Do you think a career in computer forensics might be for you? Computer forensics is an increasingly popular field with plenty of opportunity for advancement, offering high median salaries, job opportunities in a variety of sectors, and a challenging, fast-paced work environment.
If you're excited by the prospect of investigating cyber crime, but aren't sure if you're right for the job, it's important to do your research on the field, learn more about what typical computer forensics jobs look like, and to find out what skills you'll need to succeed.
Those pursuing a career in this field will need to have a specific set of digital forensics skills: technical, professional, and functional. Take a look at our top computer forensics skills list to see if you have what it takes to become a computer forensics specialist.
Top Skills Needed for Computer Forensics Jobs
1. Technical Aptitude
As the name implies, computer forensics jobs are technology-focused: you'll need to work across a variety of technologies, from computers to mobile devices and operating systems, to identify and respond to security breaches and network hacks.
2. Attention to Detail
As an investigator, you'll need to be detail-oriented in order to carefully sort through significant amounts of data to uncover and examine digital evidence. Thoroughness and a keen eye for detail are essential computer forensics skills.
3. An Understanding of Law and Criminal Investigation
Computer forensics is just as much about criminal investigation as it is about technology. You'll need to have a strong understanding of white-collar crime, criminal law, and criminal investigation - skills that can all be built through a degree in computer forensics.
4. Communication Skills
As an investigator, you'll often be called upon to explicate your findings to others within your organization, or even to a courtroom as part of a criminal case. Communication skills (along with other key soft skills) in computer forensics are essential: you'll need to be able to convey technical information clearly and concisely to individuals of different levels of technical comprehension.
5. Comprehension of Cybersecurity Fundamentals
While cybersecurity and computer forensics are two separate fields, they're closely related—and having a foundation in cybersecurity can help you excel in your computer forensics career. To be able to effectively solve digital crimes, you'll need to have a solid understanding of the tactics criminals use to breach systems, and how cybersecurity professionals work to prevent such attacks. Most computer forensics degree programs will have a cybersecurity component for this reason.
6. Analytical Skills
Having a natural aptitude for analytical thinking is a must for anyone considering a career in computer forensics. As an investigator, you'll need to analyze evidence, observe situations closely, notice patterns and discrepancies, interpret data, and ultimately, solve crimes - all of which require a high level of analytical ability.
7. A Desire to Learn
As with any technical field, computer forensics is fast-changing. Anyone who works in the field will need to be committed to keeping current with best practices and emerging industry trends, and will always need to be learning and self-educating - both on and off the clock.
8. Ability to Work with Challenging Material
Many computer forensic specialists - particularly those working in law enforcement roles - are required to conduct investigations that involve offensive or disturbing material. The ability to work with such challenging content on a regular basis is important.
How Do You Build Computer Forensics Skills?
While some of the skills listed above are ones you should naturally have - for example, a natural inclination for analytical thinking and technology - others are ones you will need to develop through formal training or education. Depending on your background, a certificate or degree in computer forensics is a good place to start: it will give you a solid foundation in the principles of computer forensic investigation, in addition to an overview of criminal law, white collar crime, cybersecurity, specific technical skills (such as those relating to computer and operating systems and networking) and more.
Given the growing popularity of this field, there are an increasing numbers of computer forensics degree programs available to prospective students, both online and campus-based. Regardless of the mode of learning you prefer, 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 computer forensics industry (such as SC Magazine's rankings) are important. And if possible, 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.
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