Computer Forensic Careers

While many fields seem to need fewer people to do certain jobs, which leads to company downsizing, one field that is continuing to grow in record numbers each year is computer forensics. Let’s face it, computers are everywhere. You’d be hard pressed to find a household today without at least one computer that is used daily.

With the increase of technology used in both personal households as well as corporations, comes a rise in computer-related crimes. These crimes include online identity theft, online embezzlement, online fraud, the consumption and production of child pornography, and hacker attacks.

But due to the surge in personal computers, this field is not isolated to white collar crimes. In violent crimes, such as homicides and rapes, computer forensic examiners are needed to analyze computers, cell phones and other personal electronic devices that often house evidence of the relationship between the suspect and the victim. With the increase in computer-related crimes, there has been a huge demand for skilled computer forensic professionals in both law enforcement offices, as well as private consulting agencies, around the world.

Definition

Computer forensics involves gathering digital evidence in a manner so it can be permitted in a court. Forensic investigators gather particular pieces of information from computers and other personal electronic devices, such as cell phones and PDAs for court. This process can involve conducting keyword searches for specific emails, searching for files or pictures which may have been deleted from the computer or electronic device, and reviewing Internet history to see which websites have been visited. The recovered information can then be used as evidence in a wide range of computer-related crimes or violent crimes that involved digital evidence.

Cyber Crime

In many local law enforcement agencies the bulk of the computer forensics crime they deal with is centered around child exploitation cases. When detectives are able to find digital evidence on a suspect’s computer that they have engaged in the viewing or production of child pornography, they often get leads on other individuals engaging in this type of criminal activity. Aside from child exploitation cases, other common cases forensic law enforcement investigators handle include white collar crimes like identify theft and online fraud.

The increase in online auction companies like E-Bay and Overstock.com has given white collar criminals another outlet to conduct online fraud. Common corporate consulting agency cases include everything from infidelity, where an individual wants digital forensic proof that their spouse is not being faithful, to intellectual property theft. In small claims cases, oftentimes attorneys will hire forensic consulting firms to conduct an investigation so they are armed with further evidence of their claim.

Computer Forensic Career Options: Police, FBI, and Consulting Agencies

The computer forensics career is segmented into two main areas: law enforcement and private forensic consulting agencies. The two fields differ in the types of people they hire, investigations they take part in, travel involved, and salaries.

Careers in computer forensics primarily started with the need to address computer-related offenses within government and military cases. Computer forensic professionals were needed to examine and analyze digital data to use as evidence in these cases. As computer-related crimes continued to increase, many police departments started seeing the need to add a forensics lab and devote several law enforcement officers to this specialty. This is when the true computer forensics career was born.

Typically a detective with some amount of computer knowledge would be appointed to this position and sent away for extensive training to learn how to use the forensic technology. Now, with the number of white collar crimes continuing to grow, many local police departments have several detectives dedicated explicitly to computer forensic examinations.

On a federal level, the FBI has a large Computer Analysis and Response Team (C.A.R.T.) dedicated solely to computer forensics. Since crimes that involve the use of email and the internet, such as identify theft, can have a suspect in one state and a victim in another, most local police departments have a tie-in with the FBI. A vast majority of local law enforcement forensic cases are dedicated to individuals involved in the production, distribution and consumption of child pornography. Other common cases that computer forensic detectives handle involve online fraud and identity theft. Computer forensic detectives are also involved in analyzing data pertaining to violent crimes ranging from burglaries to homicides.

The other types of computer forensic jobs are those that involve working in the private consulting agencies. These consulting agencies work on cases for large corporations as well as for individuals. Cases for large corporations may include issues such as intellectual property theft, sexual harassment, corporate fraud and misuse of investor funds. Individual clients may hire computer forensic agencies for anything from a divorce case where an individual is looking for digital proof of infidelity to a personal injury case. Professionals on the consultant agency side of forensics differ from the law enforcement forensic professionals in that they typically come in to the field with a much stronger technology background, including a degree in information technology, but less experience in investigation.

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