Switching from straight IT
Hi, I am new to this forum. I have 18+ years in IT, mainly application development, last 8 years in project management. At this point in my career I'd love to rejuvenate my interest in and also my long-term marketability in the technology field. Computer forensics is something I think I'd find interesting and that fits my character and values. I have a few questions about a career in CF:
1. From reading a bit about it, it looks like the majority of CF practioners came from law enforcement or military, and not the IT. If this is accurate, then am I likely to face many obstacles in becoming successful in this field?
2. What are the career paths? It looks like one is to work for a Big X consulting company in their in-house forensics unit. What are the ballpark salaries that Big X consultants (beginner and experienced) get?
3. It looks like another path is to become a consultant and try to get work from lawyers, police, and others, right? Can this path provide constant source of inclome or is it more of a moon lighting/supplemental income? How much experience one must have before embarking on it?
4. Third path is to try to land a full-time job with a law enforcement agency. Do they hire CF specialists without law enforcement background?
5. Is the fourth path to work for a company (not Big X) which needs CF specialists permanently in house? Are there such companies?
6. Are there any other career paths?
Sorry for the lengthy post; I have so many questions I may follow up with other posts. Thank you in advance.
I'll answer your questions as best I can. I would like to welcome you, and I think that you will find this forum to be an asset in your search for answers.
So to your questions:
1. Your IT experience will be valuable to you. It does not make you a forensics examiner, but it shows you've got the aptitude for the work. You will learn the techniques and procedures quickly. Your lack of an investigatorial background will hurt you. Particularly if you want to go to work for a law enforcement agency. I believe that this experience is terribly important in this field. Far more often than not I'm asked to prove a set of facts, usually to prove a case, as opposed to being asked to recover a specific document/file/email, etc. This will be true in civil and criminal cases alike. Your bosses/clients will give you little direction many times. How you piece together a case based on what you find (and what you look for) is the difference between a good examiner and the rest. These skills can be developed however.
2. I'm not sure about the private sector pay scales. But your basically right on the career paths. Work for yourself, the government, or corporations.
3. I've been working on this as well for about a year now. So far it's just a side line to my law enforcement career. I could probably do better if I devoted my full effort to it, but for now I'm happy. I will state again that I believe the market for these services is yet to mature. This is the third business enterprise I've started. The first that I actually had experience in before starting. I highly recommend that you get some experience before putting your name on the line. In most cases the stakes are very high for those involved in what you are offering. Far beyond the fee you are charging.
4. I think that some agencies would be willing to hire someone with your experience. Another option is to put on a uniform and work the streets for a few years. You'll build a repertoire of experiences that you never would have imagined. It's a great job. It's not for everyone but neither is doing forensics in a law enforcement agency. The great majority of your cases will involve child sexual exploitation. The worse kinds of things you can imagine. The images will stick with you.
5. This may be your best option, particularly with your experience. How about the company you currently work for? Perhaps no one has introduced them to the practice.
6. I think you've covered the major markets for these skills. There are many people here with a lot of experience, so I'm sure there will be more suggestions.
I highly recommend that you get some experience before putting your name on the line. In most cases the stakes are very high for those involved in what you are offering. Far beyond the fee you are charging.
I just wanted to second the above, it's an important point which bears repeating (not necessarily to "tallone", but just generally). Forensic computing is a fascinating field but also one with real consequences for those involved.
Here endeth the lesson 😉
Oh, nearly forgot…tallone, welcome to the Forensic Focus forums!
Thank you for your welcome and your replies. Joining a law enforcement agency is not an option for me at this point. That pretty much leaves trying to land a CF job with a company in the private sector. Question: will they hire someone like me with no CF experience but a lot of IT experience and then provide training? Or I must first get trained on my own, then try to land a job? If the latter, then which training method would you recommend (textbooks, private courses, college course, etc)? Also, I would really love to get an idea about the ballpark salaries offered to CF specialists with different levels of experience (novice, 1-3yrs, 3-5yrs, 5+ yrs) by private companies. Any pointers would be appreciated. Thank you.
I am not trying to put you off your ambition but as already expressed by Greg and Jamie, itâ€™s only fair that someone engaging in this type of work (especially in criminal cases) is capable and experienced especially when there are peopleâ€™s lives, liberty and livelihood that are at risk. For example being accused of making and possessing indecent or obscene images of children is a serious accusation, and the stigma attached to this is often too much for some to bare.
The suicide rate for those on bail/remand awaiting trial for such offences is proportionately higher than other offences.
I digress. On the subject of finding a job in this field, like anything in life it all depends on how well you can sell yourself to a company. If you can evidence these skills or simply have the â€˜gift of the gabâ€™ you may land yourself in a good job working for a large company that needs some internal staff â€˜computer monitoringâ€™ administrator/investigator. I'd like a job like this when I retire from the police, keeping â€˜tabsâ€™ on some company's employees 🙂
EnCase Enterprise Edition strikes me as being ideal for this type of work, it might be an idea to research this software.
They may require I.T. skills over investigative skills. There are some job adverts posted on this board (itâ€™s a new section), and you can see some of the salaries involved; however I am aware that some recruitment agencies like to get your CV on their databases, just in case a job comes up, by advertising jobs that are too good to be true.
I can provide a little insight into how much money one could earn in this area. An ex-colleague of mine, with similar experience to me, left to do the same job for a private company - for double what he was earning as a police officer.
You can pick up a lot of information on the FC subject by simply reading this and other boards, and by doing research on the internet. You can find lots of information about courses on this board too. And to my knowledge there are distance learning courses you can pay for â€“ I think Eoghan Casey does one. You can find some info about various books here: -
I totally agree with the former posters on the job ethics etc, but I want to add that in the private sector you (almost) won't have anything to do with CP, but much more with 'normal' fraud cases etcetera. A reason that I work in that sector and not for LE. I would not be able to do CP cases and sleep at night. Therefor I hugely respect people who can do this line of work.
The advice I'd like to give you is, no matter what direction you choose, be prepared for the messy cases you will no doubt encounter 🙂 Still, it's great work to do.
Ironic sidenote: since I cooperated with a Dutch magazine (Nieuwe Revu) on an article on CP, anonymity, Freenet and the like, commenting on CP and paedophiles is exactly what I have been asked to do on several occasions by press and others. Weird.
Thank you, Andy and Pvissers. The job forum on this board provides no salary info for US-based jobs. So, I'm still not sure as to what to expect at private companies based on years of experience. I'll continue to search for that info, but if anyone can provide pointers, it would be great!…In terms of your comments on pedophile cases: if I understood you, you seem to be implying that the computer forensic work in such cases would be best done by people with law enforcement backgrounds due to the gravity of the accusations. I thought that the methodologies and the tools used in this field can establish the acceptable levels of confidence in the results, regardless of the investigator's past background. If this is not so, please explain…So far the only people who replied to my original post work in LE, I am wondering what's the percentage of this board's readers who work for private companies and who practice CF full time? It would be very interesting to hear their point of view on these subjects.
Hi tallone, please donâ€™t get me wrong, there are many non law enforcement investigators who deal with paedophile cases that I know who are experts in the field. A lot of forces in the UK either have in house civilian support staff/investigators, or â€˜out-sourceâ€™ their work to other agencies. Some of the UKâ€™s private practitioners such as Paul Sanderson, Brain Webber, Neil Barrett and Prof Tony Samms (RMCS) are at the top of the ladder. But that excellence has come through years of practice and experience.
Many in the private sector are very well trained and this combined with their ingrained technical knowledge makes them far more formidable than law enforcement investigators, especially police officers who are new to the subject. Incidentally I do not consider myself anywhere near their level (more like the first rung of that ladder).
However advantages someone with a law enforcement background will have are usually years of dealing with criminal legal system, and difficult, taxing and downright evil/dirty cases. Knowing from experience what cases are feasible to prosecute, and which have no chance of success.
I donâ€™t actually think the tools used are the answer, as many tools will give you the same results, its interpreting the results I think matters. With all the tools you will frequently hear mentioned, such as EnCase, Smart, and FTK there is no â€˜find evidenceâ€™ button. You need to find it for yourself.
In respect of any advice I could give to yourself, new to the subject is: - I actually believe that the EnCE is a viable qualification to obtain, especially if you wish to prove to a company that you are capable. Part 2 of the exam is a mock investigation with evidence hidden all over the place. You will need to attend the basic and intermediate courses to be eligible. So there might be some initial expense for you to outlay.
In respect of US pay scales, I can only speculate that itâ€™s probably a lot more in dollars than those advertised in pounds, perhaps some of the US members will advise?