How to Become a Computer Forensics Analyst
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The FBI's 2020 Internet Crime Report noted an increase of more than 300,000 complaints from 2019 with losses exceeding $4.2 billion.
With this increase in cybercrime, it is easy to see why there is a demand for computer forensics analysts. These individuals collect evidence from computers and other devices to aid in investigations of criminal cases.
Prospective computer forensics analysts typically need at least a bachelor’s degree, professional experience, and necessary certifications. While these steps may seem daunting, the career could be ideal for those who are passionate about solving cybercrime cases.
What Is a Computer Forensics Analyst?
Computer forensics analysts search through storage mediums to uncover erased and encrypted files using recovery and decoding software. These files are then gathered and analyzed as evidence for criminal cases. Most analysts will interact directly with law enforcement.
Computer forensics analysts are adept in retrieving data from computers, network servers, smart devices, and other digital devices. While cybersecurity professionals prevent cyberattacks, computer forensics analysts work after cybercrimes have occurred.
These professionals typically work with law enforcement (local, state, and federal). However, some do work within the private sector at banks, software development companies, law and accounting firms.
Education Requirements for Computer Forensics Analysts
Most computer forensics analyst positions require a bachelor’s degree in computer science, computer forensics, or a related field. It is best to explore all related degrees to determine which one is right for you.
Computer forensic certifications are an important part of the job. Although not required by all positions, the professional certification could boost credentials and legitimize skills. These include:
GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA) credential Certified Forensic Computer Examiner (CFCE) GIAC Advanced Smartphone Forensics (GNFA) IACIS Certified Mobile Device Examiner (ICMDE) AccessData Certified Examiner (ACE)
In addition to the bachelor’s degree, experience is also important. Many degree programs encourage candidates to seek part time jobs or internship opportunities while gaining their bachelor's. Earning a master’s degree could help advance your career by opening up more job options and increasing your salary potential.
Some professionals may find cybersecurity bootcamps helpful in gaining specific tech skills. However, graduating from a bootcamp is not a replacement for earning a degree. Bootcamps may help to boost your resume and provide great avenues for professional networking.
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Experience Requirements for Computer Forensics Analysts
Students should seek out experiential learning opportunities while gaining their degrees through fellowships, internships, and part-time jobs. These experiences help learners gain valuable on-the-job training while still in school.
Many agencies and firms require that candidates have 1-2 years of experience. The skills most employers look for in computer forensics analyst candidates include:
Communication skills Ability to create and organize reports, court testimonies, and other critical investigation-related documentation Critical-thinking skills Attention to detail Understanding of statistics, math, and science Knowledge of various technologies, including digital storage devices, computer operating systems, programming, and malware Knowledge of ethical and legal issues regarding data
Internships help students gain professional experience while attaining a bachelor’s degree in computer forensics or a related field. Some examples of internships include:
Offered in the summer, this computer forensics internship is with the High Technology Investigative Unit (HTIU). Students complete various tasks that contribute to the HTIU’s overall mission.
The FBI Honors Internship Program (Operation Summer) is a competitive summer internship for undergraduate and graduate students. It seeks to match students with assignments that align with their majors and interests.
The DHS offers a lot of internship programs for individuals seeking experience in related fields including working in law enforcement and cybersecurity. Some of these opportunities, like The Secretary’s Honors Program Cyber Student Intern Program builds skills in digital forensics.
Contact your local and state agencies for other possible internship opportunities.
Certification Requirements for Computer Forensics Analysts
While certifications are not technically required, some employers may recommend them for certain computer forensics analyst positions. Several industry certifications to consider are:
- Certified Computer Examiner (CCE): The CCE certification is offered by the International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners. It requires bootcamp training and 18 months of professional experience or documented self study in digital forensics.
- GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA): The GCFA certification covers advanced incident response, memory forensics, digital forensics, threat hunting, and anti-forensics protection.
- GIAC Certified Forensic Examiner (GCFE): People completing this certification must understand Windows forensics, data triage, USB devices, shell items, and email forensics.
- GIAC Network Forensic Analyst (GNFA): Those with a background in computer forensics, computer systems, or IT can take the GNFA exam. It covers network architecture, encryption and encoding, security event and incident logging, and wireless network analysis.
- Certified Digital Forensics Examiner (CDFE): The CDFE certification is issued by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies (NICCS). The exam covers forensic examination, seizure concepts, incident investigation, discovery, and evidence.
The best way to choose which certification to pursue is by looking at the qualifications of desired positions. Certain roles may also require additional training and specific certifications.
How Do I Become a Computer Forensics Analyst?
Becoming a computer forensics analyst involves first graduating from high school or gaining a GED certificate and then enrolling in a bachelor’s program. The program should be in computer forensics, computer science, cybersecurity, or a related field. Note that some criminal justice degrees may be appropriate as well.
During your undergraduate schooling, it is best to gain some professional experience through fellowships, internships, and part-time jobs. This will help you get on-the-job training, which can boost your resume.
After graduating with your degree, candidates should consider any industry certifications that could help increase your competitiveness in the job market. Additionally, 1-2 years of professional experience in computer forensics or a related field may be required, depending on the role.
Steps to Becoming a Computer Forensics Analyst
- Enroll in a Bachelor’s Program: Typically, employers prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree in computer forensics or a related field. Graduates often have foundational knowledge for their chosen career, including technical and legal aspects.
- Gain Experience While in College: Schools often encourage students to gain experience and on-the-job training while in college. Options include internships, fellowships, and part time jobs. Learners can get hands-on training and build the necessary skills to fulfill job requirements.
- Professional Experience: Most positions require 1-2 years of professional experience in addition to educational requirements. Depending on the role, internships and part time positions held during school could be included as a part of that requirement.
- Industry Certifications: In many cases, employers may not require computer forensics certifications. However, these credentials can help applicants stand out and assure employers they have the skill set required for the position.
- Optional Advanced Degree: Some candidates consider getting a master’s in computer forensics to pursue more advanced positions in the field. Other reasons may include gaining more knowledge in the industry and the potential for a salary increase.
Should I Work in Computer Forensics?
As cybercrime becomes more prevalent, so will the demand for skill professionals in fields like computer science, cybersecurity, and computer forensics. Analytically minded individuals that have a desire to protect sensitive data and information may also find computer forensics a good career option.
However, this career can be stressful due to the need to constantly stay ahead of new industry tools and techniques. In addition to continuous learning, computer forensics analysts should also have a keen attention to detail.
Some cybercrime cases could also last for months or years resulting in long hours. This career may not be as glamorous as seen on television, but some consider this a rewarding position that helps safeguard public information.
For those seeking to use their tech savviness to investigate cyberattacks and crimes, computer forensics could be the field for you.
The Job Hunt
Finding a job as a computer forensics analyst could be rather tedious — but also worth it. The most important aspect of your application will be your resume and cover letter. These documents showcase your education and experience, helping you stand out among other candidates.
After creating your resume and cover letter, you can begin the job hunt. Search for positions within federal government agencies, such as the FBI or DHS. Also look into state and local agencies. Other options include working in the private sector with tech companies and law firms.
- FBI Jobs: The FBI has its own job board. Here you can look for jobs in computer forensics or any related field. You can also set notifications for when new jobs are posted.
- Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA): This organization is a part of DHS. They host hiring events and seek candidates of diverse backgrounds.
- USA Jobs: This is the official hiring site for the federal government. There are listings for nearly every agency within the federal government including the military.
- National Security Agency (NSA): The NSA is looking for candidates with a background in computer science and cybersecurity. They also accept applicants with backgrounds in math or intelligence.
- Indeed.com: Indeed.com is a popular resource for finding jobs in many areas. Indeed posts both government and private sector jobs, along with closely related positions.
Resources for Future Computer Forensics Analysts
What Is a Computer Forensics Analyst?
Salary and Career Outlook for Computer Forensics Analysts
Certifications for Computer Forensics Analysts
Bachelor's in Computer Forensics Programs
Master's in Computer Forensics Programs
Additional Questions About Computer Forensics
Should I get a degree in computer forensics or cybersecurity?
Careers in computer forensics and cybersecurity are in high demand due to the increased prevalence of cybercrimes. If you are interested in using your technical skills to protect the public, a degree in computer forensics or cybersecurity could be the best option for you.
Can I learn how to be a computer forensics analyst without a degree?
Most employers prefer computer forensics analysts with bachelor's degrees and 1-2 years of professional experience. However, individuals can learn some of these skills in bootcamps or certificate programs.
Do computer forensics analysts need certifications to get a job?
Some employers may require certifications for employment. Look at job postings to determine which certifications may be required for your desired positions. Certifications can also be helpful when seeking promotions and salary increases.
How long does it take to become a computer forensics analyst?
Becoming a computer forensics analyst requires a bachelor's degree in computer forensics or a related field and several years of professional experience. A typical bachelor's degree spans four years. In total, becoming a computer forensics analyst could take up to six years.
Born and raised in upstate New York, Brian Nichols began his IT education through a vocational high school where he focused on computer science, IT fundamentals, and networking. Brian then went to his local community college, where he received his associate of science in computer information science. He then received his bachelor of science in applied networking and system administration from a private college. Brian now lives in Kansas City, where he works full-time as a DevOps engineer and part-time cybersecurity instructor. He's passionate about cybersecurity and helping students succeed.
Brian Nichols is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.
Page last reviewed Mar 15, 2022
Featured Image: Ezra Bailey / Stone / Getty Images
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