Forensic computer analysts examine digital evidence for signs of criminal activity.

These are the computer experts who trace phone calls, find illegal materials on hard drives, or make hard to understand digital evidence possible to use. This is a field that's seen a lot of growth in the last couple of decades. As technology has advanced, the internet has gotten more complex and criminals of all stripes have found ways to use it to their advantage. From hacks that compromise national security to deleted emails full of death threats, anyone with a modem, a monitor, and a motive (sometimes less!) can commit or record criminal activity.

As the line between the real and the digital continues to blur, cybercrime specialists may be employed by anyone who expects to encounter illicit activity with a digital component, including police, banks, government agencies, and private businesses, especially in tech.

The day to day work of a computer forensics analyst varies based on their specialty. Evidence can originate from a mobile phone, be bound to a specific piece of hardware, or exist solely on the internet.

Using their technical knowledge, a computer forensics expert may discover encoded writings that can then be analyzed by a criminal psychologist or gain access to financial tracks that a forensic accountant can use to form a case.

Forensic computer analyst work may include...

  • Tracing hacks to their source
  • Recovering data that has been deleted, hidden, or encrypted
  • Examining or enhancing digital findings
  • Protecting computers or data from future compromise
  • Writing up reports of findings
  • Testifying in court

Many roles in computer science will require a bachelor's degree in programming, information science, or another hands on technical field, although the most important thing is skill - many tech roles are willing to hire the occasional computer genius without a degree. However, for some higher level jobs, some employers prefer a candidate with an MBA, since the extra two years of field training in a specific business context can make for an easy transition.

Depending on the types of crime your employer is likely to encounter, this can be an intense career; sometimes the recovery of digital evidence involves repeatedly combing through disturbing material in search of something specific. Most forensics jobs involve seeing the immediate aftermath of a crime, but digital forensics often means seeing recorded instances of crimes as they happened. As a result, many criminal analysts become desensitized to the things they witness.

If you're tech savvy, like the thrill of discovery that comes with solving mysteries, and can handle being up to your ears in raw data, computer forensics might be for you!

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