What Is a Computer Forensics Investigator?


Updated August 1, 2023

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Computer forensics investigation careers have grown alongside the use of digital technologies. Find out what computer forensics investigators do, how to become one, and what kinds of salaries these professionals earn.

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Computer forensics investigators collect and analyze digital evidence used in legal cases. They typically work in law enforcement and state or federal agencies. Most computer forensics investigators have a bachelor's degree. Some professionals enter this job after attending a bootcamp or gaining experience in a similar field.

Use our guide to learn more about what computer forensics investigators do, how to become one, and what kind of job growth and pay you can expect in this career.

History of Computer Forensics Investigators

The role of computer forensics investigators came from law enforcement's need to collect and examine digital evidence. What we now call computer forensics started at the end of the 20th century, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other law enforcement agencies created standard procedures for collecting digital evidence.

In 1998, an array of agencies — including the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, and U.S. Customs — came together to form a group called the Technical Working Group Digital Evidence. The goal of this organization was to develop standard operating procedures and the corresponding documents to handle digital evidence.

The following year, these groups rebranded themselves as scientific working groups (SWGs). SWGs are meetings of no more than 50 people at least once a year to discuss integrating imaging systems and technology into criminal justice. They create recommendations for collecting, storing, and analyzing digital evidence.

Today, computer forensics investigators examine multiple kinds of evidence, including:

  • Cellphones
  • Image and video files
  • Audio files
  • Internet browsing history

What Does a Computer Forensics Investigator Do?

Computer forensics investigators collect and examine digital evidence in crimes to determine whether evidence is relevant to ongoing criminal cases. They write reports about this data and testify in court about their findings.

These professionals may work long hours to meet tight deadlines and respond to investigations as they develop. Many computer forensics investigators work for law enforcement or governments at the state and federal levels. They work on counterintelligence, criminal, and law investigations. Businesses also hire them to help investigate fraud and intellectual property violations.

In addition to analyzing digital evidence, computer forensics investigators monitor the security of digital information. They make recommendations about how to safeguard digitized operations.

Computer forensics investigators need several soft and hard skills to work in their roles, which we explore below.

Key Soft Skills for Computer Forensics Investigators

  • Attention to Detail: Because computer forensics investigators comb through massive amounts of data as they search for evidence of wrongdoing, they need a keen eye for detail to find proof for criminal investigations.
  • Time Management: Computer forensics investigators can face tight deadlines, working long or unusual hours to gather evidence for criminal trials. As cases unfold and change, they may need to shift their priorities and manage their time accordingly.
  • Communication: Computer forensics investigators must testify in court and write reports on their findings about evidence for court cases. These duties require strong written and verbal communication skills.
  • Analytical Skills: Computer forensics investigators spend significant time examining data and digital evidence. They must use their analytical skills and knowledge of laws and regulations to determine which evidence is suitable for a given case.

Key Hard Skills for Computer Forensics Investigators

  • Forensics: Computer forensics investigators are experts in forensic techniques that help them examine and collect evidence relevant to ongoing investigations.
  • Software Tools: Computer forensics investigators must understand how to navigate software interfaces like iOS, Android, Windows, and Amazon Web Services that can be used to commit crimes or store digital evidence.
  • Cybersecurity: Computer forensics investigators must be skilled in cybersecurity, as their work may require them to decrypt data to conduct their investigations. They may also recommend cybersecurity strategies to prevent future cybercrimes.
  • Regulatory Knowledge: Computer forensics investigators need to know the policies and procedures that regulate their investigations. They must ensure their investigations comply with these policies.

A Day in the Life of a Computer Forensics Investigator

Computer forensics investigators spend much of their workday collecting and examining digital evidence related to criminal investigations. They analyze this data, write reports about their findings, and testify in court cases. They may also make recommendations about how to increase the security of digital information to prevent future breaches.

Computer Forensics Investigator Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 10% job growth from 2021 to 2031 for "all other computer occupations," a broad career category which includes computer forensics investigators. This faster-than-average growth projection reflects the continued demand for cybersecurity workers in the digital age.

Computer forensics investigators make an average annual salary of $75,530, according to Payscale data from March 2023. Wages for computer forensics investigators vary with experience: For example, midcareer computer forensic investigators make an average salary of $89,530, according to March 2023 Payscale data.

Factors like education also impact earning potential. For instance, according to Payscale, professionals with master's degrees in cybersecurity earn $93,000 on average, higher than the $75,000 average that professionals with cybersecurity bachelor's degrees make.

Salaries vary by location: BLS data about all other computer occupations show that these professionals earn the highest average wages in Washington, D.C.; Maryland; and California.


Average Annual Salary

Source: Payscale

How to Become a Computer Forensics Investigator

Computer forensics investigators typically hold bachelor's degrees in computer science, cybersecurity, or computer forensics. These degrees usually take four years of full-time study. However, you may be able to start your career more quickly through a boot camp. Other computer forensics professionals begin their careers in adjacent fields like information technology or law enforcement.

Professional organizations like GIAC and ISACA offer credentials in areas like digital forensics and incident response. Though these certifications are not equivalent to required degrees, they can help aspiring computer forensics investigators stand out in the job market and offer verification of their field-specific skills.

Check out additional resources for computer forensics investigators below:

How to Become a Computer Forensics Investigator

How to Become a Computer Forensics Investigator

Find out how to become a computer forensics investigator, including the education, experience, and certification requirements.

Day in the Life of a Computer Forensics Investigator

Day in the Life of a Computer Forensics Investigator

Discover what a computer forensics investigator does daily.

Computer Forensics Degree Programs

Computer Forensics Degree Programs

Learn whether a computer forensics degree aligns with your career goals and determine which programs work best for you.

Certifications for Computer Science Professionals

Certifications for Computer Science Professionals

Find out what certifications could be right for you and why you should pursue them.

Similar Specializations and Career Paths

  • Network Architects: Network architects are experienced IT professionals who specialize in the preventative aspects of computer forensics. They oversee the creation of new security systems, conduct risk assessments, and make sure these systems meet regulations.
  • Information Security Analyst: Information security analysts work to prevent cybersecurity attacks. They establish security protocols, protect digital assets, test for system weaknesses, and prepare response plans for system breaches. They also test computer systems for efficiency and effectiveness.
  • IT Security Architect: Security architects research, design, and implement security systems and protocols for their company. They test these systems, respond to problems as they arise, and develop policies and procedures that govern the systems' use.
  • Software Developers: Software developers design security software to meet the needs of their clients. They write code in various programming languages, build software, and test their designs to ensure proper function.
  • Computer Information Researcher: Computer information researchers conduct studies, analyze data, and create new technologies to further computer science and information technology. They can specialize in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics, or programming.
Career Required Education Required Experience Average Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2021-2031)

Network Architects

Bachelor's Degree

5 years or more



Information Security Analysts

Bachelor's Degree

Fewer than 5 years



Security Architects

Bachelor's Degree

5 years or more



Software Developers

Bachelor's Degree




Computer Information Researchers

Master's Degree




Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Payscale

Resources for Computer Forensics Investigators

These professional organizations offer resources for computer forensics investigators such as networking, professional development, industry news, credentials, and awards.

Professional Organizations for Computer Forensics Investigators

  • Information Systems Security Association (ISSA): ISSA is a community of cybersecurity professionals committed to promoting global digital security. Members can access career development opportunities, job boards, and updates on best practices and developments in the industry.
  • ISACA: ISACA is a community of IT professionals designed to help IT professionals at all levels. They offer professional development opportunities, industry news, credentialing, and networking events.
  • American Academy of Forensics Sciences (AAFS): AAFS is a community of forensics professionals looking to advance science and scientific applications in the legal system. Member benefits include continuing education, networking, and leadership opportunities.
  • International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners (ISFCE): The ISFCE is an internationally recognized organization known for its certifications, training, and proficiency testing.

Questions About Computer Forensics Investigators

  • What does a computer forensics investigator do?

    Computer forensics investigators collect and analyze digital evidence related to criminal investigations. They also write reports, record their findings, and testify in court. They may also make recommendations about how to secure information.

  • What skills must a computer forensics investigator possess?

    Computer forensics investigators need to be skilled in software tools, forensics, computer forensics, cybersecurity, and security policies and procedures. They also need soft skills such as communication, analytical thinking, time management, and attention to detail.

  • Is computer forensics a good career?

    Computer forensics can be a rewarding career for people who want to blend their skills in computer science, cybersecurity, and forensics to investigate crimes.

  • What's the difference between cybersecurity and computer forensics?

    The difference between cybersecurity and computer forensics is that cybersecurity aims to prevent cybercrime, while computer forensics investigates these crimes after the fact.

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