Career GUIDE: 7 Skills To Become A Digital Forensics Expert

Digital forensics is a sub-discipline of forensic science and a very specialized and niche field of study.

This niche involves retrieving evidence from phones, laptops, the cloud, and other storage means.

The purpose of using digital forensics to examine data from devices is to maintain complete transparency and prevent any form of data contamination and data alteration.

This is particularly useful when applying digital forensics to uncover digital evidence in criminal investigations and private lawsuits in a court of law.

This article will focus on all the skills you need to be a digital forensics expert.

What are the Skills Required for a Career in Digital Forensics

Here are the seven (7) skills needed in this career.

1. Having a Meticulous Mind

Forensic analysts must meticulously examine digital evidence because the entire analysis process can take a long time due to the increasing amount of data being analyzed and the increasing number of devices.

Having a meticulous mind that is both patient and observant is very important when facing a large amount of data.

Important evidence may slip through the analysts’ eyes if they are not sharp enough.

For example, a mobile phone cannot be treated as just one device now. It is, in fact, a combination of different apps, each having its data to analyze.

Laptops and PCs usually have many emails and document files to go through. All these require patience, time, and effort.

2. Ability to Articulate Technical Concepts

Explaining technical knowledge and know-how in a simple layman’s explanation requires time and effort.

This skill is very important because you may need to present your forensic findings in a court of law before the judge if you are in law enforcement or must explain it to your senior management in your company.

Most forensic analysts start off their career diving straight into technical skills, e.g., encryption, file metadata analysis, system artifacts, etc.,

While they know how to work on their forensic tasks, they often find it hard to articulate these in layman’s language that the public can understand easily.

3. Having an Analytical Mind

This is an important skill to have because there is no single forensic tool that can identify critical evidence for forensic analysts. After all, every case is different, and every piece of evidence is different.

Therefore the evidence is always discovered through the analysis of the forensic analyst.

You can piece together different files based on clues left behind by metadata, system logs, or even the content within the file document itself.

Maybe you are analyzing an email message and noticed a suspicious unique keyword being mentioned. As a result, you search through the entire device and find a piece of substantial evidence in it.

These are examples of an analytical mind a forensic analyst should ideally possess.

In short, you should be able to link files together based on, e.g., commonality, patterns, etc., as you go along with your forensic examination.

4. Likes to Explore Technology

The main reason there are so many sub-disciplines of digital forensics (e.g., mobile forensics, cloud forensics, memory forensics, etc.) is that these are the different technologies out there.

Having the playful mindset to try and the interest to explore new technologies are the primary keys to having a meaningful digital forensics career.

Remember, digital forensics is the aftermath of what has already happened. Therefore, discovering evidence is really about examining files and reverse-engineering technologies to see more data.

When a piece of substantial evidence lies in an unfamiliar technology the forensic analyst is unsure of, they should be curious to learn more and conduct their own research and development (R&D) before anything.

5. Extended Screen Time

Be prepared to spend long hours on the computer screen to analyze and go through document files, emails, images, videos, apps, etc.

Forensic analysts should be comfortable looking at computer screens for an extended period, depending on the current tasks on hold and the storage capacity involved.

Digital forensics depends mainly on commercial and open-source forensic tools.

These software applications are designed to work well on a wide-screen monitor, allowing forensic analysts to examine more data and make software features more accessible.

6. Multi-Tasking Between Devices

It is common for forensic analysts to be working on two (2) or more devices at any given time.

Juggling between examining different devices is considered a time-saving and more efficient way of performing digital forensics work.

You could be working on a laptop here, and you may need to work on another PC there.

Forensic extraction takes time, and processing applications takes more time too. Instead of waiting, time can be used to do forensic examinations on the next device.

7. Fundamentals of Law or Cyber Security Knowledge

Depending on where you work, if you are in government law enforcement, you may need to learn the law and criminal investigation.

Thankfully this knowledge will be provided through training once you join the agency.

If you are from the private sector, e.g., Big Four (4) accounting firms, you may need to know basic cyber security knowledge in addition to the digital forensics knowledge required.

This is because, in the private sector, they take on cyber security cases, e.g., breaches and data thefts.

Having related cyber security knowledge will surely help in this regard.

What is the Career Path

Digital forensics is employed mainly in law enforcement agencies, law firms, and private investigation companies. However, in recent years, more industry sectors have used forensic experts.

The Big Four (4) accounting firms, e.g., KPMG and Deloitte, all have their digital forensics experts in their teams as it is now common to audit and safeguard digital data and digital assets.

Getting professional forensic certifications from EnCase, Cellebrite, and SANS Institute would be best to gain more technical knowledge and be open to more job opportunities.

Career Progression

Typically, you will start as a junior forensic analyst in your company or government agency before moving on to more senior roles such as forensics consultant, forensics manager, and forensic expert in some organizations.

You may get the chance to learn more than one specialized area of digital forensics. For example, learning both computer forensics (examining laptops and PCs) and mobile forensics (investigating mobile phones and tablets)

The more you learn in this niche, the more valuable you will become.

Besides staying in your organization, you can consider moving to bank institutions or big accounting firms, which need forensic experts to analyze and audit data.

What is the Salary range like as a Digital Forensics Analyst?

According to Glassdoor, the average annual salary of a digital forensic analyst is about USD 78,000/-.

This largely depends on who you work for, government law enforcement or private corporations.

As a newly-recruited junior forensic analyst, you can expect a salary range of around USD 53,000/-.

As you gain more knowledge and experience in this field, you can expect a top-tier salary range of up to USD 150,000/– as a digital forensic expert.

You can move on to a higher pay scale if you move sideways into a senior management role or sales role.

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