Computer crime takes many forms, from breaches of data at global financial institutions to Internet scams targeting senior citizens. When investigating online crimes such as cyber attacks, hacking and phishing, law enforcement agencies often rely on the skills and expertise of computer forensics investigators.
These professionals 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.
Job duties for computer forensics investigators include recovering data from computer hard drives, including those that have been damaged or erased. They analyze data for clues and evidence, and may trace hacks or gauge the effects of malware on an information system.
Additional duties for computer forensics investigators can include:
The growing prevalence of digital technology means more organizations have become victims of cyber crimes, helping fuel demand for professionals in the computer security field. For example, 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 37% during the decade ending in 2022, which is 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 2013, the average annual salary for information security analysts was $91,210, 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.
Computer forensics investigators require a deep knowledge of computer hardware, software and operating systems, and employers may require candidates for these positions to have a degree such as a BS in Computer Information Systems or a bachelor’s in computer science. Some positions may require the skills obtained through an advanced degree program, such as a Master of Science (MS) in Information Assurance and Cybersecurity.
A Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems program typically includes courses in programming, systems analysis and design, as well as network theory and design. An MS in Information Assurance and Cybersecurity degree program may build on that knowledge with specialized instruction in computer and information security, enterprise information security and secure operating systems.
Computer forensics investigators may also be expected to have a broad range of attributes and abilities, including:
With the right combination of training and educational qualifications, prospective computer forensics investigators may find a rewarding career path at the cutting edge of modern law enforcement.