Step by step guide to becoming a computer forensics expert

Computer forensics (sometimes known as computer forensic science) is a branch of digital forensic science pertaining to evidence found in computers and digital storage media. The goal of computer forensics is to examine digital media in a forensically sound manner with the aim of identifying, preserving, recovering, analyzing and presenting facts and opinions about the digital information.

Although it is most often associated with the investigation of a wide variety of computer crime, computer forensics may also be used in civil proceedings. The discipline involves similar techniques and principles to data recovery, but with additional guidelines and practices designed to create a legal audit trail.

Evidence from computer forensics investigations is usually subjected to the same guidelines and practices of other digital evidence. It has been used in a number of high-profile cases and is becoming widely accepted as reliable within U.S. and European court systems.

What does a computer forensics expert do?

The cases that computer forensics investigators work on range from embezzlement, identity theft, fraud, hacker activity to a whole host of security breaches. While the work can be exciting, it requires an analytical personality, tech-savviness, and strong communication skills. Computer forensic investigators must sometimes communicate findings in legal teams or to a judge and jury.

A computer forensics technician job description often includes:

  • Advising investigators on the availability and reliability of digital evidence
  • Working with investigators to acquire digital evidence through onsite & lab searches
  • Conducting examinations of digital evidence and preparing evidence for trial
  • Conducting interviews and taking statements in relation to computer evidence
  • Supervisors will also train other investigators and stay up-to-date on current events in the industry

What kind of skills are required?

Whether you start out on the IT side or the law enforcement side, to be a good computer forensics expert, you should have certain personal characteristics. As with any investigative specialist, you should have a curious nature – one that leads you to want to dig and ask questions and keep at it until you figure out the answers. You should be organized, as you’ll be dealing with a lot of information and you must be able to recognize patterns and see correlations.

As a computer forensics expert, you need to have excellent observation skills, and be capable of seeing both the minute details and the “big picture.” And you must be objective, so that you can draw conclusions that aren’t influenced by your preconceptions or prejudices. Finally, you need to be able to meticulously document your findings and often, to be able to present them to others (attorneys, judges, juries) who don’t have your specialized knowledge, so you need both good writing skills and good speaking skills.

The steps to becoming a computer forensics expert

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
  2. Participate in an internship
  3. Earn a graduate degree
  4. Obtain a job
  5. Consider certification