Forensic computer analysts can dig deep into a computer to reveal evidence of wrongdoing and shed light on offenses as varied as identity theft and terrorism. Members of this in-demand profession need extensive training both in how computers operate and what they can glean from them to pinpoint who committed a crime and why.
Computer forensics professionals need at least an undergraduate degree in computer science or a similar discipline. Many universities offer programs specifically in computer forensics, cyber security and related fields, at the undergraduate and graduate level as well as short-term certificate programs. The Community College of Philadelphia, for example, offers a two-year associate degree in computer forensics. In addition, some computer forensics experts start out as law enforcement officers, completing on-the-job training and then moving into a full-time role investigating computer-related crimes.
Forensic computer analysts investigate crimes against computers, such as hacking, as well as crimes involving computers. They might search a suspect’s computer hard drive for incriminating files, pictures or other documents. They might also track the Internet activity of a suspect or victim to determine what sites he visited and who he communicated with. In addition, they can often reveal information that suspects have attempted to hide, such as determining where an email or other electronic communication originated from even if the sender concealed his computer’s IP address to mask his location.
Where They Work
Forensic computer analysts work everywhere from state law enforcement agencies to private corporations to the federal government. For law enforcement agencies, they often assist in everything from homicide investigations to white-collar crimes such as embezzlement. Those working for corporations might investigate computer hacking attacks against the organization or crimes committed from inside, such as accessing files without authorization. At federal law enforcement or intelligence agencies they sometimes work in counter-terrorism, where they monitor online activity to detect potential domestic or international terrorism threats or search Internet and computer activity to tie someone to a terrorist group.
Salary and Outlook
InfoSec Institute reports that forensic computer analysts working for state and federal law enforcement agencies earn between $50,000 and $75,000 to start at the time of publication. Those working for corporations or private consulting firms typically earn between $50,000 and $60,000 to start and can earn as much as $100,000 to $200,000 if they advance to supervisory positions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that as identify theft, spamming, computer hacking and other cyber-related crimes increase, demand for investigators specially trained to solve these offenses will increase as well.
- Community College of Philadelphia: Computer Forensics
- InfoSec Institute: Computer Forensics Investigator
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Private Detectives and Investigators
- Craig D. Ball, P.C.: How Do I Become a Computer Forensic Specialist?
- Evidence Technology Magazine: Computer Forensics
- Federal Bureau of Investigation: Computer Forensics Labs - Making a Digital Difference
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