Computer Forensics: A Cyber Career Roadmap

Computer Forensics professionals get to use a lot of cool tools ... photo by CC user ErrantX on Flickr

Maybe you don’t like the idea of mopping up after a crime scene – the blood, the bullets etc. At the same time, you love piecing together mysteries. Thankfully, there’s still a job for you in computer forensics. Here’s what it’s all about and how plug yourself into this little-known, but exciting career.

Educational Requirements

To get into digital forensics, you need a good education. The requirements can be fairly minimal, however, in terms of the actual content, quality counts more than quantity. Many computer forensics professionals learn their skills “on the job,” with a strong basic foundation in computer programming or computer forensics.

Because many of the strategies and tactics change over time, it’s difficult to set hard and fast requirements for applicants. A working knowledge of computers is necessary, but beyond that, an investigator will have to be comfortable learning new hardware and software, some of which is custom and proprietary. They may also need special security clearance if they are working on government projects.

Degrees

For those without experience in law enforcement, military, or government, there are degrees. The most common one is an Associate Degree in computer forensics. This is a two-year course of study where the student completes general education courses that are specific to a career in computer forensics.

Various courses in cybercrime, intrusion detection systems, and basic legal protocols are covered. There is also some focus on technical writing, public speaking, and algebra.

Finally, with an Associate’s degree, the individual usually has to complete an internship before graduation. This internship gives the student work experience that will help in finding a job with a forensics specialist.

If a degree isn’t something you want to pursue, there’s also a professional certificate training course in computer forensics. This is a common method of learning the basics of computer forensics. Law enforcement or computer securities professionals usually go this route. Students enrolled in these types of programs usually have a computer or legal background, eliminating the need for additional schooling.

Certificate programs require less study – just 10 courses. However, it may be more challenging for those without prior education in computers.

And, while doctoral degrees in computer forensics aren’t common, they may be in the future as the need for forensics evolves and we become more and more dependent on electronics for daily living. More and more information is being stored in the cloud, on devices locally, and in increasingly complex systems.

Experience

A lot of computer forensics experts have experience in law enforcement, as a private investigator, or in the military. The most successful will also have extensive computer programming or some other related field experience. This digital forensics expert, for example, hires those with experience in law enforcement and intelligence organizations.

As with most jobs, the more experience, the better. Many of the best forensics experts and investigators are former FBI special agents, former CIA agents, former U.S. State Department officials, and professionals from international crime and anti-terrorism units.

Experience in behavioral science, latent fingerprinting, polygraph examinations, and traditional forensics doesn’t hurt either.

Jared Stern, a certified digital forensic examiner, is a federal and state court-admitted computer and cell phone forensics expert. Mr. Stern is also the President of Prudential Associates, an investigative agency that uses a powerfully-equipped forensics lab which goes above and beyond the capacity and capability of over 90 percent of U.S. law enforcement labs. His articles appear mainly on criminal science education and industry websites.

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