Forensic science is a vast field with lots of fieldwork as well as data analysis. With computers to aid, a forensic expert’s job has become more interesting and vital in investigating cybercrimes as well as other crimes.
As said, the job description of computer forensics experts entails, they can be forensics investigators, data analysts, forensics engineers, or examiners, depending on the company they’re working for. Talking about companies you’ll be working for, it can be a law firm, an international firm, a big corporation, or a government organization focused on computer forensics.
They’re responsible for investigating security breaches, fake or illegal online transactions, hacking, and other related crimes meticulously.
Interesting, isn’t it? If you have that Sherlock Holmes in you that always forces you to dig deep into issues and find out its root cause, the forensic expert job offers a lot of exciting challenges.
Before anything, you have to fulfill the basic job requirements, and this post will help you fulfill those.
So let’s dig in!
What Does A Forensic Expert Do?
As far as the job title is concerned, the forensic expert is supposed to recover, examine, and provide valuable insights on the pieces of evidence for cybercrimes. If you’re connecting dots, you’ll know that investigating and retrieving such evidence requires IT knowledge, which is the most basic requirement.
Since you have to work on several different devices and software, you should know how to use those devices to dismantle and reconstruct the security systems. Plus, you should have a keen sense of tracing the evidence down to its core – the initial breach.
From there, you can easily identify the weakness in the system and take measures to strengthen it.
Identifying the breach and knowing its cause is just the start you needed. The next step is to report that cybercrime evidence to the decision-makers, i.e., executives, lawyers, judges, law enforcement authorities, and others. Keep in mind that the reports must be well-organized with clear and easy-to-comprehend facts to aid these people in concluding.
To add, you might be asked to present the report in front of them and provide satisfactory answers to their questions. Also, you might have to serve a witness expert in court.
Under normal circumstances, as a computer forensic expert, you’ll be working with implementers and executives and advise them on how to strengthen the system’s security. Besides, you’ll be training the company’s employees on security matters.
If you’re an out-of-the-box thinker, you may want to develop and monetize an app meant for detecting cybercrimes. Reputable companies will hire you to prevent information or financial thefts to save their prominence and financial standing.
As a forensic professional, you can learn many techniques on your own, although, you need a set of undergraduate degrees in the following:
- Computer science
- Information technology
Make sure you also take up courses on security issues and policies along with networking. You need to possess excellent computer skills in order to succeed. Additionally, you need to have a good understanding of the law and its enforcement. As a forensic professional, ensure to work upon your writing and communication skills for the board handling. Efficiency, determination, and enthusiasm may enable you to enjoy the essence of this work experience.
Just like every other career, a forensic expert requires a set of skills.
First, you need to possess great communication skills. This is important since you will be working with a collaboration of professionals at times. To add, you need to have substantial analytical and organizing skills. These traits will help you in effectively analyzing, organizing, and then presenting the findings of a cybercrime. In times when you will be working independently, you need a certain degree of self-discipline and self-motivation. By adhering to these skills, you can better comprehend the behaviors of those cybercriminals.
To deal with operating systems and computer software and hardware, you need to be proficient in CS and IT knowledge. UNIX/Linux, MS Windows, programming languages, and networks should be on your running fingertips. You need to have a professional understanding of ITIL and COBIt frameworks, ISO levels, and particular security system technologies. A set of hard skills like evidence control, usage of eDiscovery tools, and cryptography application are essential. On the other hand, software skills include the knowledge of Encase, FTK, Cellebrite, and Helix.
A bachelor’s degree in forensics will be a combination of IT and law programs. Courses will include white-collar crimes, criminal investigations, criminal procedures, and criminal laws. Whereas operating systems, fundamentals of networks, and Python will be covered in a computer science course. Since it’s related to cybersecurity, the IT forensic courses cover three key areas:
Operating system forensics
As a forensic examiner, you’re supposed to know different types of operating systems, file systems, and a wide range of tools that aid in the suspected machine’s forensic examination. You can track valuable information from those modern-day operating systems, to use as evidence during a forensic investigation. So, this domain will give you sufficient information on the latest operating systems, such as Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Android, iOS, etc. You’ll learn forensic examination steps, data acquisition methods, and analysis of the operating system.
Digital forensics analysis
This part of the course offers insights on the digital data that can be retrieved and used in a forensic investigation. You’ll learn how to determine the scope of investigation by enquiring about the focus of examination, nature of the matter, the time when the events happened. Digital forensics analysis involves examining logical or deleted data, data leakages, and keywords.
This part of the course deals with investigating the ability of the malware to affect the security of your system. You’ll learn to investigate how the malware spread, what actions it has carried out, and how you can track down the attacker through it. Usually, you’ll be learning about email and browser forensics, network forensics, and other related aspects. But more importantly, you’ll get a great deal of knowledge about different malicious software in practice, including Spyware, Adware, Virus, Trojan, and the likes. If you want to include a forensics experience in your resume, you can enroll yourself in a variety of internship programs. Besides getting experience, the on-field exposure will keep you updated with the latest trends in cybercrimes.
The job experience for a forensic expert can fluctuate as per your employer, location, position, and industry. However, if you are opting for an entry-level position, you need to have a minimum of three years’ experience. Although, as a senior forensic analyst, you need to gain a maximum of five years of experience or even more, you need to opt for relevant internships and certification to add to your resume. The more the experience you possess, the higher the position you achieve. After you complete your education, you will have to actively participate in workshops and training sessions. These workshops will be based on methods of handling and analyzing particulars and courtroom evidence. Every now and then, you will have to take classes to stay updated with the latest developments and advancements.
To add to your credentials, like a forensic specialist, you will surely not mind opting for any optional certifications. Basically, there are two types of certifications:
These certifications encompass best practices related to a specific field, like project management or security management. You’ll get general information related to that field, which can really improve your chances of getting an entry-level position. There are different vendor-neutral certifications, including the following:
- Certified Forensic Computer Examiner (CFCE); offered by The International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists, commonly known as IACIS
- Certified Computer Examiner (CCE); by International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners (ISFCE)
- Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC); you can get five GIAC certifications in the field of digital forensics, such as Reverse Engineering Forensics, Certified Forensic Analyst, Network Forensic Analyst, Advanced Smartphone Forensics, etc. These programs are run by SANS (SysAdmin, Audit, Network Security) institute.
Vendor-specific certifications are offered by different vendors who provide computer forensic tools. Getting any of these certifications means you’re an expert in using their forensic applications. At present, there are two most popular vendor-specific certifications:
- AccessData Certified Examiner (ACE)
- EnCase Certified Engineer (EnCE)
- Certified information security manager
- GIAC incident handler
- Certified information system auditor
- Certified penetration tester
- Certified ethical hacker
- Offensive security certified professional
Career Path For A Forensic Expert
The career path of a computer forensic expert, digital forensic expert or IT forensic expert is not as straightforward as it may feel. Besides having a good understanding of computer systems, you should always be ready to upgrade your knowledge base with the latest trends.
Although graduation in IT or CS would give you a good start, you need to continuously improve your field-related education through additional courses, workshops, training programs, graduate degree programs, and of course, certifications.
At the same time, develop your work-related experience as an intern or an entry-level IT technician. You can find a lot of such opportunities with these vendors:
- ISFCE (International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners)
- IACIS (International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists)
These organizations offer skill enhancement, career opportunities, on-field training, and jobs to the interested candidates. With a graduate degree, sufficient work experience, and job-meeting skills, you can get a position as a junior forensic analyst or entry-level technician.
A period 2-3 good years as a junior analyst will give you enough experience to get hired as a security crime investigator, forensic engineer, or digital crime specialist.
With the right amount of experience and certifications, you can get a post of a senior analyst or even a forensic manager.
Expected Salary for A Forensic Expert
As a forensics expert, your salary may differ given the industry and employer you work for. Your position status is highly accountable for your salary bracket. To aim for a higher salary package, you need to have good work experience and credentials in your resume. You may make a handsome amount as a forensic analyst of an upper-level. Interestingly, mid-level professionals earn a good salary package too. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the calculated data showed a salary amount of $98,350 per annum in 2018. This is twice the annual amount of wage-based occupations. Huge job opportunities have been promised, especially between 2018 and 2028, with a 14% increment. This clearly shows an average of 5.2% growth rate in comparison to other occupations. Forensic experts are mostly hired by the state as well as local government agencies. Forensic analysts have been found to earn the highest salary packages in the below-mentioned regions:
- New York
Which traits should you require to become a forensic expert?
To become a computer forensic expert, you need to have logical skills. To go with that, you should be able to communicate your findings easily. Your problem-solving skills count a lot. The world of IT keeps changing with time. So, you need to be always ready to bag new certifications, training, and courses and improve your knowledge.
Is it a regular 9-5 job?
No, it’s not. Based on the circumstances, you need to stay back and work for extra hours.
Can I become a freelance forensic expert?
Yes, you can, but not without experience. Since it’s about digital forensics, you need to stay updated with the latest trends and get as much experience as you can. Besides, if you get a vendor-specific certification, you’ll have opportunities to render your expertise as a freelancer.
A forensic expert professional has serious job duties to cater to. As exciting as it may sound, it requires a great amount of input and hard work. It requires a great deal of mental stability, competence, and an ability to dig deeper into the subject matter.
If you’re an undergraduate, we’d recommend you should complete your graduation in IT with majors in networking, operating system or software; otherwise, you’ll have to work on getting extra credentials. These certifications, workshops, and experiences will help you earn a better job position.
The above article consists of all the essential information that you need for your aspiring career. With the right set of expertise, skills, certifications, and education, you are not far away from your goal.