Digital Forensic Investigator Career
As cybercriminals evolve their tactics, it takes savvy digital detective work to track them down. These cyber sleuths are known as digital forensic investigators.
With expertise in both computer science and cybersecurity, digital forensic investigators are vital to protecting the safety and financial well-being of the public. They're part of a growing computer forensics field that's tackling some of today's biggest digital problems—and you can be too, with the right education and experience.
If working on the front line of solving cybercrime sounds like an exciting job, then read on to find out what it takes to become a digital forensic investigator, along with the job’s salary expectations and outlook.
Part cybersecurity pro, part computer scientist, a digital forensic investigator uses their tech savvy to figure out how a cybercrime was committed, what kind of data was compromised, and who was responsible. They also support investigations of computer fraud and other electronic crimes.
For example, if someone hacked into a company’s secure network and stole customers’ credit card information, then a digital forensic investigator would be tasked with recovering the stolen data and working to identify the person who took it.
You might see the role of a digital forensic investigator associated with a variety of different job titles, including:
- Digital forensic engineer
- Cyber forensic investigator
- Computer forensic investigator
- Digital forensic specialist
- Digital forensic analyst
- Digital forensic examiner
- Digital forensic technician
The job of a digital forensic investigator is to dive deep into programs and software to learn about a digital breach or a hack, trace its source, and help recover data. Their day-to-day responsibilities may include:
- Gathering and maintaining evidence
- Recovering and reconstructing data from damaged or erased hard drives
- Utilizing forensic software to collect and analyze electronic data
- Writing and reviewing investigative reports
- Reporting findings to law enforcement or authorities
- Providing expert testimony about digital evidence
- Identifying system vulnerabilities
- Evaluating the scope of a cyberattack
Digital forensics is a specialized IT field that requires specialized skills and experience. If you’re thinking about becoming a digital forensic investigator, here are the steps you’ll likely need to take.
Step One: Earn a bachelor’s degree.
A bachelor’s degree in computer science or a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity is a great place to start into this field. Both degrees will help you gain the computer experience and knowledge you need to enter this career field. You'll learn about security systems, programming languages, operations systems, and networks, which are all vital for a digital forensics investigator.
Step Two: Gain experience.
Start with an entry-level role before advancing into information security. By working as a network analyst, IT support specialist, or systems engineer, you'll build technical knowledge that can serve as a foundation for when you’re ready to learn more complex digital forensic skills.
Step Three: Earn a master’s degree.
As with any career, earning an advanced degree will help you to stay competitive and potentially make more money. In the field of digital forensics, getting a master’s degree in cybersecurity is the next step, especially if you want to move up in your career.
Step Four: Consider certifications.
Some employers may require specific cybersecurity or forensic certifications and training to ensure you’re qualified for their specific work. The following are some of the most common certifications in the forensic field.
- Certified Computer Examiner (CCE)
- EnCase Certified Examiner (EnCE)
- GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA)
- GIAC Certified Forensic Examiner (GCFE)
- GIAC Network Forensic Analyst (GNFA)
- Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)
If you want to make the most of your time during school, the cybersecurity master's program at WGU trains you in digital forensics and allows you to also gain certification as an EC-Council Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator and allows you to also gain certification as an EC-Council Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator.
Cybersecurity and Information Assurance – B.S.
Protect your career and earning potential with this degree....
Protect your career and earning potential with...
Protect your career and earning potential with this degree.
- Time: 70% of graduates finish within 29 months.
- Tuition and fees: $4,245 per 6-month term.
Some careers and jobs this degree will prepare you for:
- Cyber crimes investigator
- Director of cybersecurity
- Chief of cyber counterintelligence
- Cybersecurity engineer
- Cyber operations planner
Certifications included in this program at no extra cost include:
- Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP) - Associate of (ISC)2 designation
- Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) - Associate of (ISC)2 designation
- ITIL® Foundation Certification
- CompTIA A+
- CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst Certification (CySA+)
- CompTIA IT Operations Specialist
- CompTIA Network+
- CompTIA Network Vulnerability Assessment Professional
- CompTIA Network Security Professional
- CompTIA PenTest+
- CompTIA Project+
- CompTIA Secure Infrastructure Specialist
- CompTIA Security+
- CompTIA Security Analytics Professional
Cybersecurity and Information Assurance – M.S.
Become the authority on keeping infrastructures and information...
Become the authority on keeping infrastructures...
Become the authority on keeping infrastructures and information safe.
- Time: 70% of graduates finish within 22 months.
- Tuition and fees: $4,590 per 6-month term.
- Certifications: cost of two EC-Council certs, included.
The curriculum is closely aligned with the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) Workforce Framework, plus includes the opportunity to earn these certifications:
- EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker
- EC-Council Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator (CHFI)
This program was designed in collaboration with national intelligence organizations and IT industry leaders, ensuring you'll learn emerging technologies and best practices in security governance.
No need to wait for spring or fall semester. It's back-to-school time at WGU year-round. Get started by talking to an Enrollment Counselor today, and you'll be on your way to realizing your dream of a bachelor's or master's degree—sooner than you might think!
Like a forensic scientist, a digital forensic investigator is responsible for knowing the law, observing proper evidence custody and control procedures, and documenting procedures so that they can be presented in court.
Employers look for digital forensic investigators who have a deep knowledge of data, computers, and criminal science, as well as legal principles and procedures. In addition, there are several skills and some job-specific knowledge that a digital forensic investigator needs to be successful. Below is a short list.
- Knowledge of investigative methods
- Understanding of criminal law and cybersecurity
- Statistics, math, and science skills
- Tech savvy
- Proficiency in common programming languages
- Knowledge of investigative methods
- Keen attention to detail
- Ability to utilize penetration testing to hack into systems
- Communication and reporting skills
How Much Does a Digital Forensic Investigator Make?
The average annual digital forensic investigator salary in the United States is $79,361, but the salary range falls between $72,109 and $88,376, according to Salary.com. These numbers can vary depending on factors such as education, certifications, additional skills, and experience.
What Is the Projected Job Growth?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorizes the work that computer forensic investigators do under the “information security analyst” category. It reports that information security analysts should see job growth of 33% from 2020 to 2030.
Where Does a Digital Forensic Investigator Work?
Most digital 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. They can also work in accounting firms, banks, law firms, and software companies.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. You need a bachelor’s degree in computer science and possibly a master’s degree in cybersecurity (or a relevant field) if you want to pursue more advanced roles.
If you don’t yet have a bachelor’s degree, it can take four to six years to become a digital forensic investigator. This time frame includes earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a relevant field, learning needed skills, and finding a job as a digital forensic investigator.