Just a few decades ago, most crimes had little to do with computers. Even the most sophisticated criminals simply didn’t have access to the technology that exists in modern society. In police departments and governmental agencies today, however, much of the crime committed involves computers and technology.
Identity theft is a major concern, hacking into business networks can be devastating to a company and many violent crimes and thefts happen because criminals make contact via the Internet or use online resources to plan burglaries.
For this reason, crime prevention, analysis and investigations have a lot to do with computers. The people trained in computer forensics are able to tackle a range of career opportunities in this field.
Degrees in Computer Forensics
If you are interested in pursuing one of the many potential careers in computer forensics, the first step on that journey should be earning a relevant degree. Although a general degree in computer science or information technology may be suitable for some of the following careers, the best option will almost always be a degree specifically in computer forensics.
There are two-year associate degrees, four-year bachelor’s degrees and 18-month master’s degrees to choose from, and most students start with the bachelor’s in order to become eligible for the greatest number of employment options.
When earning a bachelor’s degree in computer forensics, your curriculum will generally combine major aspects of the legal system with major aspects of computer science. Students should expect to take courses like writing reports, data structures, computer information systems, crime scene investigation, criminal procedure, legal ethics and criminal law.
Computer Forensics Technician
A computer forensic technician is responsible for gathering evidence that can be used in trials and to piece together the answers to questions about the crime’s perpetrator, victim locations or time of the crime.
They may actually spend time in the field analyzing crime scenes, but they won’t focus on the blood or traditional physical evidence that other forensics technicians may collect and analyze. Instead, computer forensics technicians might collect things like computers, hard drives, flash disks or anything else that can be analyzed back in a lab setting.
Although some of the crimes that computer forensics technicians analyze are digital in nature, that is not always the case. In fact, many of these technicians may actually assist on non-digital crime investigations, but they use digital clues to help. For instance, a kidnap may have started by the victim and the criminal using social media to make contact. Finding their previous conversations and connections online may point to where they met and what they might be doing.
Computer Forensics Analyst
In many ways, the role of a computer forensics analyst is very similar to the position detailed above of computer forensics technician. However, analysts tend to work almost exclusively on digital crimes. The technicians use whatever tools and resources that are available to them in order to dig up deleted files, analyze word documents and determine whether security networks or accounts have been hacked in any way.
Computer forensics analysts may also need to write detailed reports explaining how they obtained this information, which may be needed in court. In some cases, computer forensics analysts may even be called on to testify, either as witnesses due to what they have digitally seen or simply as experts in the field to help jurors better understand the evidence and details of the case.
Many computer forensics analysts are hired with just a bachelor’s degree, but a master’s may create additional opportunities for promotions or salary upgrades. This position also often requires that employees are certified by the International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners. Preparation for this exam is minimal for those who have already earned a relevant degree, but the certification does need to be renewed every three years.
Networks and System Administrator
In almost every large organization, company or agency, there is a network that collects data and connects users to it, as well as each other, in order to conduct business easily. Keeping all of a business’ data in one place is convenient, but it can also be a major risk. The person tasked with managing and overseeing the network is the networks and system administrator.
This career involves deciding on the right new hardware and software for a company, training users, troubleshooting problems, setting up a monitoring system and creating security measures that protect this important information. By earning a degree in computer forensics, you will be prepared to tackle digital crimes for a business rather than simply individuals. This role is important as more and more big data gets collected, and it is a position that continues to grow.
In fact, predictions show that there will be a 12 percent increase in employees with this title over the next decade. A typical networks and system administrator will work traditional office hours in a office setting and earn an approximate average salary of $72,000 with just a bachelor’s degree.
Information Security Analyst
The role of information security analyst is remarkably similar to that of a networks and system administrator. While a networks and system administrator handles maintenance, troubleshooting and employee guidance as well as security, however, information security analysts focus 100 percent of their time on security issues and protecting data.
Many of the best-paid information security analysts have a master’s degree, but this graduate qualification is not always necessary if the applicant has relevant experience in the field. Many information security analysts work specifically for computer and software companies, but there are also lots of careers available throughout industries where security and protection of information is integral.
Namely, insurance and finance organizations. The average information security analyst will work a traditional 40-hour week, but they need to be on call so that they can react to security emergencies and alarms in real time.
All of the careers above are typically full-time jobs where employment is provided by a single company, police district or government agency. However, some graduates with degrees in computer forensics prefer to work for themselves by starting up their own company.
As a private investigator, these individuals can work on a temporary contract basis with companies or individuals as needed. Private investigators with knowledge of computer forensics can often resolve issues of security for clients in a matter of minutes. Jobs might include determining whether a spouse is cheating, whether a partner is hiding assets during a divorce, whether a business is losing leads due to criminal espionage or simply whether a client’s computer is secure and has adequate protection against viruses and hackers.
The benefits of working as a private investigator include the ability to set hours independently and choose the cases and jobs that sound most appealing at the time. A four-year bachelor’s degree in computer forensics can be the ultimate way to prepare for a number of careers within the growing field. Since accredited online colleges offer Internet-based degrees for busy students, there has never been a better time to go after your career dreams.