In May 2021, a ransomware attack paralyzed the Colonial Pipeline Company, impacting computer systems and forcing a shutdown of a pipeline that transports 2.5 million barrels of fuel from the Gulf Coast to the Eastern Seaboard each day. In addition to disrupting company operations, the cyberattack led to higher gas prices and gas supply shortages in 11 states throughout the Southeast, including Georgia, North Carolina, Florida and Alabama.
Digital forensics analysts later found that Colonial’s network was compromised after an account password leaked to the dark web. Digital forensics not only played a crucial role in identifying what caused the breach, it helped investigators identify the attackers and recover roughly $2.3 million of ransom.
Students interested in helping solve cybercrimes must start by developing the right knowledge and skills. Earning an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Cybersecurity from the University of Nevada, Reno, can help prepare graduates to pursue a career in digital forensics.
Digital Forensics Analyst Job Description
Digital forensics analysts’ responsibilities vary based on the company they work for. Common duties, however, include the following:
- Analyzing computer systems to determine the extent of a breach
- Evaluating and analyzing digital evidence
- Storing digital evidence
- Performing in-depth analyses of breaches to determine what types of data have been stolen, including intellectual property or personal identifying information such as Social Security and driver’s license information
- Drafting forensics analysis reports to explain findings
- Traveling to client sites
- Testifying in court as an expert, if needed
- Researching and recommending updates and patches to technology and technological infrastructure
Work Settings for Digital Forensics Analysts
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that most digital forensics analysts work full time, Monday through Friday, in office settings; however, some professionals in the field are on call outside of standard business hours in case of emergencies. Consequently, some professionals may work more than 40 hours per week.
A number of different industries employ experienced, qualified analysts. Examples include the banking and finance, health care, computer software, computer and network security, and defense and space industries, as well as government administrations.
Skills Digital Forensics Analysts Need to Be Successful
Aspiring digital forensics analysts should develop a variety of skills, including analytical and problem-solving skills. Additionally, candidates who are detail-oriented are likely to have the best job prospects.
- Analytical Skills: Professionals in this field use specialized software forensics tools to investigate cases, recover files and follow data trails left by hackers. Analyzing their findings is a key element of the role.
- Attention to Detail: Cyberattacks are often difficult to detect, and digital forensics analysts must often sort through large amounts of data to uncover digital evidence. A keen eye for detail is a must-have skill for students interested in working in this field.
- Problem-Solving Skills: Digital forensics analysts are often tasked with sorting through extensive trails of potential digital evidence. Problem-solving skills aid professionals in identifying and interpreting malicious activity.
Digital Forensics Analyst Job Growth and Salary
Data from the BLS predicts that employment of information security analysts, the category that includes digital forensics analysts, will grow by 31% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than the average growth projected for all occupations. The increased frequency of cyberattacks, including ransomware attacks and data breaches, is among the reasons that demand for digital forensics analysts will remain strong. Banks, financial institutions and the health care sector will need to increase their cybersecurity capabilities to stay on top of these threats.
The BLS also reports that as of May 2020, the median annual wage for professionals in this field was $103,590, with earners in the top 10th percentile having annual salaries of more than $163,300. Salary ranges vary based on factors such as the industry an individual works in, their geographical region and experience level, and whether they’ve earned an advanced degree in a related field, such as a master’s in cybersecurity.
Become a Digital Forensics Analyst
Students interested in learning how to fight cybercrime and understanding how modern cybercriminals work will find that an advanced degree, such as a master’s in cybersecurity from the University of Nevada, Reno, can help provide the knowledge and expertise they need to succeed. Coursework in UNR’s program can be completed entirely online and includes courses in internet security, mobile computing security and privacy, digital forensics, blockchain, and cybersecurity laws and ethics. Are you ready to take the next step toward your goal of becoming a digital forensics analyst? Learn more about how the online Master of Science in Cybersecurity program at the University of Nevada, Reno can help prepare you with the technical skills to take on modern-day cybersecurity challenges.
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Axios, “Colonial Pipeline Hack: Gas Shortage Grips Southeast U.S.”
The Balance Careers, “Forensic Computer and Digital Forensics: Salary, Work Environment, and Education”
Bloomberg, “Hackers Breached Colonial Pipeline Using Compromised Password”
Houston Chronicle, “Forensic Computing Careers”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Information Security Analysts
The Wall Street Journal, “How the FBI Got Colonial Pipeline’s Ransom Money Back”