Digital forensics degree: A complete guide (2022)

Digital forensics, or cybercrime forensics, professionals are called in to investigate when information is stolen from a computer, network, web application, cell phone, or another digital device. The forensics team’s job is to determine exactly what was done and how it was done, attempt to recover and/or repair stolen or damaged data files, and to work with other information security experts to prevent it from happening again.

The digital CSIs of the infosec universe, digital forensics (sometimes known was DFOR) experts are critical in minimizing any harm done from cybercrimes, and reconstructing the crime to help bring criminals to justice.

Anytime law enforcement officials are involved, following the letter of the law is vital to a successful culmination of an investigation. Adhering to proper evidence handling procedures will be of paramount concern for digital forensics experts. Many digital forensic experts are employed by governments or government contractors. For a large portion of these positions, a security clearance is necessary.

Four steps to becoming a digital forensics expert

1. Education: There are a variety of college degree programs that lend themselves to careers in digital forensics. These include: computer engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, applied mathematics, cybersecurity, information technology, and of course digital forensics. More advanced positions in digital forensics sometimes require master’s degrees.

2. Career path: There are entry-level positions available in digital forensics that provide excellent avenues of entry into the field. Honing technical skills as a prelude to developing infosec skills is also a viable path. So too are positions in information technology fields with a special focus on cybersecurity. Software development is another track that can lead to digital forensics careers.

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3. Professional certifications: Employers may want to see a number of professional certifications on resumes, and this is particularly true to be eligible for certain federal positions. There is a long list of available certifications applicable to digital forensics. Several organizations now offer widely-recognized certifications for digital forensics occupations.

4. Keep current: As with most cybersecurity career paths, it is vital to remain current with what is happening in the industry. Keeping skills and knowledge up to date with all of the latest trends is made easier when the field has its own professional trade association. One example within the digital forensics community is the High Technology Crime Investigation Association.

Offering relevant continuing education, professional training, and proficiency testing for digital forensics professionals. The Scientific Working Group on Digital Evidence (SWGDE) is another cybercrime forensics organization dedicated to keeping industry professionals’ knowledge and skills current. SWGDE focuses on fostering open communication between industry organizations and professionals.

What is a digital forensics expert?

Job titles for digital forensics professionals vary quite a bit, but are generally variations on a theme. Titles seen frequently include digital forensics engineer, digital forensics investigator, digital forensics specialist, digital forensics analyst, digital forensics examiner, digital forensics technician, and others.

Job scope probably varies a little less than titles, but will obviously depend on seniority and experience levels. Cybercrime forensics experts primarily enter the picture after there has been a breach of information security. That’s the time to put on the CSI trench coat and dig deep into the evidence. No blood and guts, just digital trails.

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Digital forensics degree, skills, and experience

The investigations of digital crimes (and just about everything else) involves delving into computing devices, including mobile devices, software, network traffic analysis, memory analysis, media analysis, databases, internet-of-things (IoT) devices. This means that digital forensic experts must possess in-depth and low-level knowledge of as many of such systems as possible.

Skill requirements likely to be encountered with employers include:

  • In-depth knowledge of technology, including mobile operating systems, networks, and hardware
  • Knowledge of investigative methods to locate specific electronic data
  • Proficiency in the latest cyber forensics, response, and reverse engineering skills and understanding of the latest exploit methodologies.
  • Experience with a suite of forensics software and hardware.
  • Ability to analyze malware and obfuscated code
  • Designing and building custom processes to facilitate evidence collection.
  • Password cracking of common office file types and mobile device backups
  • Metadata cleansing of office and pdf documents
  • Proficient in the use of encryption, both hardware and software

Knowledge of specific computer languages, such as:

  • Python
  • Bash
  • PHP
  • Java
  • C, C+, C#

Common professional certifications often sought by employers include those available from: ISFCE (International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners), IACIS (The International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists), GIAC (Global Information Assurance Certification), (ISC)2 (International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium) IEEE (Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers), Cellebrite, AccessData, Inspector, EnCase, Magnet, NUIX, and Truxton.

Some employers may also require more basic certifications, such as CompTIA A+ or Net+, which relate to IT operational and technical support skills. There are a number of training and certification paths available that are considerably more focused on one or a few specific types of hardware or operation systems. One such course is iOS Forensics, which hones in on Apple’s notoriously difficult to crack iPhone operating systems.

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Soft skills sought by employers include: Written and oral communications, excellent analytical skills, ability to organize complex investigations, and the ability to document and report findings to stakeholders.

What do digital forensics experts do?

Today, there is a digital element to almost every legal investigation. From civil cases like infidelity, child custody, accident reconstruction, civil disputes and missing persons, to criminal cases such as fraud, espionage, arson, larceny, and wrongful death, digital forensics is now used as a critical element of most investigations. Breach of information security is obviously a major focus for digital forensics experts.

In the pursuit of finding answers, digital forensics professionals utilize skills and knowledge of all elements of information systems and security to extract all relevant data. This includes a wide variety of computer hardware and software, networking systems, as well as mobile devices and systems.

With this knowledge, digital forensics professionals will attempt to restore deleted data, analyze recovered data, and perform a complete forensic examination of all computers, databases, and systems. This information is assembled and used to reconstruct what actually happened, and then reported on to affected parties. In civil or criminal cases that have progressed to legal courts, digital forensics experts are often called on to provide expert testimony.

Digital forensics expert job description

Specific functions of digital forensics experts will vary substantially based on the employer’s agenda and the specific case being worked on. Potentially, tasks will include some or all of the following:

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  • Utilize leading forensic software to identify, collect, preserve and analyze electronic data from laptops, desktops, servers, backup media, mobile devices, and a wide variety of other media
  • Recover deleted user data, hidden data, file fragments, and temporary files
  • Managing and tracking electronic evidence
  • Identify and document tactics, techniques, and procedures used by an attacker to gain unauthorized access
  • Develop and disseminate engagement reports, technical reports, and briefs based on analytic findings
  • Follow industry-standard forensic best practices while imaging, preserving, transporting and handling electronic data and associated physical devices.
  • Provide expert witness testimony

Outlook for digital forensics

Information security professionals are in high and rapidly-growing demand for the foreseeable future. In fact, there is a significant shortage of infosec professionals in all disciplines, and the shortage is expected to persist well into the coming decade. As networks, applications, and information needs become consistently more complicated and critical to business and state operations, these systems become more directly targeted and more vulnerable.

Digital forensics experts are needed by almost any type of organization. Scanning job listings, one will find openings at many types of corporations, and the bigger the company, the more digital forensics experts they are likely to need. Because digital forensics is often a part of criminal investigations, government agencies are prime employers.

Law enforcement agencies such as district attorney offices, police, the FBI, DEA, and CIA are often looking for additions to their digital forensics teams. In fact, the FBI recently created what it calls the Forensic Examiner Talent Network, which is designed to provide a stable of expert talent in cybercrime forensics.

How much do digital forensics experts make?

According to Payscale.com reports that digital forensics professionals make an average annual salary of $86,000. Bonuses, commissions and profit-sharing can add as much as $25,000 annually. A quick search of job posting sites uncovered one position that paid $160,000.

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FAQs

What are the 3 A in digital forensics? ›

Explanation. Acquisition (without altering or damaging), Authentication (that recovered evidence is the exact copy of the original data), and Analysis (without modifying) are the three main steps of computer forensic investigations.

Is digital forensics hard to learn? ›

It is a wonderfully challenging career path. Some believe that having the title of a cybersecurity professional (e.g. digital forensics expert, cybersecurity analyst, incident response commander, etc.) means that this is an area where the field of knowledge is intimidating because it's so expansive.

How do I break into digital forensics? ›

A bachelor's degree in computer forensics or a similar area is generally required to become a computer forensics investigator. This degree will provide you with a foundation in investigation and computer use, emerging technologies, and techniques used in the industry.

What are the 4 phases of digital forensics? ›

  • Identification. First, find the evidence, noting where it is stored.
  • Preservation. Next, isolate, secure, and preserve the data. ...
  • Analysis. Next, reconstruct fragments of data and draw conclusions based on the evidence found.
  • Documentation. ...
  • Presentation.

How much do digital forensics make? ›

Cyber investigators (or digital forensics investigators) are in charge of recovering and analyzing digital evidence that's been linked to potential criminal activity. According to PayScale, the average annual salary for cyber investigators is about $63,600.

Is digital forensics the same as cyber security? ›

Computer forensics and cyber security may seem similar, but these career paths both have their own unique differences. Computer forensics deals with locating data that was compromised during a cyberattack, while cyber security aims to prevent cyberattacks before they occur.

Is coding required for digital forensics? ›

"If you have experience [with] computer systems, programming, or other related fields, this will help [you] transition into digital forensics since you will already have a general knowledge of how technology and networks work, how digital systems interact with each other, and what is possible from a compromise ...

Is a digital forensics degree worth it? ›

Yes, a digital forensics degree is worth it for many students. Digital crimes, including fraud, remain at record highs. A cybercrime is a crime that involves a computer and a network. This can include identity fraud, financial theft, data theft, and cyber extortion, which is a form of bribery.

What is the highest paying forensic job? ›

Forensic Medical Examiner

Perhaps the highest paying position in the field of forensic science is forensic medical examiner. The path to this occupation is much longer than most other roles in the field. That's why the pay scale is significantly higher than others as well.

How many C's are in computer forensics? ›

There are three c's in computer forensics.

Who employs digital forensic investigators? ›

Both privately owned businesses as well as government entities such as the FBI, CIA, and NSA all need well-trained computer forensics investigators and analysts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of computer forensics is expected to grow by about 9 percent by the year 2028.

What qualifications do I need to be a forensic computer analyst? ›

You can do a degree or postgraduate qualification in:
  • forensic computing and security.
  • computer science.
  • cyber security.
  • digital forensics.
  • financial technology.

How long does digital forensics take? ›

A complete examination of a single 80 GB hard drive can have over 18,000,000 pages of electronic information and may take between 15 to 35 hours or more to examine, depending on the size and types of media.

What are the five 5 steps of digital forensics? ›

Process of Digital forensics includes 1) Identification, 2) Preservation, 3) Analysis, 4) Documentation and, 5) Presentation.

Is it hard to get a job in forensics? ›

Forensic science is a very competitive field, so finding a job can be difficult. Arming yourself with higher education and certifications can help tremendously.

What does a digital forensic analyst do? ›

This role analyzes digital evidence and investigates computer security incidents to derive useful information in support of system/network vulnerability mitigation. Personnel performing this role may unofficially or alternatively be called: Computer Forensic Analyst.

Where do computer forensics work? ›

Many computer forensic investigators work within the law enforcement industry, whether directly for law enforcement agencies or for private firms hired by agencies to manage digital evidence. It's also possible to work as a forensic analyst for a private company.

Is digital forensics a hacker? ›

A cyber forensic professional retrieves information from a suspect's computer, phone, database, or other digital assets to aid the police investigation and find proof to be presented in court. Here, the crime is not necessarily related to a cyberattack or online hacking.

Is cyber forensics in demand? ›

As long as there is cybercrime, there will be a demand for cyber forensic analysts. Full-time salaries for digital forensics professionals average at around $74,902 (Payscale, 2022). You can also work as a private consultant, which would mean billing clients according to your hourly rates.

What long term career opportunities are available in the digital forensics field? ›

Some potential computer forensics job titles might include:
  • Computer Forensics Investigator.
  • Computer Forensics Technician.
  • Information Security Analyst.
  • Information Systems Security Analyst.
  • Forensic Computer Analyst.
  • Security Consultant.

Is python needed for cyber security? ›

Can I get a cybersecurity job without learning Python? Most entry-level jobs in cybersecurity do not require programming skills, including knowing Python, but Python programming is something you'll probably need to learn if you want to grow in your career and have more opportunities for advancement.

Is Python good for cyber security? ›

Python is an advantageous programming language for cybersecurity because it can perform many cybersecurity functions, including malware analysis, scanning, and penetration testing. It is user-friendly and has an elegant simplicity, making it the perfect language choice for many cybersecurity professionals.

Do forensic scientists get paid well? ›

These professionals also make more money on average than other occupations. By illustration, the BLS (May 2020) reported that forensic science techs make an average annual salary of $64,890, which is 14 percent higher than the mean yearly wage for all occupations at $56,310 (BLS May 2020).

What can I do with a digital forensics certificate? ›

Other Positions Available to Those with a Degree in Digital Forensics
  • Computer forensics examiner.
  • Security consultant.
  • Certified computer forensics examiner (CCFE)
  • Mobile forensics expert.
  • Computer crime investigator.
  • Cryptanalyst.
  • Cryptographer.
  • Disaster recovery expert.

What is the first rule of digital forensics? ›

The first rule of computer forensic evidence analysis is "don't alter the evidence in any way." The simple act of turning on a computer can alter or destroy any evidence that might be there. The search for evidence on a computer should only be done by a trained and experienced computer forensic examiner.

Which country is best for forensic science? ›

Some of the best countries to study MS in Forensic Science are the USA, Canada, Australia, the UK.

Is forensics a good career? ›

Forensic science is a good career for individuals who would like to collect and analyze evidence using scientific methods in order to solve crimes. Forensic scientists earn 26% more per year than most other professionals. Within the next 10 years, job growth for forensic scientists is projected at 16%.

What is the best major for forensic science? ›

Students interested in forensic science careers can pursue degrees in forensic science, criminal justice, and legal studies. To find success, they must supplement their legal knowledge with an understanding of biology, chemistry, and computer programming.

Why do we need digital forensics? ›

Digital forensics is often a critical component of criminal cases, civil fraud cases, whistleblower complaints, internal investigations, and other matters that require analysis to understand when, how, and who used technology to perpetrate misdeeds.

How many seats are in computer forensics? ›

M.Sc in Digital Forensics – 40 Seats – Rashtriya Raksha University. Circular & Application Form.

Why is cyber forensics needed? ›

Cyber Forensics is needed for the investigation of crime and law enforcement. There are cases like hacking and denial of service (DOS) attacks where the computer system is the crime scene. The proof of the crime will be present in the computer system. The proofs can be browsing history, emails, documents, etc.

How many hours do digital forensics work? ›

Most digital forensic analysts work full time, and some may work more than 40 hours per week to meet deadlines or to respond to emergencies. The work can be stressful, and analysts may need to work long hours to complete their investigations.

Where do digital forensic investigators work? ›

A digital forensic investigator can work in personal or private investigation firms, large companies, government law enforcement agencies, and similar international bodies. The roles of a digital forensic investigator in different job opportunities include: Recovery of data such as documents, emails, photos, etc.

What is BSC in cyber forensic? ›

B.Sc (Cyber Forensics) or Bachelor of Science in Cyber Forensics is a three-year Under-Graduate degree that trains IT professionals in information/network security, forensic investigation of compromised systems, and recording cyber forensic evidence for use in courts of law.

Can you do digital forensics remotely? ›

Fortunately, remote digital forensics can allow the expert to perform their work without being physically close to the device in question. There are two primary means of remote evidence collection. The first involves remote access in the traditional sense.

How much does computer forensics cost? ›

In regard to digital forensics, ranges can be a couple thousand dollars to well over $100,000 with the typical analyses being somewhere in the $5,000 to $15,000 range, based upon factors involved.

How much does a forensic computer analyst make UK? ›

Salary. Typical starting salaries for forensic computer analysts range from around £21,000 to £25,000 a year. With experience, you can earn £30,000 to £45,000 a year. Analysts can earn up to £80,000 in more senior roles.

What does 3G consist of? ›

3G stands for a Third Generation synthetic surface which consists of three elements; synthetic turf, sand infill and rubber infill.

What are the three sources of digital evidence? ›

There are many sources of digital evidence, but for the purposes of this publication, the topic is divided into three major forensic categories of devices where evidence can be found: Internet-based, stand-alone computers or devices, and mobile devices.

How many C's are in computer forensics? ›

There are three c's in computer forensics.

Is 4G being phased out? ›

T-Mobile and Sprint 3G/2G/4G LTE network shutdown dates

These are January 1, 2022 for Sprint's 3G network sunset, and June 30, 2022 for the 4G LTE connections, respectively.

Will 4G phones still work in 2022? ›

Within the U.S., it's reasonable to assume that by the end of 2022 there will not be a single major carrier supporting 2G. The same fate awaits 3G. 4G LTE operates under a different scenario, and we can confidently say that 4G will be around for at least another decade.

Will 4G phones still work? ›

Will 4G phones continue to work? 4G devices will continue to work. Mobile providers are expected to maintain their 4G networks as they invest in 5G deployment. If your mobile device is more than a few years old, it may be a 3G device.

Who uses digital forensics? ›

Two groups of people mainly use digital forensics: Law enforcement agencies in criminal and civil cases: These agencies use digital evidence to aid suspects' convictions or acquittals. These cases can vary from murder trials to civil cases such as those involving transfer of property.

What is true about digital forensics? ›

Digital forensics is a branch of forensic science that focuses on identifying, acquiring, processing, analysing, and reporting on data stored electronically. Electronic evidence is a component of almost all criminal activities and digital forensics support is crucial for law enforcement investigations.

What are digital forensic techniques? ›

Digital Forensic Techniques

Digital forensics involves creating copies of a compromised device and then using various techniques and tools to examine the information. Digital forensics techniques help inspect unallocated disk space and hidden folders for copies of encrypted, damaged, or deleted files.

What are the five 5 steps of digital forensics? ›

Process of Digital forensics includes 1) Identification, 2) Preservation, 3) Analysis, 4) Documentation and, 5) Presentation.

Is digital forensics a good career? ›

Is Digital Forensics a Good Career? Yes, digital forensics is a good career for many professionals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for forensic scientists and information security analysts is expected to be very high.

How long does digital forensics take? ›

A complete examination of a single 80 GB hard drive can have over 18,000,000 pages of electronic information and may take between 15 to 35 hours or more to examine, depending on the size and types of media.

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