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Digital Forensics Career Options and Education Requirements

Digital forensics is typically studied by various types of law enforcement and investigation professionals. Continue reading for an overview of the programs, as well as career and salary statistics related to some career options for graduates.

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Essential Information

A career in digital forensics investigation involves examining a variety of digital evidence, including photos and video, digital devices, computers and data networks. The digital forensics field comprises a number of career paths, and an undergraduate degree and/or on-the-job training are sufficient for several of these jobs. These professionals typically do not major specifically in digital forensics; rather, they pursue related areas of study, such as law enforcement or computer science, and add digital forensics training.

Career Titles Private Detectives & Investigators Detectives & Criminal Investigators Forensic Science Technicians
Education Requirements Variable; a high school diploma and on-the-job training OR an associate's or bachelor's degree A high school diploma and police academy training Bachelor's degree
Projected Job Growth (2012 - 2022)* 11% 2% 6%
Median Annual Salary (May, 2013) $46,250* $76,730** $54,360*

Source: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*Net Online

Career Options

Those who work in the digital forensics field include law enforcement and criminal justice professionals, as well as forensic technicians. The following are three common career options:

Private Detectives & Investigators

These specialists research and analyze clues associated with the investigation of computer crimes or background checks. They collect lost computer data and e-mails and may present the material in court as evidence. Jobs for private detectives and investigators were expected to increase by 11% between 2012 and 2022, per the BLS. They received median annual salaries of $46,250 in 2013.

Detectives & Criminal Investigators

Detectives and criminal investigators are in charge of investigating cases where federal, state or local laws have been broken, and they work to prevent these crimes from occurring. Employment rates for detectives and criminal investigators were expected to rise by 2% between 2012 and 2022, as reported by the BLS. The median annual salary for detectives and criminal investigators was $76,730 as of May 2013, according to O*Net Online.

Forensic Science Technicians

Forensic science technicians include digital forensic analysts, who analyze data to investigate cyber crimes, such as identity theft. Jobs for forensic science technicians were predicted to expand by six percent during the 2012 through 2022 decade. Median annual salaries were $54,360 in May 2013, according to the BLS.

Education Options

Bachelor's and master's degree programs specifically in computer forensics are rare. There are some certificate programs available in computer forensics, but these are more beneficial for those who already have professional investigative experience and are looking to switch careers.

Investigative techniques for digital specialists are usually taught on the job through employee training programs. Some professional organizations, like the High Technology Crime Investigation Association or the International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners (ISFCE), also offer professional training and continuing education programs.

Digital forensics professionals may choose to specialize their training in areas such as the following:

  • Computer-related crime investigation
  • Computers and digital devices
  • Data and network analysis
  • Image enhancement
  • Speech science

Certification

Professional certification is available for those with professional training and/or experience. One basic comprehensive certification is the Certified Forensic Computer Examiner (CFCE) from the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (www.iacis.com); another is the Certified Computer Examiner from the ISFCE (www.isfce.com).

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics