What Is Computer Forensics?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

People are virtually connected more than ever. Cybercrime is on the rise, meaning that jobs in computer forensics are plentiful.

[Featured image] A man working in computer forensics stands at a workstation.

Computer forensics (also known as digital or cyber forensics) involves the investigation of digital evidence connected to a crime. The process of solving a crime often involves the use of forensics. Forensics professionals use scientific techniques to study evidence connected to a crime and report their results to courts of law.  

Why is computer forensics important?

As the world becomes more connected digitally, digital evidence for solving crimes is proving more relevant every day. It is the job of a computer forensics investigator to collect, examine, and safeguard this evidence. 

Types of computer forensics

Computer forensics always involves gathering and analyzing evidence from digital sources. Some common types include:

  • Database forensics: Retrieval and analysis of data or metadata found in databases

  • Email forensics: Retrieval and analysis of messages, contacts, calendars, and other information on an email platform

  • Mobile forensics: Retrieval and analysis of data like messages, photos, videos, audio files, and contacts from mobile devices

  • Memory forensics: Retrieval and analysis of data stored on a computer's RAM (random access memory) and/or cache

  • Network forensics: Use of tools to monitor network traffic like intrusion detection systems and firewalls

  • Malware forensics: Analysis of code to identify malicious programs like viruses, ransomware, or Trojan horses

Common computer forensics techniques

When conducting an investigation and analysis of evidence, computer forensics specialists use various techniques; here are four common ones:

1. Deleted file recovery 

This technique involves recovering and restoring files or file fragments that are deleted by a person—either accidentally or deliberately—or by a virus or malware. 

2. Reverse-steganography

The process of attempting to hide data inside a digital message or file is called steganography. Reverse-steganography happens when computer forensic specialists look at the hashing of a message or the file contents. A hashing is a string of data, which changes when the message or file is interfered with. 

3. Cross-drive analysis

This technique involves analyzing data across multiple computer drives. Strategies like correlation and cross-referencing are used to compare events from computer to computer and detect anomalies. 

4. Live analysis

This technique involves analyzing a running computer's volatile data, which is data stored in RAM (random access memory) or cache memory. This helps pinpoint the cause of abnormal computer traffic. 

Computer forensics skills

If you're interested in the computer forensics field, it helps to have certain technical and workplace skills. Technical skills are learned through school or training and workplace skills involve how you work or relate to others. Examples of skills that benefit people in computer forensics jobs include:

  • Technical aptitude: Ability to understand mechanical processes, spatial awareness, numerical concepts, and data interpretation

  • Analytical thinking: Ability to take in, organize, understand, and make conclusions about data 

  • Communications skills: Ability to explain technical information clearly and concisely

  • Attention to detail

  • Understanding of computer hardware and software

  • Knowledge of computer programming languages

  • Familiarity with law and criminal investigation

  • Understanding of cybersecurity fundamentals like cyber-attack forecasting, threat detection, and system and network protection 

  • Knowledge of cybersecurity standards

What are some examples of jobs in computer forensics?

According to statistics put out by the Insurance Information Institute, cybercrime is continually rising, resulting in serious economic costs to individuals and companies [1]. Consequently, jobs in computer forensics are more prevalent than ever. Here are examples of top jobs in the field along with education requirements and typical salary ranges. 

*All salary data sourced from Glassdoor as of February 2022

Digital forensics analyst

As a digital forensic analyst, you will examine the scenes of cybercrimes and assist in investigations. Job duties may include digital surveillance, identifying compromised data and hacking patterns, detecting hidden or encrypted data, and file recovery. To do this job, you'll need to have a thorough understanding of computer hardware and software, systems, databases, and programming languages.

Educational requirements: To be a digital forensic analyst, you'll generally need at least a bachelor's degree in forensic computer science, cybersecurity, or criminal justice. Some jobs require a master's degree.

Average annual salary (US): $69,766 [1

Information security analyst (or IT security analyst)

As an information security analyst, you'll protect computer networks and systems by planning and implementing security systems. Job duties may include installing and maintaining firewalls and encryption programs, auditing and testing security software, monitoring access to high-security data, identifying cybersecurity threats, and investigating cybersecurity breaches. 

Educational requirements: To get a job as an information security analyst, you'll typically need a bachelor's degree in fields like computer science, cybersecurity, or computer programming. Some jobs require a master's degree in information systems.   

Average annual salary (US): $93,568 [2]

Malware analyst

As a malware analyst, you'll focus your attention specifically on malware, which is malicious software installed to destroy computer systems or access sensitive data. Types of cyberthreats you'll deal with include viruses, bots, worms, rootkits, ransomware, and Trojan horses. To perform this job, you'll need a strong knowledge of operating systems, programming languages, data recovery, and various malware tools like system monitors, network monitors, and debuggers. 

Educational requirements:  To be hired as a malware analyst, you'll need a bachelor's degree in computer engineering, computer science, cybersecurity, or another related field. 

Average annual salary (US): $97,168 [3

While these are just a few of the hottest jobs in the computer forensics field, many more are available. These include:

  • Information security analyst

  • Computer forensics examiner

  • Mobile forensics expert

  • Information technology auditor

  • Cryptographer

  • Cryptanalyst

  • Computer crime investigator

Certifications in computer forensics

Instead of or in addition to getting an undergraduate degree, you can get various certifications in the computer forensics field that could help qualify you for jobs. With online work, you’re able to work at your own pace however, the hours and qualifications required for certifications vary. Types of certifications in computer forensics include: 

  • Certified Forensic Computer Examiner (CFCE)

  • GIAC Network Forensic Analyst (GNFA)

  • Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator

  • CyberSecurity Forensic Analyst (CSFA)

Getting started in computer forensics

Gain in-demand skills for a career in cybersecurity with the IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate on Coursera. Learn from industry leaders at your own pace as you gain hands-on experience with tools like Wireshark, IBM QRadar, and IBM Guardium.  

Related articles

Article sources

1. Glassdoor. “Digital Forensics Analyst Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/digital-forensics-analyst-salary-SRCH_KO0,25.htm.” Accessed February 25, 2022.

2. Glassdoor. “Security Analyst Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/security-analyst-salary-SRCH_KO0,16.htm.” Accessed February 25, 2022.

3. Glassdoor. “Malware Analyst Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/malware-analyst-salary-SRCH_KO0,15.htm.” Accessed February 25, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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