How to Become a Digital Forensic Examiner

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Without a doubt, technology is advancing at an increasingly rapid pace. In today's high-tech world, industries are either leading the way or playing catch up. This is no less true for law enforcement and criminology careers, as more and more opportunities are available for technologically-inclined criminals to commit crimes online. If you want to play a role in fighting these cybercrimes, then you'll want to know how to become a digital forensic examiner.

Why Become a Computer Forensics Analyst?

From complex financial fraud to heinous crimes like exploitation, human trafficking, and child pornography, computers are playing a larger and larger role in how, when, and why crimes are committed. They're also playing a huge role in gathering evidence and successfully prosecuting those crimes, which is why experts who can collect, restore and analyze that evidence are so vital to today's criminal investigators and detectives, and why digital forensic examiners are so highly sought after within the criminal justice and criminology field.

Who Hires Digital Forensic Examiners?

You can find work as a computer forensics expert in a variety of places, including government agencies such as police departments and investigative bureaus. Private companies also employ digital forensics examiners to maintain security for their computer systems, and private investigators and law firms often contract with digital investigators.

The increasing demand and high level of competency required for these jobs have made them very lucrative, with analysts able to earn more than $100,000 annually in some cases.

Getting Started as a Digital Forensics Expert

As important as digital forensics jobs are, it's not an easy field to break into. It takes hard work, loads of learning, and plenty of perseverance and dedication. While there are no universal qualifications, there are some general guidelines that can give you an idea of what employers are looking for. To be successful in your job search, you'll need to build a resume that includes relevant education, experience, and skills.

Education Requirements for Computer Forensics Analysts

The Cyber Team at the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigations offers a list of preferred degrees for their program. This list serves as a great guide for what degree programs you should pursue if you want to find a job in digital forensics. The most beneficial degrees for computer forensics experts include:

  • Computer and Digital Forensics
  • Computer and Information Security
  • Computer Forensics
  • Digital Investigations
  • Computer Information Technology Education
  • Computer Security
  • Computer Science
  • Computer, Electrical or Software Engineering
  • Computer Technician
  • Cyber Security
  • Database Development
  • Enterprise Computing
  • Digital Investigations Management

These are just a few of the degrees that can help you on your career path, but they are the most relevant and provide the most direct practical learning and experience you'll need to get a head start on the job hunt.

Required Experience for Digital Forensics Experts

If you've conducted any search for job listings for digital forensics experts, you've probably noticed that most employers expect you to already have experience. Obviously, that can pose a problem for someone fresh out of school. If you can't get a job without experience, and you can't get experience without a job, what's an aspiring computer forensics examiner to do?

The good news is that your work experience doesn't have to be directly related to digital forensics. If you have experience working on computer systems or hardware, or in computer programming or other related fields, this can help meet those past work history requirements.

You can also gain experience by starting out as a police officer and working your way up into a specialty position such as a detective or investigator. This will provide invaluable investigative skills and experience that, when combined with a computer-related degree, will make you a very attractive candidate for more lucrative private contracting jobs.

Working as a Digital Forensics Expert or Investigator

A career as a digital forensics expert can be very financially rewarding, but it can also be very taxing. Many experts currently working in the field, especially for law enforcement entities, report that a bulk of their investigations include having to look at horrible images and videos and scouring text messages and emails. It can be very tough mentally and emotionally at times.

While there's no set career path, you can check with individual agencies to learn more about their specific requirements. In the meantime, with the right combination of education and experience, you can set yourself up for a worthwhile and financially rewarding career as a digital forensic computer expert.