If you're a technical professional with a background in digital forensics, you may be considering ways to move ahead in your career. While you likely already have a strong foundation in fundamental computer forensics skills, it might be time to build on your knowledge and take your career to the next level.
Many of the skills you'll have relied on early on in your career are foundational technical skills, basic digital forensics skills, and key functional skills that can be developed through a computer forensics bachelor's degree. Advanced digital forensics skills use this foundation as a starting point, but allow you to go even deeper in the field to truly become a digital forensics expert. And in an increasingly competitive industry, finding ways to stand out in the field is a smart move.
Here are some of the top advanced digital forensics skills to help you become even better at investigating cyber crime, and to help you take the next step in your growing digital forensics career.
Advanced Digital Forensics Skills to Help Your Career Grow
1. A Strong Understanding of Various Sectors
If you're looking to advance in your career, developing a strong understanding of the role of digital forensics in a variety of sectors - both public and private - and types of investigations, from corporate criminal investigations to anti-terrorism activities, will be key. This is especially true if you've only worked in one or two digital forensics roles: having a broadly applicable skillset, as well as the ability to interface with different types of organizations and agencies during the course of your work, will serve you well.
2. Advanced Investigative Skills
While you likely already have a knack for analytical thinking and an eye for detail, in order to move forward in your career, you'll need to develop advanced investigative skills to more effectively evaluate evidence in the context of increasingly complex digital forensics investigations. This will include leading investigations, managing teams of investigators, and compiling and drawing conclusions from even greater pools of evidence in order to solve complex crimes.
3. Software Development
Your early career will have involved becoming familiar with - and ultimately mastering - a variety of digital forensics tools, and demonstrating your natural technical aptitude through your work. As a next step, gaining software development skills is important: you'll want to learn how to actually program and develop such tools yourself, so your team won't be limited by the constraints of existing or proprietary software.
4. Advanced Communication Skills
Communication skills (along with other key soft skills) are essential in any digital forensics career, regardless of how long you've been working in the field. However, as you progress to more senior roles, you'll need to have even stronger communication skills, to be able to effectively convey the complex information you're working with on a daily basis to both expert and lay audiences. Senior investigators are also more likely to be called upon to present in public, high-pressure settings, such as courtrooms or in the media, so comfort with public speaking is important.
5. Advanced Digital Analysis
While you will likely already have mastered fundamental digital investigation techniques, particularly those relating to the preservation and analysis of digital devices, the next step is to begin developing your own methodologies that build upon - and improve on - the standards of the field. This is how you'll begin to set yourself apart, and make a name for yourself as a leader in the field.
6. Knowledge of a Variety of Devices and Data Types
As you become more experienced in digital forensics, your role will begin to expand to include an even wider variety of devices and data that you'll be required to analyze. These may include PC and server operating systems, portable devices, network traffic, network devices, application software, server software, specialized embedded systems, and malicious software, among others.
7. Advanced Understanding of Criminal Law
While you need a fundamental understanding of law, white collar crime, and criminal investigations to begin a career in computer forensics, senior professionals in the field will need to develop a deeper knowledge of legal issues relating to their sectors and their work - including issues related to civil litigation and the legal principles of digital investigations.
How Do You Build These Advanced Digital Forensics Skills?
While you'll likely develop some of these skills on the job - especially if you're in a workplace that encourages mentorship and allows you to take on new challenges - many digital forensics professionals find it necessary to go back to school in order to further their careers. A master's degree in digital forensics is a natural next step for those looking to deepen their knowledge and qualify for senior roles, as it builds upon existing education, training and experience to turn you into a true expert in digital forensics. You'll get to work with other professionals in the field - your coworkers will also be passionate about digital forensics work, and your instructors will be practitioners who bring their learnings from their work in the field to the classroom.
Choosing the Right Digital Forensics Master's Program
Given the growing popularity of this field, there are an increasing numbers of degree programs available to prospective students, both online and campus-based. Regardless of the mode of learning you prefer, there are several factors you should consider when looking for a digital forensics degree program. You should look for a school that is regionally accredited, non-profit, and has a well-recognized digital forensics program; third-party validation from both the higher education industry (for example, U.S. News & World Report rankings) and the digital forensics industry (such as SC Magazine's rankings) are also important.
If possible, you should also look for a program that has been recognized by the U.S. government. For example, Champlain College has been designated a Center of Academic Excellence by the National Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security, and a DC 3 National Center of Digital Forensics Academic Excellence by the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations. These accreditations and accolades will ensure you're choosing a quality program, and are making a sound investment in your career future.
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