How to Become
a Computer Forensic Analyst
Education Pathways, Skills, and Certifications
Computer forensic analysts, like other computer specialists, are in high demand. If you want to learn how to become a computer forensic analyst, you’ve come to the right place. You can learn everything you need to know about the world of computer forensic analysis and criminal justice below.
First of all, you need to understand the job description of a computer forensic analyst. Then we provide a detailed list of all the education paths, skills, and certifications that will make your job easier. You can attend a cybersecurity boot camp or get your degree in computer science.
What Is a Computer Forensic Analyst?
A computer forensic analyst is an expert who works on decrypting or uncovering information on computers or other devices. They can retrieve data from damaged devices if needed. In addition, these experts tend to work closely with law enforcement to ensure that data recovered from a digital system can be used as evidence.
Digital forensic experts can retrieve computer evidence from different digital devices, not just modern computers. They can find information from CDs, hard drives, USB drives, DVDs, and other storage devices.
What Does a Computer Forensic Analyst Do?
Irrespective of the industry, computer forensic analysts work as investigators. This is why the most common job placement for computer forensic analysts is in law enforcement. Below is a list of a computer forensic analyst’s top three job responsibilities in law enforcement and beyond.
Investigates Cyber Crimes
When there is a cyber security breach in an organization, a computer forensic analyst will be invited to track the crime digitally. This includes malware attacks, money laundering, and any other crime that leaves a digital record.
A criminal may hide their tracks under layers and layers of encryption, but a computer forensic analyst will dig through those layers. They use disk analysis methods, window registries, image creation, and other forensic analysis tools to retrieve useful information.
Maintains the Chain of Custody of Data
For digital records to be admissible in court, a computer forensic analyst must prove that the data hasn’t been corrupted by a third party. They comb through written, video, and audio files searching for possible edit points, cuts, loopholes, or anything that may prove that the data has not been doctored.
These experts also track the movement of evidence from the first stage of data collection to presentation at court. In between, they safeguard the data, analyze it thoroughly, and add all the necessary attributes to preserve its integrity. If the computer forensic analyst finds evidence that the data may have tampered with, it cannot be used in court.
Recovers Lost Files
A computer forensic analyst sometimes has to recover lost files that may have been deleted intentionally or lost. They use existing recovery tools or design unique algorithms for fishing out data that may seem lost or unclear to the average viewer.
Similar to how a human forensic expert determines the cause of death during a murder investigation, a computer science forensic specialist determines how storage devices sustained damage. If they trace the damage to a particular person or organization, then the information is handed over to the authorities.
Computer Forensic Analyst Education Pathways
Most computer forensic analysts have a bachelor’s degree. However, there are other education routes you can take to become a computer forensic analyst. The most important part of your education is specialization. Below are the best pathways for anyone who wants to become a forensic computer analyst.
Computer Forensic Analyst Degrees
The most common bachelor’s degrees for computer forensic analysts are computer science and information security. However, you can also find a Bachelor’s Degree in Cyber Security. All of these options usually run for about four years in both online and traditional schools.
A Master’s Degree in Cyber Security, Digital Forensics, or related fields will help you specialize your skills and increase your chances in the job industry. This is especially the case when you’re interested in chasing a corporate career. A master’s program in these fields can typically be completed in 12 to 24 months.
If you want to focus on research and academic roles, a PhD might do the trick. A university may offer you funding if you have a solid research idea that is worth exploring. You should be able to complete your PhD in four to five years.
Computer Forensic Analyst Bootcamps
A boot camp is a fast-paced option that allows students to get certified as computer forensics examiners. A boot camp trains students to identify and preserve the integrity of data for forensic reports. There aren’t many computer forensic analysis bootcamps out there, but you can attend a general cybersecurity boot camp instead.
Some of the best cybersecurity boot camps in the industry are Fullstack Academy, Code Fellows, Evolve Security Academy, and Flatiron School. These boot camps offer career preparation training. Additionally, you can finish your education in 12 to 24 weeks.
Online Computer Forensic Analyst Courses
This is the fastest way to gain the knowledge you need. Udacity, one of the most popular providers of massive open online courses, has a host of topics for computer forensic analysts. These courses run for about eight to 12 weeks and combine live online training and online resources.
You may also get courses for computer forensic analysis on Udemy, Coursera, and Alison. Keep in mind that these courses don’t come with diplomas or degrees. You may receive a certificate of completion, which can help boost your credibility.
How to Become a Computer Forensic Analyst: A Step-by-Step Guide
There is a process to becoming a computer forensic analyst. You might be able to speed things up by following a clear path. Below is a step-by-step guide to becoming a computer forensic analyst.
Master cyber security
A significant portion of your job as a computer forensic analyst will involve cyber security. Understanding the fundamentals of cyber security will prepare you for your future role as a computer forensics analyst.
Brush up on criminal law
You’re going to be doing a lot of digital investigations and working closely with law enforcement agencies. An understanding of criminal law, with a specific focus on white-collar crimes, criminal investigations, and criminal law, will help you in this regard.
Go to school
Self-education is excellent for gaining knowledge. However, you will need a formal education to convince prospective employers of your expertise. This could be through a degree or bootcamp. It is key that this degree or bootcamp is from a recognized, accredited institution.
Apply for an internship
Most universities make internships mandatory for those pursuing computer science and related degrees. You can make the most out of the internship by applying to work in a firm that allows you to gain hands-on experience.
Start applying for jobs
You should get a job in computer forensic analysis or a related field right after graduation. It might be an entry-level position, but it will boost your resume and prepare you for a more rewarding career.
Top Computer Forensic Analyst Skills
Like every profession, some skills will help you excel and reach the peak of your career as a digital forensics expert. Below are three skills that you might find to be most helpful in your career.
Operating System Expertise
To succeed as a digital forensics expert, you need to know your way around all the major operating systems. Some of the most common operating systems are Linux, Windows, and Unix. This isn’t limited to desktop devices. You should also learn about mobile and other endpoint devices and their operating systems.
For mobile devices, the most popular operating systems are Android, Windows, and iOS. You can take a course to help you understand all modern operating systems and computer architecture.
Computer Networking Knowledge
How much do you know about local area networks (LAN) in computer systems? Learning about LAN will help you understand how computers are interconnected within an organization. You should also learn about wide area networks (WAN) and how they differ from LAN.
Advanced Digital Skills
You need advanced digital skills, which are not limited to desktop skills. You need to know your way around smartphones, printers, and other modern endpoint systems that you may encounter in your job. The best way to master endpoint devices is to use them as frequently as you can. Taking a few classes on less popular devices will also help.
Computer Forensic Analyst Salary and Job Outlook
According to ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary for computer forensic analysts is $100,063 per year. More experienced workers can make up to $152,000. In general, a forensic computer analyst’s salary is much higher than average.
There is currently a demand for all types of computer systems analysts, including computer forensic analysts. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts job growth for computer systems analysts to be seven percent by 2029. This means there will be many more jobs in the coming years, especially in the private sector.
Entry-Level Computer Forensic Analyst Job Requirements
The minimum job requirement for a computer forensic analyst is a bachelor’s degree in an information technology-related field. You may also get an entry-level position right after graduation from a boot camp. The average starting salary for computer forensic analysts is $58,133 per year, according to ZipRecruiter.
How to Prepare for Your Computer Forensic Analyst Job Interview
The preparation should depend on the job title. If you are looking for a job in law enforcement, you should aim your preparations in that direction. If your target is the corporate world, read as much as you can about the company’s services to get a clear picture of what your role might be.
Some of the most common practice questions for computer forensic analysts are listed below.
Computer Forensic Analyst Job Interview Questions
- What is your most commonly used encryption software, and how does it work?
- What is data mining, and why does it matter to a computer forensic analyst?
- If you’re given heavily encrypted data, how would you decrypt it
- What steps do you take when a computer’s hard drive is damaged and you need to retrieve information?
Computer Forensic Analyst Certifications
Professional digital forensic experts can benefit from getting certified by a third-party organization. These certifications test your abilities as a computer forensic analyst and prove that the skills on your resume are well-founded. There are many certifications available, and below is a list of the top three.
Certified Forensic Computer Examiner (CFCE)
Under the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (IACIS), the CFCE is for law enforcement agents who want to get certified. You will need to pay $750 for the certification, which comes in two parts. Part one is a CFCE certification testing, and part two is a peer review.
AccessData Certified Examiner (ACE)
If you already know how to use a forensic tool kit and have experience in the industry, you may be eligible to apply for this certification. However, you will need to apply for recertification after every two years. The exam costs $100, and it includes tests on practicals and theories alike.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Computer Forensic Analyst?
It can take anywhere from three months to four years to become a computer forensic analyst. The timeline depends on the path you choose. Those who attend cyber security and digital forensic bootcamps can graduate in three to 12 months.
If you opt for a Bachelor’s Degree in Cyber Security or related fields, you will need to spend four years in school. Those who opt to pursue master’s degrees and PhDs also need to earn a bachelor’s degree first.
Why You Should Become a Computer Forensic Analyst in 2021
You should become a computer forensic analyst if you want to combine your technical skills with investigative skills. There is a demand for these experts. In this role, you will be charged with aiding critical investigations either within the corporate world or as a law enforcement officer.
There are many career paths you can take if you have a degree in computer forensic analysis. These are all advanced careers that give you a chance to thrive and contribute to making the world a better, safer place.
Computer Forensic Analyst FAQ
No. A computer forensic analyst is a type of computer analyst often called upon when a suspected crime has occurred. It is an in-depth form of computer analysis that requires cyber security techniques.
No, it is not. While a computer forensic analyst needs some knowledge of cyber security fundamentals, these professions are different. For example, a cyber security expert works primarily on prevention, while a computer forensic analyst works on the response and recovery after a cyber crime has occurred.
With a computer forensic degree, you can get a job as an information security analyst, computer forensic invigilator, security consultant, or digital forensic investigator.
Yes, it does. The sooner a computer forensic analyst gets to work on deleted data or damaged computers, the more likely they are to be able to retrieve the information. This is because operating systems may randomly overwrite data, making it more difficult for the analyst to extract it.