What is a Cyber Forensic Computer Analyst (CFCA)?
Computer forensics analysts are vital to law enforcement and cyber security. On the law enforcement side, they gather electronic data and analyze it, looking for information that shows proof of criminal activity. These crimes may include terrorism, espionage, fraud, hacking, organized cyber-crime, and the storage and distribution of illegal content—such as child pornography.
A successful cyber forensic computer analyst is able to spot even the smallest details; they have analytical minds and highly developed technical abilities. They must also be conversant with established legal standards that guide criminal investigations, and they must communicate well with other professionals. They may work for law enforcement or private agencies.
Steps to Become a CFCA
These professionals have been especially trained to work with or within law enforcement agencies. They may also work for private companies, retrieving information from computers and other data storage devices to look for evidence of crimes. A cyber forensic computer analyst may also be assigned to test a company’s information systems for their security.
Step 1: Earn a Degree
Step 2: Participate in an Internship
Step 3: Search for and Find a Job
Step 4: Earn Needed Certifications
Step 1: Earn a Degree
Computer forensics refers to the “application of computer science and investigative procedures involving the examination of digital evidence—following proper search authority, chain of custody, validation with mathematics, use of validated tools, repeatability, reporting and possibly expert testimony” according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Computer Security Resource Center.
Students interested in this field will need to first attend school and earn at least one degree. They may also need to take courses in a concentration specific to computer forensics; the training and education may be different for a student planning to work in a consulting firm and, for a student planning to work for a state or national law enforcement organization, their training focuses much more on law enforcement. A bachelor’s degree in information technology or computer science is the first step. In earning this degree, these professionals will gain relevant skills. For students going into graduate school, a Master of Science in Information and Assurance is a big step toward their planned career.
Step 2: Participate in an Internship
The United States Department of Justice offers internship opportunities for undergraduate and graduate computer science majors, this gives them major exposure to the work done on a federal level. They can work within the High Technology Investigative Unit (HTIU) of the U.S. Department of Justice. Here, they will delve into computer forensics firsthand. They may analyze log files from an electronic wiretap. Or they may be given the task of restoring a Linux server. In addition to these tasks, they will be responsible for a long-term assignment, thus contributing to the overall success of HTIU.
Computer Science majors at the undergraduate and graduate levels should make every effort to find an internship opportunity that will provide them with hands-on experience in the field, even if they don’t find the chance to get into a prestigious internship such as this. Any experience earned while a student is still in school will prove to be an excellent addition to your resume and can really help you get into the field with strong footing.
Step 3: Search for and Find a Job
Students about to graduate should consider making use of a career services office if their campus offers it. This service helps students to write or revise their resumes and write cover letters that hiring managers will read. The computer science department may also host a career center, which can give soon-to-be graduates the first opportunity to find and make the best use of resources specific to their industry.
Other possibilities for students include conferences, job fairs, and trade shows, as well as online job boards that focus on technology careers. Trade shows and job fairs are often held by or at least attended by professional organizations well-known in the field. If students have developed mentoring relationships or have already begun to network with other students and professionals, they may hear of job opportunities this way. Online job sites display current job openings; students who are interested in a particular specialty, such as law enforcement or cyber security, will find the types of opportunities they are looking for.
Step 4: Earn Needed Certifications
Certifications for computer forensic analysts include the Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) Forensic Examiner certification, which communicates that a digital forensic analyst has all the skills and abilities needed to work in a law enforcement setting. This certification, along with others, tells employers that their employee is able to find and examine evidence extracted from digital systems, so they can obtain the essential pieces of evidence needed to disprove or prove a fact.
The GIAC Forensic Analyst certification lets employers know that these experts are capable of investigating computer intrusion breaches across the system. They help to identify and secure systems that have been compromised, even if the cyber-criminal has used anti-forensic techniques to hold them off. They use registry analysis, file system timeline analysis, and memory inspection in their efforts. The International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners also provides certifications, such as the CCE or ISFCE.
What Does a Cyber Forensic Computer Analyst Do?
The primary responsibility of a cyber forensic computer analyst is to assist in criminal investigation. While they can fill a variety of roles, they are often employed by a law enforcement agency seeking digital evidence of crimes that may be stored on a suspect’s computer.
When they are assigned to work on an investigation, they may begin by using their skills to recover information or data that has been deleted, hidden, or encrypted by someone who didn’t want the information found. They’ll need to be able to work within all common operating systems. And once they have found this information, they ensure the safety of the data by using chain of custody so it can be used in a criminal trial.
Secondary duties may include giving expert insight to law enforcement personnel and prosecutors about the validity of their evidence. In some cases, they may participate in or even lead interviews with criminal suspects or victims. In the lead up to a criminal trial, these experts may also assist in preparing the evidence that is expected to be submitted to the court. As they put more time into their job, they may be tasked with training new professionals and junior team members. These computer professionals should expect to work long hours, especially as they investigate cases.
Skills to Acquire
- Technical Aptitude
Forensic computer analysts must, of course, have a technical aptitude. That is, they need to have the interest and ability to work with operating systems, mobile devices, and computers and they will use this ability to find and identify security breaches, network hacks, and criminal evidence.
- Understanding of Law and Criminal Investigation
Forensic computer analysts employed by law enforcement agencies must understand and work within the guidelines of criminal investigation and the law.
- Attention to Detail
A forensic computer analyst sorts through large amounts of data; some of which will include tiny pieces of an overall puzzle. Once they find this puzzle piece, they are able to fit it into the overall data picture they are building.
- Communication Skills
This is a soft skill; one that isn’t directly related to technology. It allows forensic computer analysts to get their points across, either verbally or in writing. If a specialist in this field is required to testify in a criminal case, their communication skills allow them to tell the judge and jury exactly what they find and what it means for the overall investigation.
- Strong Ethics
Ethically handling data that is now evidence is one of the most critical, least visible skills for a forensic computer analyst.
Since a bachelor’s degree is usually required to enter this field, it would be difficult for someone to move into this field without some sort of degree in information technology or computer science. Though a bachelor’s degree in computer forensics specifically is another option.
If someone who is interested in this field can’t afford the sticker price of a bachelor’s degree, they can begin with a two-year degree in computer science, then transfer to a four-year university to complete their bachelor’s degree. Another way for a future forensic computer analyst to enter this field would be to earn a degree required for a lower-level job, then use that relevant experience, along with a required degree to land a forensic computer analyst position.
Earning relevant certifications may also make it easier for someone to become a candidate for a forensic computer analyst’s position—as long as they have completed other requirements. A person seeking a way into this profession can also complete training courses through the National Institute of Justice or the National Computer Forensics Institute. If they are able to show that they’ve earned certification, have relevant experience, and have earned a lower-level degree, they may get a job offer. Finally, continuing to learn and earn certifications means they will be respected within their organization.
Cyber Forensic Computer Analyst Careers & Salary
Where Might You Work?
A forensics analyst may be hired by government (local, state, or federal) or they may be hired by an accounting firm, where they will investigate financial data. They may also find work in a software development company, bank, or law firm. They should expect to work for any organization with a computer system needing to be investigated or studied by forensics specialists, though many eventually work in a consultant capacity rather than being hired full-time by any one company.
Because of this option, they may decide to start their own computer forensics business, advertising their services to agencies or companies needing their professional services. The beauty of this professional role is that those within the field can work for a variety of employers, such as law enforcement or a cyber security company. Earning an ethical hacker certification from the EC Council can also give them the opportunity to move in a different direction.
As of 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that the demand for forensic examiners (to include analysts and investigators) would grow by 32% between 2018 and 2028. This percentage translates to more than 35,000 new jobs being available for professionals in this field during this period.
The BLS places the work of forensic computer analysts under the category of information security analyst. Because forensic computer analysts/examiners/specialists or digital forensic analysts work with tracking down and extracting data, they work well with cyber security firms, government agencies and private organizations. Whether they are employed as a security analyst or forensic analyst will dictate the nature of the work they do. Two of the biggest factors affecting the career prospects for these workers are the education and experience they have accumulated. As long as they have some computer experience, such as a database administration, and the forensics tools they need, they may experience better results in their job searches.
- Crime Scene Photographer:
These crime scene professionals take photos of every detail related to a crime. These details may include injuries a victim has suffered, objects in the room, blood stains or spatter, broken glass, thrown objects such as pillows or furniture, and other items that may have been used in carrying out the crime.
- Forensic Accountants:
These professionals go through financial transactions that may be related to a criminal act or a legal case. The goal of a forensic accountant is to narrow down and identify either fraudulent or illegal activity.
- Forensic Artist/Sketch Artist:
These professionals draw images that may lead to the resolution of a case. A good example of the drawings they make are suspect sketches. Or they may create computer generated age progressions of a missing child who is now a teen or young adult. In completing these images, they rely heavily on witness descriptions.
- Forensic Anthropologists:
This professional focuses on human bones, using their knowledge to zero in on detailed information such as the sex, age, or height of the person. They also work to find and recover the remains of missing persons.
- Forensic Biologists:
They examine organic substances and extract tiny samples of the substances so that they can carry out DNA and other analysis. These samples may be as simple as blood or hair.
- Forensic Nurses:
They provide nursing care to victims of assault. They also collect physical evidence (hair, blood, skin, and bodily fluids) from the victim so law enforcement can track down the defendant.
- Forensic Pathologists:
These professionals are often medical doctors. They perform autopsies or other investigations, determining a cause of death so they can help law enforcement officers.
- Cyber Security Analyst:
While this position focuses on cyber security rather than solving crimes, it is an advancing position. A cyber security analyst who has forensics skills may earn $82,000 annually and experienced cyber security analysts with more than 10 years of experience see salaries average out to $126,000 annually.
- Information Security Analyst:
These professionals help to plan and carry out security measures to cover and protect network systems and computer systems and all of their data. They may work for the government, commercial banks, healthcare networks, or financial institutions. Their average annual salary is $96,000.
- Forensic Manager:
This professional oversees forensic operations at the state or regional level. They may train employees, supervise quality assurance, set goals for the organization, and consult with other labs.
Advancing from Here
Those who wish to advance in this field will need to rely on the same things that got them into the career in the first place. These things include education, experience, certifications, professional networks, professional associations, and more. Some professionals in this field are most interested in working as expert witnesses, which requires a significant amount of education and time spent in the field. Others might wish to use their knowledge to begin their own consulting firm, putting themselves at the top of a new organization which can help businesses to seek out fraud or track cyber-criminals. No matter which direction these professionals aim, learning all you can and gaining relevant experience is the number one way to move your career down your chosen path.
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