With the increasing rate of cybercrimes, the need for forensic computer professionals who will investigate data breaches, security incidents, and criminal activity can’t be overemphasized. With good analytical skills, you will succeed in a forensic computer analyst career.
Forensic analysts examine and analyze digital data as a science that can be used in the legal system. They use techniques to gather and preserve evidence from a particular computing device in a way suitable for presentation in a court of law. Though much forensic work applies to criminal cases, sometimes it applies to civil proceedings as well.
What is Computer Forensics?
According to Wikipedia, Computer forensic science is a branch of digital forensic science about evidence found in computers and digital storage media. It is the information security branch of law enforcement and is closely related to forensic science and criminal justice work.
Computer forensics aims to examine digital media in a forensically sound manner to identify, preserve, recover, analyze, and present facts and opinions about digital information.
Who is a Forensic Computer Analyst?
A Forensic Computer Analyst is a specially trained professional who works with law enforcement agencies and private firms to retrieve information from computers. Computer Forensics Analysts are also called computer forensics investigators, examiners, or specialists.
Computer forensic analysts combine their computer science knowledge with their forensic skills to recover information from computers and storage devices. In addition, they are responsible for assisting law enforcement officers with cyber crimes and retrieving evidence.
Furthermore, forensic computer analysts are also responsible for following all safety and privacy procedures when handling sensitive financial or personal information such as documents, videos, or pictures. Additionally, they must handle and receive evidence carefully and keep accurate records of duties performed.
What are the Qualities of a Computer Forensic Analyst?
Computer forensic analysis involves the proper handling of all digital media involved in criminal cases. To do this, the following skill sets will be required from a prospective computer forensic analyst:
- IT skills
- Analytics skills
- Attention to detail
- Communication skills
- Organizational skills
- Problem-solving and creativity skills
- Time management
- Personal Character
- Security Clearance
#1. IT Skills
To become a computer forensic analyst, you have an interest in technology and the desire to learn to stay abreast of the latest technological advances constantly.
Furthermore, you must be familiar with standard computer operating systems, networks, hardware, security software, and document-creation applications. In addition, you must understand operating systems, e.g., Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.
#2. Analytics Skills
Computer Forensic Analysts should be able to interpret complex information from various sources and decide the best way to move forward on a project. They must also figure out how changes may affect the project.
Forensic computer analysts need to interpret complex information from various sources and decide the best way to move forward in a project. They must also understand how changes can affect the project.
#3. Attention to Details
To analyze a thing or situation, it is of the essence that whoever is carrying out the tasks pays attention even to the minutest detail. This will help them accurately analyze the object or situation.
This also applies to Computer forensic analysis; the Analyst must pay full attention to the process to make good decisions. In addition, the Analyst should have an enquiring, investigative mindset with excellent attention to detail.
Furthermore, the computer forensic investigator or examiner must be able to identify patterns or trends across large amounts of data.
#4. Communication Skills
Generally, analysts work as a go-between between management and the IT department and must explain complex issues in a way both will understand.
The computer forensic analyst should have good written and verbal communication skills for reporting findings and conveying technical information to technical and non-technical people. Analysts should be able to interact and communicate effectively with various people.
#5. Organizational Skills
A computer forensic analyst should have patience and a systematic and well-organized approach to work.
#6. Problem-solving And Creativity Skills
Because analysts are tasked with finding innovative solutions to computer problems, an ability to “think outside the box” is important.
#7. Time Management
Computer Forensic Analysts should be good time managers. Cases under their care should be done, and results also reported as and when due.
Also, they should be apt to work under pressure and to deadlines.
#8. Personal Character
Computer forensic analysts should have integrity. Also, they should be impartial and compliant with issues of confidentiality.
#9. Security Clearance
This may be necessary if the Analyst has access to sensitive information.
What Does A Forensic Computer Analyst Do?
The job of a forensic computer analyst is to use a range of specialized methods and techniques to retrieve and analyze data linked to a range of criminal activities.
- Network intrusions
- Online fraud
- Political, industrial, and commercial espionage
- Terrorist communication
- Theft of confidential information
Haven seen the crimes, below are some of the responsibilities and roles of a Forensics Computer Analysts:
- Conduct investigations on data breaches and security incidents.
- Retrieve and examine data from computers and electronic storage devices.
- Dismantle and rebuild damaged systems to recover lost data.
- Identify additional systems/networks compromised by cyber attacks.
- Compile evidence for legal cases.
- Draft technical reports, write declarations, and prepare evidence for trial.
- Provide expert counsel to attorneys about electronic evidence in a case.
- Advise law enforcement on the credibility of acquired data.
- Provide expert testimony at court proceedings.
- Train law enforcement officers on computer evidence procedures.
- Keep abreast of emerging technologies, software, and methodologies.
- Remain proficient in forensic, response, and reverse engineering skills.
Steps A Forensic Computer Analyst Takes While Carrying Out an Investigation
Below is a summary of the steps a Forensics Computer Analysts is most likely going to take while carrying out their duties:
- Firstly, during criminal investigations, an analyst recovers and examines data from computers and other electronic storage devices to use the data as evidence in criminal prosecutions.
- When the equipment is damaged, the Analyst must dismantle and rebuild the system to recover lost data.
- Following data retrieval, the Analyst writes technical reports detailing how the computer evidence was discovered and the steps taken during recovery.
- The Analyst also testified before the court regarding the evidence they collected.
- The Analyst keeps current on new methodologies and forensic technology and trains law enforcement officers on proper procedure about computer evidence.
How Can I Become A Computer Forensic Analyst?
Below are the steps you can follow to become a computer forensic analyst:
- Earn a degree and/or gain experience in a related field.
- Get a certification from a certifying body.
- Apply for an open position as a computer forensics investigator.
- Complete an interview.
- Get hired as a computer forensics investigator.
- Receive training on the job once hired.
#1. Earn a Degree And/Or Gain Experience in a Related Field
Prospective computer forensic analysts should earn a degree in information technology, computer science, or any related field. At the very minimum, a person who wants to pursue a career as a computer forensic analyst should earn at least an associate’s degree in a field such as computer forensics, criminal justice, forensic computing, or another area of computer major with a specialization in digital forensics.
However, most places of employment prefer those with a bachelor’s degree in one of these fields. Also, a good understanding of how computers operate is necessary to succeed in this field.
#2. Educational Requirements for Computer Forensic Analysts
Typically, a 4-year degree, such as a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology or Computer Science, is required to begin a career as a computer forensic analyst. In addition, undergraduate studies in accounting and criminal justice can also help prepare analysts for the skills and experience they need in the workplace.
As an emerging program, just a few colleges and universities offer computer forensics programs. However, most computer forensic analysts learn advanced investigative techniques after obtaining a degree in a related subject.
What Degree Programs Do You Need For Computer Forensics?
A computer forensics degree will help prospective professionals gain the skills and knowledge needed to pursue employment in this rapidly changing and competitive field. Below are some of the available degree programs available in computer forensics:
- Associate Degree in Computer Forensics
- Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Forensics
- Masters’s Degree in Computer Forensics
#1. Associate Degree in Computer Forensics
An associate’s degree program in computer forensics is designed to prepare individuals for entry-level jobs in digital security. The program covers the criminal justice system, including courtroom procedures, search and seizure regulations, and computer networking and security. Also, the curriculum includes internship programs where students work as apprentice computer forensics technicians under direct supervision.
Coursework covers the following:
- Criminal law
- Computer networking
- Introductory criminal justice
Typically, associate’s degree programs in computer forensics last for two years.
#2. Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Forensics
Students enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program in computer forensics learn the basic skills to detect and prevent digital crime. The program covers the methods and means of information technology management and digital evidence investigative procedures. Students also explore the latest software tools for collecting and analyzing computer forensic evidence.
A bachelors degree in computer forensics program coursework will cover the following:
- Digital evidence laws
- Digital forensics research
- Forensic science history
- Networking and security
- Website Safety
Bachelor’s degree programs in computer forensics can be completed in 4 to 5 years.
#3. Master’s Degree in Computer Forensics
Master of Science in Computer Forensics degree programs covers advanced techniques to spot, stop and solve cybercrime attacks.
Typically, some computer forensics master’s degree programs are designed for working computer security or forensics professionals who seek higher-paying employment opportunities.
Also, most master’s degree programs in computer forensics feature a graduate thesis or research project as a final graduation requirement.
Generally, the program of a master’s degree program in computer forensics covers a few elective requirements and covers the following coursework:
- Advanced digital evidence collection techniques
- Digital evidence processing
- Software vulnerability
- Theories and methods of investigative analysis
- Wireless security
A master’s degree in computer forensics can be earned in two years.
#4. Computer Forensic Analysts Certification
Although certification is not necessary for finding employment, most employers prefer candidates who have received certificates from one of several groups. Below are some of the computer Forensic bodies that offer certification:
- International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (IACIS)
- The International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners (ISFCE)
- Global Information Assurance Certification group (GIAC)
#1. Global Information Assurance Certification Group – GIAC
Founded in 1999, GIAC validates the skills of information security professionals. The mission of GIAC is to assure employers that their people and prospective hires can do the job. GIAC certifications are trusted by many companies and government agencies, including the United States National Security Agency (NSA). GIAC offers the Certified Forensic Analyst certification to candidates who can pass a 115-question examination. Click on the link below for more certifications by GIAC open to forensic computer analysts.
GIAC FORENSIC CERTIFICATION
#2. International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (IACIS)
Created in 1989, the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists is a world leader in digital forensic training and qualification. IACIS certification programs are meticulously designed around a comprehensive set of core forensic principles that attest to entry-level and specialized forensic competency. IACIS awards the Certified Forensic Computer Examiner(CFCE) certification to analysts who pass their examinations. For more information on IACIS forensic computer analysts certification.
ACIS FORENSIC CERTIFICATION
#3. The International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners (ISFCE)
The International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners (ISFCE) is a private organization dedicated to providing a compelling, internationally recognized, and world-class computer forensics certification available to anyone who qualifies for a reasonable cost.
The principal certificate offered by ISFCE is the Certified Computer Examiner (CCE). You will need board-approved training, professional experience, study, and passing an exam to get this certification. This certification must be renewed every three years. For more information on this ISFCE certification open to forensic computer analysts, click the link below.
ISFCE FORENSIC QUALIFICATION
Furthermore, analysts can also earn Advanced Computer System Security, Computer Forensics, or Advanced Computer Forensic certification through Cyber Enforcement Resources Incorporated by passing their examination and showing proof of adequate work experience or training. This certification does not require renewal.
What is the Job Outlook of Computer Forensic Analysts?
The two job descriptions closest to that of a computer forensic analyst in the occupational outlook handling of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics are the computer system analyst and the information security analyst. Therefore, we will be looking into the career outlook of the two.
From the report, the employment of computer systems analysts is projected to grow 9 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations. The further adoption of cloud computing by both large and small businesses and the increasing use of IT services in healthcare settings are expected to increase demand for these workers.
On the other hand, the employment of information security analysts is expected to grow 32 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. This is because these analysts will be needed to create innovative solutions to prevent hackers from stealing critical information or causing problems for computer networks.
The two career projections above show that the need for a forensic computer analyst will be very high as the world gets computerized and cybercrimes exist.
How much do Computer Forensic Analysts Earn?
From the report of the US BLS, the median annual wage for computer systems analysts was $88,740 in May 2018. In other words, computer analysts earn $42.66 per hour. Meanwhile, the median annual wage for information security analysts is $98,350. That is, they earn an hourly wage of $47.28 per hour.
According to Glassdoor, the national average salary for a Computer Forensic Analyst is $96,629 in the United States.
On the other hand, Payscale reports that forensic computer analysts earn an average annual salary of $72,019. That is, they earn an hourly wage of $27.64.
Where do Computer Forensic Analysts Work?
Generally, computer forensic analysts, examiners, investigators, specialists, and other forensic professionals work for law enforcement agencies and computer forensic companies specializing in digital forensic investigations.
Below is a list of workplaces where computer forensic professionals can work:
- Financial service organizations – such as banks and accountancy firms.
- Forensic computing companies and consultancies.
- Government agencies and departments – both national and regional.
- Government intelligence services – for instance, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in the Uk.
- IT and telecommunications companies.
- Police forces and law enforcement agencies – such as the National Crime Agency (NCA).
- The public sector – including the health sector.
What is the Work Schedule of a Computer Forensic Analyst?
Generally, computer forensics examiners work a typical full-time workweek; working hours range from 35 to 40 per week. However, as an analyst, you must be flexible as exact hours will depend on the assignment or investigation you are working on.
For instance, the employer may require the forensic computer specialist to be on call and available to work evenings and/or weekends in the event of an emergency.
Also, some organizations require 24/7 coverage, with staff working on a call-out rota. This allows for fast responses to information and cybersecurity or criminal incidents.
Computer Forensic Tools
Developers have created many computer forensics tools for better research, investigation, and analysis. Police departments, law enforcement, and investigation agencies select the tools based on various factors, including budget and available experts on the team.
Computer forensics tools can also be grouped into various categories:
- Disk and data capture tools
- File Viewers
- File analysis tools
- Registry analysis tools
- Internet analysis tools
- Email analysis tools
- Mobile devices analysis tools
- Mac OS analysis tools
- Network forensics tools
- Database forensics tools
Notwithstanding, here are some popular tools that a computer analyst can use. Do well to click on any of them to know more.
- SANS SIFT
- ProDiscover Forensic
- Volatility Framework
- X-Ways Forensics
- The Sleuth Kit (+Autopsy)
FAQs on the Forensic Computer Analyst
A career in computer forensics is a good option. With a positive career projection above the average rate for other careers as reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and the salaries as projected by Payscale, Glassdoor, and the US BLS, pursuing a career as a computer forensic analyst will not be a bad idea.
A bachelor’s degree program in computer forensics typically takes 4 to 5 years to complete. However, a master’s degree program will take at most two years to complete.
With a degree in computer forensics, you can work as one of the following:
Computer Forensics Investigator.
Computer Forensics Technician.
Information Security Analyst.
Information Systems Security Analyst.
Forensic Computer Analyst.
Generally, computer forensics examiners work a typical full-time workweek; working hours range from 35 to 40 per week. However, they will need to be flexible as exact hours will depend on the type of assignment or investigation they are working on.
As seen above, computer forensic analysts assist law enforcement officers with cyber crimes by retrieving and analyzing evidence. They help to fight cybercrimes by combining their computer science knowledge with their forensic skills to recover information from computers and storage devices.
To become one, you must earn a degree in forensic science, computer science, or any IT-related field. Also, getting certification from the appropriate bodies and having the appropriate skill sets will be a plus.
The information above helps in making your decisions.
Good Luck and Success!!!