How to Become a Computer Forensic Agent
Computer forensics is the investigation of evidence found in computers and other technological systems. Computer forensic agents track cybercrime, analyze computer data, and gather digital evidence. They are responsible for using the information they collect from computers and technology to help convict criminals. In addition, computer forensic agents must write reports covering their findings and, if necessary, testify in court against offenders. As technology is used to help commit many different crimes, computer forensic agents are an important part of investigative teams.
At a minimum, computer forensic agents should be knowledgeable about computer science, networking, encryption, and programming. They must be able to translate information about the data that they find within computer systems and use that to compile evidence against offenders. Strong reading, writing, and communication skills are essential as well, and computer forensic agents should be accustomed to working on teams.
Education & Training
The amount of education required for computer forensic positions depends on the level of the opening. However, most require students to attend computer forensic degree programs. Entry-level positions within local law enforcement agencies typically require at least an associate degree in computer forensics, although some positions may require candidates to have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology, or a related field. As candidates move up the career ladder, they may need to have additional qualifications, like investigative experience. Some federal computer forensic agent positions require degrees in computer engineering, rather than computer science.
Degree requirements for computer forensics typically include classes in programming, databases, networking, and surveillance. Classes instruct students on how to track hacking patterns, recover digital information, and locate criminal activity. Usually, students must also take classes in mathematics, English, and communications, as the skills learned from such classes are often required by computer forensic agent positions.
Due to the fact that computer forensic agents work with sensitive and confidential information, extensive interviews and background checks are required before a candidate can qualify for a position. Typically, the hiring process includes mental and physical evaluations as well. It can take a few weeks to a few months to complete the hiring process.
Computer forensic agent salaries vary based on location, the employer, and the amount of experience possessed by the agent. General forensic science agents earn around $51,570 annually, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports. However, computer forensic technicians may earn more, especially if they have an engineering degree. For instance, the Central Intelligence Agency hires computer forensics engineers at a starting salary around $73,920, with the potential of earning up to $136,771. Higher-level positions within the federal government tend to have more earning potential, though they also have stricter qualifications.