What Does a Computer Forensic Analyst Do? (With Skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 6 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When someone commits a crime, they often leave behind digital clues about who they are, how they committed the crime and why they committed the crime. Computer forensic analysts help identify, collect and preserve evidence involving computers and the internet. If you'd like to become a computer forensic analyst, learning about the role can prepare you for the job. In this article, we answer the question, 'What does a computer forensic analyst do?', look at skills that can help you on the job, show you what you could earn and outline steps you can take to become one.

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What does a computer forensic analyst do?

The answer to the question, 'What does a computer forensic analyst do?' is that they find, examine and analyse evidence of online, digital or data-based illegal activities or crimes. They often use specialised software and tools to track, trace and retrieve data to help recover stolen information or funds and find the person responsible. After documenting this evidence, they often submit their findings as reports that the law enforcement and judicial system can use to inform their actions. Sometimes computer forensic analysts appear in court to present their findings and opinions on the digital or online aspects of a crime.

Criminals often take steps to conceal or erase evidence of their crimes. When someone reports a crime, forensic analysts are often the first to access devices at the crime scene. This helps them preserve and document evidence before it's disturbed. They follow specific evidence collection and processing protocols to maintain the evidence's integrity. Forensic analysts maintain a strict chain of custody of devices the moment someone identifies the devices. One of their tasks is preventing unauthorised people from accessing or altering the device's contents. This helps to ensure that investigators, police officers and lawyers can use it in court proceedings.

Computer forensic analyst duties

Here are some duties that a computer forensics analyst can perform:

  • tagging and logging computers, laptops, phones, hard drives and other devices

  • verifying a device's owner and who has had access to its contents

  • reviewing and authenticating video footage from digital sources

  • detecting data breaches, hacking attempts, network intrusions and online scam attempts

  • assessing online content for signs of manipulation or editing

  • extracting data from damaged, encrypted or password-protected devices

  • recovering or unlocking deleted or hidden device files

  • tracing device locations or movement patterns using GPS or satellite navigation

  • providing lawyers or law enforcement with insights on a crime or its motives based on online data.

Computer forensic analyst skills

The following skills can help you work more effectively as a forensic analyst:

Integrity

Computer forensics analysts often have access to crime scenes before the media finds out that it's taken place. They can also access sensitive information on a crime or case, such as video footage from a murder victim's phone or compromising images found on an accused person's laptop. Demonstrating integrity means not sharing this privileged information and that people you work with can trust you. It can also mean that you comply with protocols that prevent details of the crime from spreading, such as accounting for all devices present at a crime scene and ensuring unauthorised personnel can't access them.

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Patience

Computer forensic analysts often encounter damaged devices or devices from which files have been deleted. They also examine devices for stored information which can require them to watch hours of filmed footage or examine hundreds of photos. Being patient can prevent a computer forensics analyst from missing details that could be important to a case. It can also keep them from trying to rush the process, which can damage the device or compromise its contents.

Impartiality

Computer forensics investigators draw on scientific methods to analyse the evidence they've recovered from devices. Often, this evidence and the facts surrounding a case can make it seem like one conclusion is inevitable. For example, someone can impersonate another person online and use their details to perform illegal activities. Being impartial can help you carefully examine all the data available before you draw any conclusions.

Observation

Being observant is a helpful skill for a computer forensic analyst to have. It means that they're likely to notice suspicious online behaviour or unusual data patterns and use this to inform their next actions. For example, it can help them detect a source of a data breach in a financial company. An observant digital forensics investigator may notice that an employee with access to sensitive information opened an email and clicked on a link in it, automatically installing malware onto their device and leaking the information to a criminal.

Interpersonal

Computer forensic analysts form part of a large group of people who work to solve crimes. Each person has an important role to play and often they perform overlapping tasks. Having strong interpersonal skills can help you build working relationships with others in the field, prevent conflicts from taking place and help resolve work quickly and efficiently.

Computer forensic analyst education

To pursue a computer forensics-related qualification, it can benefit you to study English, science, mathematics or information and communications technology and design in Year 12. If you're in years 10 to 12 and are considering pursuing a career as a digital forensic investigator, you could apply to attend the Australian Police Force's Forensic Work Experience Program. This short program can expose you to the field of forensics and what computer forensic analysts do.

Upon completing school, you can study for a Bachelor of Computer Science or Bachelor of Information Technology degree specialising in cyber security, applied cloud or information technology, software engineering, data science or cyber law. If you're already working in IT, law enforcement, law or forensics or want to specialise in computer forensics as a digital investigator, it can benefit you to complete a postgraduate qualification specialising in cyber investigation and forensics.

Related: How To Become a Police Officer

Computer forensic analyst earning potential

The average salary for a forensic analyst is $91,345 per year. This figure can differ depending on the person's years of experience, qualifications and specialisation in computer forensics. Salaries may also vary depending on location, as follows:

  • Potts Hill: $121,353 per year

  • Sydney: $107,258 per year

  • Melbourne: $105,131 per year

How to become a computer forensic analyst

Following these steps can help you enter the forensic analysis field:

1. Obtain a qualification

Completing a bachelor's degree in forensic science can prepare you for a generalised career in forensic science. It includes an introduction to computer forensics. To specialise in digital forensics investigation, you can complete a bachelor's degree in IT, technology or computer science specialising in security.

2. Meet specific job requirements

As a qualified computer forensics analyst, you can apply to work for the police, government security services or private investigation firms to help them solve criminal cases. You could also apply to work for a private organisation as an information security or computer system analyst, auditor or consultant. Working for the police often involves being present at crime scenes. You can benefit from having a driver's licence and a first aid certificate. As digital forensic jobs can involve handling sensitive information, employers can request that you pass certain eligibility checks and background tests, and sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).

3. Prepare a cover letter and resume

If you decide to apply for a job as a computer forensic analyst, creating an updated resume is helpful. This can detail your qualifications, skills and experience. If you have worked in similar roles previously, you could contact your former employers to determine what information you can include without breaching security or an NDA. You could also help to attract the attention of a potential employer by including a cover letter showing your suitability for the advertised position.

Related: Tips for Writing a Captivating Cover Letter

4. Advance your career with education

Completing a postgraduate qualification can help you ascend to a more senior or specialised role in computer forensic analysis. For example, a postgraduate qualification in cyber forensics can prepare you to manage issues involving Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as smart locks and monitors. This can equip you to investigate criminal cases where someone hacked into a business's smart home security system to gain access to the property and steal equipment.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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