Digital devices are everywhere in society today. These devices include desktop and laptop computers, mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, flash drives, digital cameras, and more. People use digital devices for many activities and to connect with other people. These devices allow people to conveniently conduct business while on the go and access important data when necessary.
Unfortunately, some of these activities are not so innocent. Some people use digital devices to commit crimes that can go undetected for a long time because these devices can enable people to commit crimes anonymously. Cybersecurity is a field that is experiencing growth in employment opportunities. Digital forensics is a field within cybersecurity where professionals use tools to combat digital crimes. Employment opportunities will continue to grow as more people get connected through digital devices around the world.
What is Digital Forensics?
Digital forensics is a branch of forensic science that includes gathering and analyzing evidence to solve crimes. It also involves the identification, recovery, investigation, validation, and presentation of facts regarding digital evidence found on digital media devices. Forensic science involves much more than we often think of when we watch cop shows on TV. Here is some information on what it takes to enter this career field.
What Training is Required?
To work in the digital forensic science field, a candidate should have at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field, including:
• Software development, engineering, or systems
• Data science and analytics
• Computer networking
• Information technology
• Artificial Intelligence
Digital forensics is one of the computer-related forensic science programs that offers an area of specialization. A bachelor’s degree is typically the minimum requirement to become a law enforcement digital forensic professional. Many employers in the private sector prefer individuals who have a Master of Business Administration degree in a computer science-related field. There are also many certificates that digital forensics professionals can obtain to demonstrate their expertise in this field.
Students in a forensic science college or university program with a digital forensic emphasis may complete courses in:
• Computer systems
• Communications and networking
• Web programming
• Digital forensic technology and practices
• Advanced forensics problem-solving in cybersecurity
Many colleges and universities offer forensic science programs through distance learning.
Most employers require computer forensic technicians to have prior work experience in this field or complete on-the-job training before starting their careers. Individuals in this career field benefit the most when they have actual on-the-job work experience. As important as it is to have a degree in this field, Forbes reports that a degree may not be enough. Candidates should possess the following skills for a successful career in this field.
• Analytical skills – The candidate must have the skills needed to study computer systems, assess the risk to these computer systems, and determine how to secure computer systems.
• Computer/tech skills – Most digital forensic work involves desktop computers, laptop computers, mobile phones, storage devices, and other digital devices and information systems. The candidate must be familiar with these devices, stay informed on the newest devices, and understand the latest updates.
• Knowledge of cybersecurity – Cybersecurity involves protecting computers, mobile phones, storage devices, and other digital devices from unauthorized access and criminal use. Digital forensic science is all about solving and preventing cyber crimes.
• Organizational skills – Digital forensics is a demanding job that requires long hours. Digital forensic technicians in law enforcement may need to work well into the night to solve criminal activity as soon as possible. Time management, scheduling, and prioritizing are necessary skills for this career. The forensic technician must be physically and mentally organized so they can present data to others on time.
• Communication skills – The digital forensic professional must be able to communicate freely. They will likely be working with a team consisting of other digital forensic professionals, law enforcement officials, and attorneys. The digital forensic technician must deliver information to people who may have a limited understanding of digital technology. Communicating new ideas while actively listening and observing can help improve career possibilities in this field.
• The desire to learn – Technology continues to grow. New digital products and systems appear at a rapid pace. The digital forensic technician must be willing and able to keep up with the latest trends in digital technology and receive training as needed.
Getting certifications in this career is very important. Upon graduating from either an undergraduate or graduate forensic science program, the candidate can pursue the following certifications:
• Certified Computer Forensic Examiner (CCFE) – Candidates for this certificate take an exam that shows their understanding of computer forensic evidence recovery and analysis. They must have a foundational understanding of legal issues related to computer forensics. The CCFE exam consists of several domains, including computer forensic tools, file system forensics, the investigation process, evidence recovery, and report writing.
The CCFE has two parts. The first part has 50 multiple-choice and true/false questions. When candidates pass this section, they can move on to the practical file portion of the exam. This file presents a mock computer forensics case where candidates perform a computer forensics exam, write a suitable report to present in a court of law, and submit it within 60 days.
• Certified Computer Examiner (CCE) – Many private companies and government agencies require their digital forensic professionals to have the universally recognized CCE certification. The exam for this certification measures the competency of computer forensic examiners. Candidates must demonstrate a high level of skills and abilities related to the practice of digital forensics.
The CCE exam is a multistep process. The candidates have two opportunities to score 70% or higher or higher on each portion of the exam. A candidate cannot proceed if they do not achieve this score on any step of the exam. This four-part exam consists of an Online Written Exam, two Practical Exams, and a Practical Media Exam. It takes up to 90 days to complete the CCE certification exam.
• Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator (CHFI) – A computer hacking forensic investigator detects hacking attacks, extracts evidence of the crime, and conducts audits to prevent future hacking attacks. Candidates in the CHFI program must demonstrate their knowledge of the tools and techniques of digital forensics, computer investigations, and computer data recovery. CHFI candidates must also demonstrate their ability to recover deleted, encrypted, or damaged files and determine the viability of potential legal evidence.
The CHFI exam consists of 150 questions and has a four-hour time limit. Candidates for this exam include law enforcement personnel, IT professionals, government agency staff, military personnel, and systems administrators.
• Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA) – A candidate for the GIAC certified forensic analyst exam must demonstrate the ability to conduct investigations regarding data breaches and persistent digital threats. Some of the areas covered in the exam include digital forensics, advanced incident response, memory forensics, timeline analysis, and anti-forensics detection. The exam is three hours long and has 82 – 115 questions. Candidates must successfully solve real-life, hands-on, practical scenarios with computer programs, codes, and virtual machines.
• Certified Forensic Examiner (GCFE) – Windows is a widely used computer operating system. The GIAC Certified Forensic Examiner exam measures a candidate’s knowledge of collecting and analyzing data from Windows computer systems. This knowledge includes Windows forensic analysis, advanced web browser forensics, evidence acquisition, e-Discovery, and user and activity tracking on Windows operating systems. The exam format consists of one proctored exam with 115 questions with a three-hour time limit.
• AccessData Certified Examiner (ACE) – An AccessData Certified Examiner demonstrates proficiency in using the AccessData Forensic Toolkit. The exam for this certification does not test a candidate’s knowledge of digital forensic investigations. The candidate should have some experience using the AccessData Forensic Toolkit before taking the exam. The three-hour exam consists of 25 questions. The candidate is given a case where they process evidence using the toolkit.
• EnCase Certified Examiner (EnCE) – This exam certifies digital forensic professionals in using the OpenText EnCase forensic software. A candidate for this exam must have 64 hours of authorized computer forensic training or 12 months of computer forensic work experience. The EnCE exam consists of a two-hour written exam and an 18-question practical exam. Candidates cannot take the practical exam unless they pass the written exam.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment growth of about 16 percent for forensic science professionals from 2020 through 2030. This growth is twice the rate for all occupations. They also expect to see about 2,700 job openings in this field over the next decade. The median annual salary of a forensic scientist is about $60,590 as of May 2020, and the highest wage earners can earn a salary of over $100,000.
Graduates of a computer forensics program with a digital forensic concentration may find careers working in the following:
• Cybersecurity office – Many private industries, government agencies, academia, and non-profit organizations have a division devoted to cybersecurity and protecting their computer systems. These agencies and organizations need people who understand cyberspace and its underlying infrastructure to protect against cyber threats and hazards. Knowing how to strengthen the security and resilience of computer systems is a vital skill that employers need.
• Digital forensic investigator – These professionals reconstruct and analyze digital information to help law enforcement agencies solve computer-related crimes. Digital forensic investigators can work full-time for private sector companies or government agencies, or they can work with them on a contractual basis. They help law enforcement agencies investigate in-house personnel and external criminal perpetrators. Some of the job duties of a digital forensic investigator include tracing computer hacks, gathering and maintaining evidence, writing investigative reports, and recovering data from hard drives.
• Crime analyst – A criminal analyst collects data to help law enforcement agencies identify crime patterns. This data helps law enforcement agencies allocate policing resources where they are most needed. A criminal analyst will use various resources to collect data, including crime mapping technology and computer-aided police dispatch reports. They also gather and analyze crime statistics and research long-term criminal trends. Crime analysts are generally civilian non-sworn members of law enforcement.
• Business intelligence analyst – Businesses need information about consumer shopping habits to put more resources into products and services the consumers purchase the most. A business intelligence analyst provides companies with consumer spending trends to help managers and executives make business decisions. Some of the duties of a business intelligence analyst include collecting and reviewing customer spending data, deploying information to a data warehouse, monitoring analytics and metrics results, and implementing new data analysis methodologies.
• Computer forensic investigator – Professionals in this field work with law enforcement and private companies to recover information from digital devices, such as computers. Viruses and other hacking activities corrupt these devices. Digital forensic specialists have a general knowledge of networking systems, hard drives, and encryption. Some of their job duties include dismantling and rebuilding systems to recover data, writing reports about recovered evidence, testifying in court about the evidence, and staying current on new forensic technology and methodologies.
• Computer systems analyst – A computer systems analyst works with an organization’s IT department to help them understand how a computer system can best help the organization. They may supervise the installation or upgrade of a computer system and help resolve any issues with the new system. Some of the duties of a computer system analyst include researching new technologies for an organization, preparing cost/benefit analysis of new IT systems, designing and implementing new systems, training users on the new system, and writing instructional manuals.
• Homeland security professional – The sole purpose of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is to protect the country and its citizens. There are many career opportunities for digital forensic professionals in one of the many agencies in this department. Some of the agencies in the DHS include the CIA, FBI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Secret Service.
• Academia – Computer science is a rapidly growing field. Students understand the growing importance of digital devices for work and study, and many are choosing to go into this field. There are many teaching opportunities at the collegiate level for digital forensic technicians to teach students who are looking to pursue a career in this field. Experienced digital forensic technicians can also work as trainers and give seminars to law enforcement officials and corporate executives about cybersecurity and digital forensics.
Digital and computer forensic science technicians work at government jobs, medical facilities, private companies, and law enforcement. These professionals have a lot to do because the volume and complexity of cyberattacks grow every year. Digital technology continues to grow every year with new technologies appearing at a rapid pace. Digital forensics is a rewarding, in-demand field because everything is turning to a digital format.