Why and How to Become a Forensics Expert

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The main function of a forensics expert is to become the digital detective for an organization. As a forensics expert, you will be responsible for investigating through any digital evidence and analyze it thoroughly. Such evidence may be inside the organization’s computers, networks, or some other forms of devices used for data storage. For the job of a forensics expert, you will follow traces of complex cyber crimes to discover the attacker as well as the source of the performed attack. The terrorist in this case is a cyber attacker or more particularly a malware attacker.

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You should expect to deal enormously with digital evidence throughout your job as a forensics expert. The following list points out the main duties that you should take care of while working for this job.

  • You are responsible to conduct several investigations on the systems after any occurrences of a data breach or any security incidents.
  • You have to extract data from any electronic storage devices such as computers and do your investigations on such data.
  • It is your responsibility to work on retrieving the data back to its origin after getting lost through repairing the damaged systems and converting it into its usual status.
  • You have to make your checks on other systems and networks within the organization to determine compromised systems and work on them. You should try to discover those other compromised systems or networks that seem to be uncompromised.
  • You should then submit your evidence to law specialists to become legal cases against cyber attackers. You have to be prepared to show such evidence for trial.
  • You have to write clear explanations and reports about the data breach case and display such reports to trial as well.
  • You should give expert counsel to lawyers when it comes to using electronic evidence in a case.
  • You have to determine the credibility of the acquired data in order to decide on the law enforcement accordingly.
  • You should be prepared with your expert testimonial during court proceedings.
  • You should also assist officers who are responsible to enforce the laws on the procedures for a digital evidence or a computer evidence.
  • You have to be always up to date with all modern technologies and software arising every day. In addition, you should always get to know new methodologies for dealing with such technologies and to acquire data from them.
  • You have to always be proficient when it comes to forensics skills, incident response, and other tasks of reverse engineering.

You should know beforehand that you have many potential workplaces that you can select from such as large corporations, law enforcement, legal firms and private consulting firms. In fact, if you decide to work for a global firm, you will find a dedicated computer forensics unit responsible for all investigations on digital evidence there.

Furthermore, all local, state and federal governments are becoming great employers for this type of job in specific. That is simply due to the increasing number of cybercrimes happening every day and the rising need for digital forensics on all digital storage devices. To illustrate, there are 500 agents that are scattered around the United States of America, working for the FBI’s Computer Analysis and Response Team (CART).

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If you intend to go for the field of digital forensics, it is highly recommended that you get specialized in the field from an early stage in your cybersecurity career. The following points lists a typical career progression for a Forensics Expert in a large-scale organization or consultancy.

  • Junior Forensics Analyst
  • Senior Forensics Analyst
  • Senior Forensics Manager

On the other hand, there is another possible scenario that some folks prefer to get through to become forensics experts. They start off their career as law enforcement officers. They spend some years there to get the sufficient experience for moving forward in their career. Additionally, they receive on-the-job trainings to specialize finally as full time Forensics Experts.

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There is actually a great deal of jobs that are very similar in job functions and responsibilities to a Forensics Expert job though there may be some differences. The following list attempts to mention most of these jobs. Also, it is worth noting that it does not make any difference according to job description if the job of Forensics is referred to in a singular word Forensic or a plural as Forensics. They are all the same.

  • Information Security Crime Investigator
  • Computer Forensics Engineer
  • Digital/Computer Crime Specialist
  • Computer Forensics Investigator
  • Computer Forensics Specialist
  • Computer Forensics Analyst
  • Computer Forensics Examiner

Computer Forensics Technician

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I would say you should expect an average salary of $77,270 as PayScale states. The minimum payment to expect for this job according to the figures is around $55,703 per year while the highest payment you should expect is around $119,079 per year. It is needless to say that all pay figures include your base annual salary, bonuses, profit sharing, tips, commissions, overtime pay and other forms of cash earnings, as applicable. Higher figures do not include benefits.

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I would say that the actual number of years of experience is dependent on the level of the job that you are shooting for. To elaborate, if your goal is an entry level forensics analyst, then employers usually will require a range from 1 to 2 years of experience or from 2 to 3 years in some other cases. However, if you aim for a senior position, you should have at least 5 years of experience to become eligible for this job.

There is an important issue that have to be mentioned here: for an entry level forensics expert position, you may find it really hard to have any sort of related work experience. Our recommendation here is that you try to apply for large organizations which offer training programs for junior employees. This should give you the necessary work experience to start off your career.

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The best degree that a newbie may carry for this position is a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science or Engineering with a focus on Cyber Security, Digital Forensics or a related field. Please note that for this job, your technical skills and knowledge about computers are not enough. You should build knowledge in some other concepts especially about techniques used for cybercrimes and suing criminals.

There is also a one more recommended degree that you may consider getting by the time you begin your forensics analysis fruitful career. You will find several universities that offer a master’s degree in Computer Forensics. You could choose one of them and earn this valuable degree for this career. Moreover, you should definitely add to your own skills through acquiring as many trainings as possible and get many professional certificates, which can attract any employer to you. Sometimes, folks join the field of forensics analysis without having a technical degree. While this could be risky in terms of the base knowledge that they have, employers will greatly want to see a huge number of trainings and work experience.

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The following list mentions the mostly required technical skills by most employers in the filed for the Forensics Expert job position.

  • You have to be really skillful when it comes to dealing with networks. To illustrate, any TCP/IP based network communications should be dealt with really comfortably. This is because you will be required a lot to read and analyze network traces.
  • A perfect candidate has to be experienced in both Windows and Unix like systems (like Linux)
  • Programming languages such as C, C++, C#, Java, ASM, PHP, and PERL should be absorbed well by a candidate.
  • You should have a solid knowledge of both the hardware aspect and software aspect of computers.
  • You should be able to install different operating systems on the organization’s different machine and system and further apply and configure any needed patches on them.
  • You should be experienced with technologies used for backing up information and archiving.
  • You should be rich in knowledge and experience when it comes to cryptography and its modern techniques and practices.
  • You should be aware of eDiscovery tools such as NUIX, Relativity, Clearwell, etc.
  • You should also be comfortable using different software applications designed for forensics purposes. These applications are like EnCase, FTK, Helix, Cellebrite, XRY, etc.
  • You should have knowledge of the main concepts and practices of cloud computing.
  • You should have amazing skills when it comes to process data in environments of electronic disclosure.
  • You should be experienced with the processes taken to handle evidence.

You should be knowledgeable of The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) guidelines.

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First of all, you should have the ability to think like an actual criminal in order to be able to get him caught. Eric Robi has a really nice statement in this regard during his interview. He said “a computer forensic analyst has to be incredibly curious about how computers work and how people behave.”

In addition to these amazing skills, your oral and communication skills are really required since you will be working in a corporate position. You are expected to work with many colleagues and you have to convey your ideas as well as your extracted evidence in a clear way either in a form of written technical reports or conversations. Being clear about everything is really necessary for this because you will even deal with lawyers and clients and they should be aware of everything clearly. Finally, you should also have the courage to defend your findings against any counter claims against your evidence.

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There are so many certificates that are specified for a forensics analysis position. Seriously, they are so many. The following list attempts to point out the main certifications that would be really suitable and helpful for this position. However, it is always recommended to check your mentors and colleagues to know the most important ones of these. Also, looking at the job description is another important aspect because companies such as Homeland Security mentions the required certifications for this job.

CREA: Certified Reverse Engineering Analyst

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These associations aim to provide whoever interested with trainings, support, and credentialing programs. The following list refers to the most common associations for these purposes.

  • ABISCF: The American Board of Information Security and Computer Forensics
  • IACIS: The International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists

ISFCE: The International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners