Digital Forensics Salary, Career Path, and Certifications in 2022


A digital forensic investigator is a cybersecurity professional who aids law enforcement and judicial processes in crime-solving through digital evidence and aids in cybercrime investigations. This article discusses the job role of the digital forensics investigator and the steps involved in this career path. It also lists the top eight digital forensics certifications to explore in 2022. 

Who Is a Digital Forensics Investigator?

A digital forensic investigator is defined as a cybersecurity professional who aids law enforcement and judicial processes in crime-solving through digital evidence and aids in cybercrime investigations. 

Process of Digital Forensics Operations

Crime in its basic form is as old as man itself, and cybercrime is as old as the internet. Every day, thousands of pieces of information are stored on computers. Billions of data bits are transmitted over wired and wireless networks, from the tiniest, least significant bit of information to sensitive data encoding the details of international money transfers and the stock market.

All this data is at risk by cyber criminals who aim to steal money or information, cripple organizations and businesses, delete or destroy incriminating materials, create political agitations, blackmail individuals and enterprises, etc. 

Sometimes, the security protocols and firewalls are not enough to prevent security breaches; other times, one could store important information about a particular crime on an electronic device. This is where a digital forensic investigator comes into play. 

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Understanding the role of the digital forensic investigator 

A digital forensic investigator is an individual who investigates security breaches on a computer system, network, website, or database to find out how they occurred, endeavor to retrieve lost files, and repair damaged data while strengthening the security system to prevent reoccurrence. 

An expert in digital or computer forensics is known as a digital forensic investigator. Digital forensics, also called computer forensics, is a subsection of forensic science that looks into, examines, analyzes, and gets back information from digital devices. This is done so that people can get helpful information about cyber crimes and other illicit activities with a digital component. A digital forensic investigator’s job isn’t just limited to computer forensics; it also includes any device that can store or process data.

A digital forensics investigator may also be a digital forensics analyst, computer forensics investigator, computer forensics consultant, or digital forensics examiner. The roles assigned to these job descriptions and titles may differ slightly from company to company but generally encompass the same set of duties. 

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Roles and responsibilities of a digital forensic investigator

Regular forensic scientists are tasked with examining and analyzing evidence found at a crime scene to gain scientific insight that one can use in investigating a crime or in a legal setting. Digital forensic investigators are required to do the same thing. This time, however, the crime scene is on a computer system or computer network. 

A digital forensic investigator can work in personal or private investigation firms, large companies, government law enforcement agencies, and similar international bodies. The roles of a digital forensic investigator in different job opportunities include:

  • Recovery of data such as documents, emails, photos, etc. from an electronic device or any device that can store data that have been deleted, damaged, tampered with, or encrypted. 
  • Unearthing, processing, and analyzing evidence to be presented in a comprehensive format to the court during criminal cases. 
  • Providing testimony when necessary in legal proceedings and joining forces with law enforcement, legal, and government bodies when necessary.
  • Gathering and scrutinizing the evidence of intrusion or malicious activity on a network and ensuring the safe custody of retrieved digital evidence.
  • Pinpointing possible cyber threats and weaknesses and properly documenting reports describing the findings during an investigation.

To fulfill these responsibilities successfully, prospective digital forensic investigators must possess the following abilities:

  • Must have an understanding of different existing and emerging technologies
  • Strong communication skills and good writing skills 
  • Ability to discover and interpret data 
  • Ability to present and simplify technical information when presenting findings
  • Critical thinking and attention to detail 

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Digital Forensics Investigator Career Path 

In recent years, the spike in technological advancement has been closely followed by a rise in the demand for highly skilled computer forensic investigators who can use computer forensics knowledge to solve emergent issues. The decision to enter a digital forensic investigation career requires perseverance, but it has the potential to be a gratifying field of work. The steps to take are:

Digital Forensics Investigator Career Path

1. Planning and discovery 

Before considering a career path, any individual must take the first step: sit back and plan. This is equally applicable in the field of cyber forensics. The planning stage is where you determine where you want to end up. It is time to learn what it entails to start as a digital forensic investigator and ensure that it is the right path for you. The planning phase allows you to take the right approach depending on whether you want to work for a private company or the government. 

Granted, not everyone will figure it out this early, but it pays to start thinking about it. This is because most government agencies, like state or federal police, tax and customs, investigative bureaus, etc., have higher standards for computer forensic analysts than the private sector. This is not always the case but it should be noted to plan your career path properly. 

2. Get a bachelor’s degree

Getting a bachelor’s degree can be essential to become a digital forensic investigator. Studying a four-year course in digital and computer forensics, computer information and technology, computer and software engineering, or any other related cybersecurity course is a massive plus to achieving your career aspirations. These courses will help you understand computer technology, how it works, and how one can manipulate it. 

If you have already completed a college education in an unrelated course, you can consider pursuing a cybersecurity master’s degree while following the other steps. On the other hand, not all computer forensics investigating jobs require you to have a college degree in the field. Many private companies will be willing to hire based on sheer skill backed up by the proper certifications. 

3. Seek opportunities to gain experience 

In pursuing a college or master’s degree, you can use school breaks to get internships, part-time jobs, certificates, and fellowships in cyber forensics. This would not just build up your confidence level or skill set but also add to past work experiences when the time for job seeking comes. It will give you a more significant advantage than fellow digital forensic analysts. 

4. Become certified 

Certifications are increasingly important in threat analysis, software development, and computer forensics. For some jobs, having a degree or knowing how to solve cyber crimes may not be enough to convince your employers. Professional certifications from trusted bodies are not always compulsory but can go a long way to determine just how qualified an individual is for a specific role. 

There are certificates available in the subject of computer forensics that concentrate on core skills and abilities. This guarantees that each certified person has a firm understanding of cyber forensics’s ethical and legal ideas and the technical know-how required for a digital forensic investigator. In addition, they verify that the individual has the necessary theoretical knowledge. 

5. Get your first paying job 

The next and most exciting step is landing your dream job as a computer forensics investigator. After getting the proper certification, you will need a nicely prepared CV to apply to job openings. Many government agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), state police departments, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the National Security Agency (NSA), regularly advertise job openings in this field. Private companies also make calls for applications on their websites. 

Other job sites like LinkedIn and Glassdoor are familiar places to find opportunities. Lastly, a digital forensic investigator can decide to open up their own private investigator firm and take on personal and corporate cases. 

6. Fine tune your skills 

It is not just enough to land a high-paying job as a computer forensics investigator or analyst. The nature of the field requires that every professional continually upgrade and improve existing skills. From the new technologies churned out daily to complicated and more technical crimes, you must always strive to keep abreast of the developments in your field. This will prevent the risk of becoming obsolete and keep you at the top of a highly competitive market. Fine-tuning skills can be done by attending cyber forensics conferences, following up on research publications, and even taking digital forensics certification courses. 

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Top 8 Digital Forensics Certifications in 2022 

It might be challenging to choose which certificate program to pursue. The top eight digital forensic certifications you should consider this year include: 

1. GIAC Advanced Smartphone Forensics (GASF) 

Advanced Smartphone Forensics certification is conferred by GIAC or the Global Information Assurance Certification. The Global Information Assurance Certification Consortium (GIAC) is a globally recognized distributor and producer of cyber security accreditation. The GASF certification is meant for individuals who wish to demonstrate their competence in conducting in-depth forensic assessments on devices like iPads, tablets, and smartphones. 

The exam assesses candidates’ knowledge of device file system analysis, the principles of mobile forensics, studying mobile app activity, and threat detection of mobile device malware. Professionals interested in this certification can take courses to brush up on their knowledge base and improve their skills. The certification costs $689 for the first attempt and a retake fee of $799.

2. Certified Digital Forensics Examiner (CDFE)

The CDFE certification exam was developed by Mile2, an IT security company in the United States. Mile2 CDFE certification comes with a highly detailed (but not compulsory) course that prepares prospective candidates for the exam. 

Students are taught advanced investigation techniques, electronic discovery and the methodology of conducting a computer forensic examination. CDFE certification should be taken by those already experienced in the computer and cyber forensic field, such as digital forensic experts in private agencies and law enforcement, IT security managers, etc. The cost of taking the certification exam is $330. You can also purchase it along with the course for $1950. 

3. GIAC Certified Forensic Examiner (GCFE)

The Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) institution also offers the GIAC Certified Forensic Examiner certification. Passing the 3-hour certification exam validates an individual’s computer forensics analytical ability. GCFE certification covers concepts ranging from Windows forensics, advanced web browser forensics, browser structure and analysis, email and event log analysis, and user artifact analysis on any current Windows OS like Windows 11. GCFE certification costs $949 on the GIAC website. 

4. Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator (CHFI)

EC-Council, International Council of E-Commerce Consultants, provides accreditation for computer hacking forensic investigators. The CHFI certification is a thorough, ANSI-accredited curriculum for IT professionals specializing in this space. The certificate is awarded to successful candidates after writing the EC0 312-49 exam. In addition to providing the certification, the EC council has also put together a detailed course in computer forensics, dipping into the dark web, the Internet of Things, and cloud forensics. To register for the exam alone will cost the individual an average of $600.

5. Certified Forensic Computer Examiner (CFCE)

Those who can display a significant level of digital forensics competence are suitable for the Certified Forensic Computer Examiner (CFCE) accreditation. The International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (IAICS) administers this certification option. The certification occurs in two phases:

  • The peer review phase is a dependent, mentored process where individuals are guided through four practical cases and are required to submit reports for each case. 
  • The certification phase follows where the candidate alone is tasked with solving a hard drive practical problem and answering objective questions. 

It will cost candidates $750 to get the IACIS Certified Forensic Computer Examiner credential. Candidates may also have to meet the training requirement with the IACIS course or any other approved course.

6. Certified Computer Examiner (CCE) 

Certified Computer Examiner (CCE) certification is acknowledged by the International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners (ISFCE). Applicants for the certification program must possess work experience of at least 1.5 years. On passing the necessary exams, they will be certified and considered members of the ISFCE. The IACIS Certified Computer Examiner certification process costs $485 with a two-year recertification fee of $150.

7. AccessData Certified Examiner (ACE)

AccessData certified examiner is a certification program offered by Exterro. The exam’s purpose is to certify the ability of an individual to navigate and use the company’s Forensic Tool Kit (FTK). 

The certification has no hard and fast rules concerning who can take the exams. However, it is recommended that the candidate be familiar with the FTK software, whether by owning a licensed copy of the tool or by signing up for the exam certification version that gives the candidate lab time to practice with the software. The ACE certification exam itself costs $100. However, the version allowing lab practice time will cost the candidate $250. 

8. EnCase Certified Examiner (EnCE)

OpenText, a Canadian company that provides information management platforms offers a certification program for the EnCase computer forensic software. The EnCase Certified Examiner (EnCE) certification guarantees that a particular professional is well grounded in the methodology of computer forensics investigation, especially with the side of the EnCase software.

The certification is widely recognized and involves two exam phases, the written and practical exams. Before taking the exam, each candidate must have at least one year of experience in computer forensics or 64 hours of training. The EnCE exam fee is about $500.

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Digital Forensics Salary

In the United States, digital forensics is a specialty that is in high demand. According to PayScale data (last updated on 10 June 2022), the average digital forensic investigator’s yearly salary is $66,698, with the best earners making more than $90,000 annually. 

Digital forensics is among the highest-paid skills as the most experienced workers (with similar titles or roles) can earn up to $150,000 per annum. About 86% of digital forensic investigator opportunities and similar job titles come with health benefits coverage, including medical, dental, and vision health costs. 

It is crucial to remember that skills like digital forensics vary in pay from region to region and the nature of the employer (private vs. public sector). In states like Virginia and Georgia, digital forensic jobs pay $110,000 to $115,000, while some professionals earn as low as $41,000 in Texas. 

Also, the pay range can vary widely due to differences in experience level. This means a significant opportunity to get better and climb up the corporate ladder as a digital forensic investigator for those interested in a cybersecurity career. 

For a forensic computer analyst, the annual salary can range from $54,000 to about $120,000 but usually averages around $75,000. At the entry-level, a forensic computer analyst with less than one year of experience can expect a total remuneration of $63 000. An individual with up to four years of experience can earn up to $72,500 yearly. With over ten years of experience, though, a forensic computer analyst might hope to earn up to $104,000. Other positions like that of a security engineer can earn as much as $119,000. 

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Today, nearly every crime – whether a cybercrime or an ordinary breach of the law – has some digital component or the other. For example, banking fraud commonly relies on digital evidence, and criminals’ usage of mobile phones and laptops is often presented as evidence in court. A digital forensics investigator helps gather information from these sources and speeds up the crime-solving process. This makes it an in-demand job role in 2022, with various career options. 

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