How to Become a Computer Forensics Investigator – In 6 Steps

Computer forensics is a massively growing field with extensive advancement opportunities across multiple sectors, high median salaries, and a fast-paced, challenging work environment.

Computer forensics investigators are technology-focused experts who deliver critical insight into criminal investigations using digital information and evidence extracted from computing and storage devices.

Computer Forensics Investigator

Earning a position in this field can be incredibly rewarding to help digitally improve society and assist law enforcement professionals with finding justice against cyber-criminals.

If you’re interested in this type of work, it’s important to understand the steps to become a computer forensics investigator.

Keep reading to learn more about this rewarding career!

Job Description

Most computer forensics investigators examine digital storage devices and computing systems to recover files that may have previously been encrypted or deleted by a user, which are evidence in an investigation.

Depending on the role, a computer forensics investigator is usually responsible for collecting digital information to investigate cybercrime and creating a legal report.

Daily, these professionals may conduct the following:

  • Analyze and investigate digital security incidences, like data breaches.
  • Correctly document findings to ensure integrity.
  • Evaluate cyber-attack scopes.
  • Extract digital evidence for legal cases and criminal investigations.
  • Identify lost assets from cyber-attacks.
  • Locate system vulnerabilities that may have allowed the breach.
  • Provide testimony about the extracted digital evidence.
  • Reconstruct damaged files for digital information.
  • Recover encrypted and deleted information from digital storage devices.
  • Report all findings to lawyers, law enforcement professionals, and other authorities.


The factors impacting a computer forensic investigator’s salary include seniority, education, training, work environment, specific role, location, and additional situational factors.

However, the current national average base salary is around $60,700.

These professionals are also given additional benefits like paid time off, excellent medical coverage, and sometimes bonuses.

Salary Information by State

State Employed Avg. Annual Salary Avg. Hourly Pay Top 10% Annual Salary Bottom 10% Annual Salary
District of Columbia1,750$132,200$63.56$177,240$84,300
New Hampshire680$135,320$65.06$189,750$82,220
New Jersey5,900$129,330$62.18$173,310$82,900
New Mexico1,820$119,010$57.21$165,170$70,220
New York7,260$138,730$66.70$215,550$76,450
North Carolina6,040$122,580$58.94$175,320$76,100
North Dakota250$90,130$43.33$130,850$50,220
Rhode Island510$110,880$53.31$164,470$71,840
South Carolina1,350$102,270$49.17$139,750$56,620
South Dakota710$97,800$47.02$129,790$70,400
West Virginia210$92,350$44.40$141,760$37,370
Puerto Rico410$57,650$27.72$82,880$30,200

Annual Average Salary: Top 10 States

The top earning state in the field is New York, where the average salary is $138,730.

These are the top 10 earning states in the field:

  • New York - $138,730
  • California - $137,600
  • Maryland - $135,920
  • New Hampshire - $135,320
  • Washington - $132,820
  • Iowa - $132,590
  • District of Columbia - $132,200
  • Virginia - $131,340
  • Delaware - $130,360
  • New Jersey - $129,330
* Salary information based on the May 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Information Security Analysts, OCC Code 15-1212, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become a Computer Forensics Investigator: Step-by-Step

Your location, educational background, career path, and additional situational factors determine the exact path of becoming a computer forensics investigator.

However, several basic steps can be taken to kickstart your career and accomplish your goals.

These steps include:

Step One: Earn a High School Diploma

Without a high school diploma, no college or university will accept you into a program.

Therefore, you must earn the diploma to apply for higher education institutions that offer a degree related to this field and build on the required knowledge and skills to be successful in this area.

To get a head start, try to take computer science and information technology classes in high school.

Step Two: Find and Enroll in a Bachelor’s Degree Program

Once you’ve graduated high school with great grades, you must enroll in a four-year degree program relevant to the field.

Consider studying software engineering, computer engineering, database development, information technology, cyber security, computer and information security, digital forensics, or networking.

The foundational classes of these majors will help build a strong basis of technical competencies that will be used in your daily role as a computer forensic investigator.

Step Three: Find an Internship

Although some programs require an internship for graduation, many do not.

However, just because it isn’t required doesn’t mean you should skip the experience.

These opportunities help you gain firsthand experience in computer forensics and further expand your skill base with field training.

Also, these experiences make you a more marketable candidate for potential employers once you graduate.

The issue with finding a position is all employers want experience, but you can’t gain experience without a job.

An internship offers that experience to help you jump ahead of the employment competition.

Step Four: Seek the Certified Forensic Analyst Certification

Although this professional certification is not required to work in the computer forensics field, it further legitimizes you as a professional.

The GCFA (Certified Forensic Analyst) credential helps professionals specialize in investigation and cyber security skills.

This certificate gives you an advantage within the job market while preparing you for the field with additional training.

Step Five: Pursue Job Opportunities

Once you have gained field experience and graduated with a bachelor’s degree, it’s time to start the job search process.

You can use the regular online tools and reach out to your college or university to see if they have job placement opportunities.

You may want to work in private companies, government organizations, legal firms, or law enforcement agencies, depending on your career goals and specific interests.

Step Six: Earn an Advanced Degree

Although an advanced degree is not required for this type of work, it will help boost you to higher-level management positions in the future.

You have two options for earning a graduate degree: start the degree immediately following undergraduate graduation or work for a few years and have the company pay for your advanced degree.

When considering a subject, business, organizational management, or staying in a technical field are all excellent options to further propel your career.


A bachelor’s degree in computer science, networking, information technology, computer forensics, software engineering, cybersecurity, or another computer-related technical field is required.

There are several factors to consider when choosing a technical school, such as:

  • Available classes and majors – for those who want to enter the computer forensics field, look for schools that offer computer forensics classes, minors, or majors to get ahead of the competition when searching for employment.
  • Distance from home – knowing whether you want to be far or close to home will help narrow your selection. Being far from home gives more independence and freedom, but commuting from home can save tens of thousands of dollars on housing costs.
  • Housing options – knowing the different housing options (dorms, apartments, homes, etc.) is important to ensure you have a choice as you age through college.
  • Location – the school’s location is an important decision for many prospective students.
  • Size – knowing whether you will be in a small class size and get individual attention or in large lecture halls makes a difference for difficult classes. Smaller colleges give more personal attention to students but may not have the same resources as larger institutions.

Licensing & Certification

Neither licensure nor certification is required to work as a computer forensics investigator.

However, like in most positions, several available certifications are depending on your specialty, including:

  • GIAC Advanced Smartphone Forensics – the Advanced Smartphone Forensics certification covers the critical components of mobile device forensics, including file systems, mobile application behaviors, and malware analysis.
  • GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst – this credential confirms the expertise of the candidate in advanced incident response topics, like threat hunting, anti-forensics detection, memory forensics, and digital forensics.
  • Certified Computer Examiner – the Certified Computer Examiner designation requires candidates to complete the ISFCE certified computer examiner boot camp, document self-study providing you can pass the assessment, and accrue 18 months of experience conducting digital forensic exams. The certification examination covers areas like networking, PC hardware, defeating passwords, and writing examination reports.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the computer forensic investigator role will increase by a whopping 14 percent over the next decade.

In comparison, all combined occupations are expected to increase by only three percent over the next ten years.

This massive growth is likely attributed to the fast growth of digital systems, documentation, data, and networks, all of which have created a new path for criminals to steal money and information.

Should You Become a Computer Forensics Investigator

Overall Satisfaction

The large demand for these types of professionals is not due to job satisfaction but rather an expansion of digital systems and crimes faster than colleges can produce digital forensics investigators.

Those working in this field have a high level of overall satisfaction due to robust job security, lucrative career opportunities with job seekers almost being able to name their price and extensive specialization areas.

Also, those in this field are constantly professionally developing and learning as technology evolves and are contributing to security and justice by finding evidence to convict criminals.

While most are happy, there are a few downsides that must be considered.

There can be an intense workload leading to long hours, primarily due to the shortage in the field.

This can lead to tremendous pressure and high-stress levels.

Finally, there are extensive certification, training, and educational requirements that must be considered before jumping into the field.

Average Salary

With an average salary of around $60,700, the computer forensic investigator role can be lucrative with enough experience.

Many factors impact the average salary, with location (cost of living) being one of the most important.

Job Growth Outlook

The computer forensics investigator role is expected to experience a job growth of around 14 percent over the next decade due to the rise in information systems and related technologies.

With more sensitive data online now than ever, cybercrimes are growing at a rapid pace, especially against large corporations.

Education Duration

Being a computer forensics investigator requires a four-year bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field.

The reason for such a lengthy program is the required ability to access encrypted data via computer programming.

Having a foundation in computer science allows you to better learn the tricks and techniques once entering the workforce.

An additional two years is required for an advanced degree and study time must be considered to earn the certification.

Personal Skills Needed

Computer forensic investigators require various soft and technical skills to be successful in the field.

Several of those skills include:

  • Communication – these professionals prepare summaries and reports of the information uncovered in their examinations. Legal firms and law enforcement agencies utilize these reports for evidence in criminal investigations and legal cases. Therefore, boasting strong communication skills helps on-technology individuals understand the work.
  • Computer – since computer forensic investigators are working on digital and computing storage devices, possessing a deep knowledge of how computers and networks operate is critical. These professionals must be familiar with working in different operating systems so that navigation is simplified and critical information can be found.
  • Critical thinking – during the investigative phase, computer forensic experts must utilize strong critical thinking skills to help solve crimes by finding deleted or hidden information.
  • Technical – in addition to extensive computer skills, computer forensic investigators must also understand how software systems and computer hardware function. This includes knowing numerous programming languages like HTML, Python, Java, and other codes. These experts must also know digital forensic tools like FTK Imager, EnCase, and Xplico.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do you have to go to school to become a computer forensics investigator?

Computer forensics investigators have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, information technology, or computer science.

Bachelor’s degree programs require four years to complete.

Additionally, computer forensic professionals obtain 18 months-to-five years of information technology or law enforcement experience before moving into the role.

How much money does a computer forensics investigator make per year?

The average U.S. income for a computer forensics investigator is $60,700 per year.

However, the pay ranges greatly depending on experience, location, education, sector, and other factors.

Given the high demand for these types of professionals, it’s reasonable to believe that this average pay rate will increase in the coming years as employers are willing to pay more for talented individuals.

What skills do you need to have to be a computer forensics investigator?

Computer forensic investigators must possess technical aptitude.

As the name indicates, computer forensics is a technology-central career, requiring professionals to work across multiple technologies ranging from operating systems and mobile devices to network hacks and security breaches.

Another critical skill is possessing a high attention to detail.

Sorting through considerable amounts of data to examine digital evidence is a main part of the job.

Additionally, holding a strong understanding of criminal investigation and law helps with the investigation.

Communication and analytical skills are paramount, as is a basic understanding of cybersecurity and a desire to learn and work with challenging material.

Are computer forensics investigators in high demand?

With an expected 14 percent growth over the next decade, computer forensics investigators are in extremely high demand.

Systems, networks, and cybercrimes are expected to increase at a rapid rate, with organizations and institutions not being able to keep up with the attacks.

Currently, there is a shortage of computer forensics investigators with the demand only increasing in coming years.

What kind of education do you need to be a computer forensics investigator?

All computer forensic investigators need at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science, computer forensics, cybersecurity, networking, software engineering, or other computer-related field.

Those with a different technical degree who wish to pursue this career type will need to take additional classes or opt for a master’s degree in a related field to be considered for entry-level work.

Chelsea Wilson

About Chelsea Wilson

Chelsea Wilson is the Community Relations Manager for Washington University School of Law’s distance learning LLM degree program, which provides foreign trained attorneys with the opportunity to earn a Master of Laws degree from a top-tier American university from anywhere in the world.

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