Forensic Careers: Computer Forensics under the Microscope

So you think you might be interested in computer forensics but aren’t sure what careers are out there? This quick guide answers your questions and gives you some free resources to help you explore your options. Forensic science encompasses everything from computers to crime scenes. No matter what you want to investigate there are degrees, jobs and associations to help you on your way. Let’s take an in-depth look at the field of computer forensics as well as some free tools available to help you on your way.

What is Computer Forensics?

Computer forensics (also termed IT or Cyber Forensics) is the investigation of computers and digital data using a series of standardized steps in order to determine what evidence exists. Although the name implies that investigations are only done on computers, you may also be working with cell phones or other electronic devices in order to recover evidence.

How does Computer Forensics Work?

When you are assigned a device you will first make a complete copy of all the information on that device. The original device is then stored away as evidence so that it is protected and can’t be contaminated. After that you are free to explore (and there are a variety of software programs to help you do this). You’ll be extracting every bit of information on the computer or phone and at the end of your investigation you will turn in a report with everything you found that may be admissible in court. You’ll be the one finding hidden, corrupted and encrypted files in electronic media as well as extracting essential communications and images.

Cyber Forensics Tools

There are a variety of free tools out there that you can use to do cyber forensics and get some practice in while you are getting your degree. They include:

  • SANS SIFT – SANS Investigative Forensic Toolkit (SIFT)
  • Volatility – Did they try to recycle the evidence? Volatility will bring it back.
  • ProDiscover Basic
  • The Sleuth Kit (OpenSource) + Autopsy
  • Oxygen Forensics Suite – for mobile phones

Cyber Forensics Degrees

Computer/Cyber Forensics is a fast growing field. If you are interested in pursuing it you will need (at a minimum) your Associates Degree in Computer Forensics (which you can do online) although education in this field can be pursued all the way to your doctorate. The amount of education you need depends on where you want to work after college, so investigate these options thoroughly before enrolling in an online computer forensics degree program.

Cyber Forensics Jobs

Cyber Forensics can be put to use in many fields. You may see yourself working at the FBI or as part of a crime lab at the state or local level. Even the human resources departments of larger companies could use someone with your skills if they wanted to conduct an internal investigation.

Here are some tips on finding Computer Forensic Jobs while you are in college and after you graduate.

  • Check out USAJobs.com – This is where government agencies go to post their jobs.
  • Indeed – Indeed compiles a very good list of private-sector jobs and you can set up computer alerts so that you get an email every time someone lists a job in your area with the keyword “computer forensics”
  • Network with your professors and advisers – They are there to help you and will be able to set up an internship or help you find employment after you get your degree.

There are also a good number of associations out there which can help you network and get involved in your field. Joining one will look great on your resume, and will give you a like-minded group to volunteer for as you get your degree. You can click here for a list of forensic science associations that welcome students.

Computer Forensic Scholarships

The best place to find out about scholarships it through your own university. Contact your academic and financial advisers and ask them what the school has available. Once you have that list you may want to check out our list of the Top 5 Forensic Science Scholarships you need to know about.

Be Careful on Social Media

It probably goes without saying it, but be careful of what you put on your social media accounts. This is one profession where everything you have ever put on line will be visible to your prospective employers. If you wouldn’t want your mom to see it, take it down now. Anything you put online can and will be used against you when you try to get a job. That photo of you and your friends drinking at a bar in Cancun? Take it down. That photo of you passed out four years ago? Take it down. Those friends you have on Facebook because you play games together (but you don’t really know who they are) take them off your friends list. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you choose this profession some day you will have to justify your own digital footprint to your prospective employers.