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A pivotal component of law enforcement, computer forensics uses digital tools and evidence to solve crimes. These include identity fraud, hacking, and even high-profile crimes, such as the Craigslist and BTK murders.
Thanks to continued technology expansion, this industry is likely to prosper: The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects information technology jobs will grow 13% from 2020 to 2030, and they project jobs like information security analyst to grow 33% in the same period — much faster than average.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects information technology jobs will grow 13% from 2020 to 2030.
In addition to its promising job outlook, computer forensics offers several career paths with higher-than-average salaries. For example, Payscale data from March 2022 shows a $74,800 average annual salary for computer forensics analysts.
Certifications, which highlight employees' specialized skills, can further increase earning potential and lead to additional job opportunities. This guide explores some of the best computer forensics certifications to consider, whether you are beginning or advancing your career.
What Is Certification in Computer Forensics?
A certification in computer forensics denotes a candidate's specific knowledge and skills relating to the industry. Unlike licensure, certification is not a legal credential. Computer forensic professionals often do not need a license to practice, but employers may prefer candidates with one or more certifications from recognized agencies.
Certified computer forensic professionals exhibit a deep understanding of digital tools, computer operating systems, and law. Certifying bodies may offer training programs that expand or reinforce relevant concepts. To achieve certification, candidates often must pass a proctored exam. These tests blend written and practical problems that ask candidates to prove their skills and knowledge.
Why Pursue Computer Forensics Certification?
Computer forensics certifications endorse a candidate's knowledge and skills of industry-specific topics and tools. Employers may seek candidates with certification to ensure their employees have expertise in key areas, such as Windows application forensics or cloud data storage and analysis.
One of the most sought-after certifications in computer forensics is the GIAC certified forensic analyst. Certified forensic computer examiner and EnCase certified examiner are also popular credentials.
Additional reasons to pursue certification include:
- More Opportunities: Some employers require or prefer industry certifications, so expanding and validating your credentials can help you qualify for a wider array of positions.
- Continued Learning: Several certification programs encourage or require certification-holders to advance their skills with continuing education before renewing their credentials.
- Prestige: Certification can help you stand out in your industry and make you feel more confident in your abilities. These credentials can also lead to increased salary potential.
To learn more about a career in computer forensics, click the links below.
- Computer Forensics Career Overview
- How to Become a Computer Forensics
- The Typical Day of a Computer Forensics
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What the Best Computer Forensics Certifications Have in Common
When considering the best computer forensics certifications to pursue, first determine which credentials can meet your goals and enhance your career. Industry employers seek some certifications more than others, so a widely sought-after certification can lead to better job and salary opportunities.
Top certification programs also focus on professional development. For example, some certifying bodies require certification-holders to pursue continued learning and renew their credential every few years. This process ensures professionals continue developing their skills.
Top computer forensics certifications also provide training opportunities in addition to the certifying program and exam. Training might include hands-on practice with forensics tools, peer and mentor support, and practice problems to help learners prepare for their exams.
Below are several widely recognized computer forensics certifications from prestigious certifying bodies. However, this is not an exhaustive list.
GIAC has offered over 40 cybersecurity certifications since 1999. With accreditation from the American National Standards Institute, GIAC's certification programs target industry, military, and government professionals who want to learn or enhance information security skills.
Certification through GIAC can assist computer forensics professionals with job searches and career advancement. The agency provides four certifications relevant to the computer forensics industry. GIAC requires the renewal of its certifications every four years for a $429 fee. Certification programs cost $849.
GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA)
A GCFA credential signifies proficiency in digital forensics and incident response. Experienced professionals tend to seek this credential, but GIAC offers a training course with practical problems and hands-on training for all learners.
The program requires a minimum exam score of 72%. The three-hour proctored test includes up to 115 questions covering topics such as NTFS artifact analysis and enterprise environment incident response.
GIAC Certified Forensic Examiner (GCFE)
Though content for the GCFE and GCFA exams do overlap, the GCFE credential focuses more heavily on Windows operating systems data. Applicants should have background knowledge of Windows and information security.
Candidates must receive a minimum passing score of 71% on the three-hour, 115-question exam to earn certification.
GIAC Network Forensic Analyst (GNFA)
Computer forensics professionals interested in network security can pursue the GNFA credential. This certification is best for incident response teams, network engineers, and information security managers.
The program strengthens candidates' understanding of network architecture, network protocols, and security event and incident logging. The exam requires a minimum passing score of 70%.
GIAC Battlefield Forensics and Acquisition (GBFA)
Digital forensics professionals can benefit from the GBFA credential. This certification covers network, drive, storage, and mobile device data acquisition in addition to computer forensics.
Candidates must score at least 69% on the 75-question exam to pass.
Since its inception in 1989, the IACIS has trained professionals to analyze evidence from computer systems permissible in a court of law. An 11-person board oversees IACIS processes, resources, and certifications to ensure that trainees receive up-to-date industry information.
IACIS certification applicants need at least 72 training hours in computer forensics before they can sit for certification exams. The organization offers a training program for applicants to prepare for certification.
Certified Forensic Computer Examiner (CFCE)
The CFCE program begins with a peer review process that includes four problems for enrollees to solve using guidance from a dedicated coach. Then, learners move onto the certification phase, which includes a practical problem and a knowledge-based test. Multiple-choice, true-false, short answer, and matching questions comprise the 100-question exam.
CFCE certification-seekers can take a two-week IACIS training course before beginning the certification program. Candidates have 164 days to complete the program.
Certified Advanced Windows Forensic Examiner (CAWFE)
The CAWFE program deepens the computer forensics skills of industry professionals by pinpointing the forensic intricacies of Windows operating systems.
This certification covers topics such as the Windows registry, Windows partitioning schemes, and defaults and standard functionality. Enrollees first complete a written exam with four timed sections, followed by a practical assessment.
To recertify, professionals must show proof of their current position in computer forensics and complete at least 40 hours of continuing education in the field.
OpenText specializes in information management solutions such as analytics tools and cloud storage. The company also assists businesses in obtaining and advancing qualified professionals through its certification programs.
OpenText features vendor-specific and vendor-neutral certifications for computer forensics professionals. Its EnCase forensic software is a popular industry tool. The company offers two EnCase-specific certifications that give professionals hands-on training with the software.
Certified Forensic Security Responder (CFSR)
This vendor-neutral certification requires candidates to have at least 12 months of industry work experience or attend OpenText's incident investigation and host intrusion methodology and investigation courses.
The program costs $500 and includes written and practical exams. Each test's minimum passing score is 80%. Certification-holders must renew their CFSR certification after three years. Renewal requires 32 credit hours of continued learning, pursuit of an additional certification, or attendance and completion of labs and lectures at the Enfuse conference.
EnCase Certified eDiscovery Practitioner (EnCEP)
Government and business employees can pursue the EnCEP credential to validate their knowledge of OpenText's eDiscovery legal information management tool. Candidates who earn this certification are proficient in digital data discovery's legal, ethical, and practical standards.
Applicants must attend an eDiscovery training course and have three months of relevant work experience. The $500 program includes written and practical exams, each with an 80% minimum passing score. Renewals must occur within three years.
Additional Computer Forensics Certifications
Although the programs mentioned above are some of the top computer forensics certifications, other credentials can also boost job and salary prospects. The programs below may better serve your career goals.
Consider the following computer forensics certifications:
- CyberSecurity Institute: CyberSecurity Forensic Analyst
- EC-Council: Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator
- International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners: Certified Computer Examiner
- National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies: Certified Digital Forensics Examiner
Preparing for Certification Exams
Certification exam preparation can be taxing. Computer forensics certification exams require critical, investigative thinking and a deep understanding of computer crime topics.
Studying for the certification test is a great way to reinforce your knowledge. First, create a study plan that outlines when you study. Then, determine what study materials you want to use and which topics to cover.
Study groups can also help with exam prep. Online communities are a useful resource for finding other certification candidates. Once you connect, you can develop study plans, review concepts together, and hold each other accountable.
Some certifying bodies also offer training programs, which can solidify the skills learners need to pass the exam. Depending on the credential's requirements, this training may be optional.
Click the links below to learn more about computer forensics degree programs.
- Bachelor's in Computer Forensics Programs
- Master's in Computer Forensics Programs
- Bachelor's in Cybersecurity Programs
- Master's in Cybersecurity Programs
- Bachelor's in Information Assurance Programs
Choosing Between Computer Forensics Certifications
Professionals can choose from many computer forensics certifications. It is important to understand which credentials best meet your career goals, scheduling needs, and budget.
Consider the following when exploring programs:
Cost: Determine the total cost of a certification program. Some certifications have fees for training, testing, and renewals. Your employer might offer reimbursement for some or all of a specific certification's fees. Prerequisites: Check the program's requirements for applying. For instance, some programs require training or professional experience. Test Requirements: Consider the test's style and length. Some exams have much more intensive time and study requirements than others. Renewal: You may need to renew your certification every few years. Some programs require continuing education between renewals. Vendor-Specific vs. Vendor-Neutral: Vendor-specific certifications train professionals on a specific developer's tools or processes. In contrast, vendor-neutral certifications do not have ties to any developer. Recognition: Industry employers may prefer some computer forensics certifications over others. In addition, some credentials may not hold validity in specific states or countries.
What Is a Computer Forensics Analyst?
How to Become a Computer Forensics Analyst
Day in the Life of a Computer Forensics Analyst
Salary and Career Outlook for Computer Forensics Analysts
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FAQ About Computer Forensics Certifications
How do you get certified in computer forensics?
Many of the best computer forensics certifications require applicants to complete training and testing. Exams test applicant knowledge in several industry areas — including specific tools and computer ethics — through written and practical problems.
How long does it take to become certified in computer forensics?
While a certification test may take up to a few months to complete, computer forensics applicants often need additional training hours and work experience. Considering all requirements, applicants should expect to become fully certified within a year, depending on the program.
Do computer forensics analysts need to be licensed?
Computer forensics analysts do not need a license, but some employers may prefer candidates with certification. Generally, these professionals need a bachelor's degree for entry-level positions, while master's degrees or certifications can advance careers.
What are the top computer forensics certifications?
The GIAC's certification offerings, such as GCFE and GCFA, are among the most recognized computer forensics certifications. The IACIS's CFCE and OpenText's EnCE are also useful options for professionals.
Featured Image: MoMo Productions / DigitalVision / Getty Images
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