computer forensic scientists can contact the Scientific Working Group on Digital Evidence. As an important cybercrime forensics organization, the SWGDE works hard to help professionals keep their skills relevant and current. They offer certificates and classes for currently employed cybersecurity professionals.

Ultimately, continuing education will help computer forensic scientists stay competitive in the evolving CS landscape.

What Salary Do Computer Forensics and Forensics Scientists Make?

The salaries for computer forensics scientists and similar professionals vary heavily. Experience level, certifications, specializations, and more determine compensation levels.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that information security analysts make an average salary of over $100,000 per year. However, the lowest paid information security analysts make less than $60,000 per year. The highest-paid members of the same profession earn more than $160,000 per year.

Computer forensics specialists can acquire other positions with different pay. For example, computer systems analysts earn an average of $93,730 per year.

This salary is enough to allow a computer forensics scientist to live comfortably in most American cities. Furthermore, opportunities for advancement abound. As noted earlier, the field is growing for now and likely for the future. Information technology degrees offer a variety of high-paying career options. Skilled or professional computer forensic scientists will find many places to showcase their skills. They can earn promotions, increase their salaries, and take on managerial duties over time.

Summary

Computer forensics scientists and investigators are important professionals in the modern, highly digital world. Without their help, many cyber crimes would go unpunished. Hackers would continue to disrupt online business.

But thanks to computer forensic scientists, digital evidence can be collected and used for criminal trials. Furthermore, computer forensic scientists help companies and government organizations shore up their cyber defenses against future attacks.

Students who want to attain the salary and recognition of these professionals have a straightforward path to success. Get a degree, acquire certifications, and start applying for computer forensic scientist jobs.

Of course, finding the right degree program is crucial. Fortunately, GetEducated has an in-depth list of high-quality online classes and programs. You will find many online programs perfectly tailored to help you on your path to becoming a computer forensics scientist. Check out GetEducated’s list of online college programs today!

Browse Now

Search Over 1,600+ Schools with 30,000+ Degrees