In today’s world, a large subset of criminal activity occurs online. If you’re technologically skilled and wish to make a difference in a justice-related career, a job preventing cybercrime may be the perfect move.
Working as a cybercrime investigator will allow you to positively impact the world, playing an essential role in getting to the bottom of wrongdoings that occur online. By uncovering the identities of hackers and other bad actors, you will protect individuals and companies from cybercrime — keeping their data and infrastructures safe from harm.
Cybercrime investigators evaluate complaints and incidents, gather evidence, and build cases. Often, they work alongside law enforcement agents at the state or national levels investigating crimes such as child pornography, copyright infringement, hacking, and phishing attacks. As experts in their field, cybercrime investigators may be called upon to testify in court.
When a cybercrime results in damage to a hard drive or related component, a client might request a reconstruction of the lost material; this represents another function of a cybercrime investigator. And organizations that rely on internet-based technology, such as police departments, schools, and public works departments, will call upon cybercrime investigators to hold training sessions for employees, students, and members of the public.
Although cybercrime investigators often work for government branches, there are private sector jobs available as well. In the private sector, cybersecurity professionals are hired to assess the efficacy of their infrastructures. If organizations want to measure the likelihood of cybercriminals exploiting weak points, they may request software tests as well.
To become a cybercrime investigator, you'll need a strong technical background and excellent troubleshooting skills. A deep and growing knowledge of operating systems, popular software, and commonly orchestrated cybercrimes will equip you for success.
You must also be the type of person who remains calm under pressure — particularly because some of the cases you’ll receive will be time-sensitive. Those who enjoy the cybercrime career path are typically highly analytical and eager to solve problems. They possess keen observational skills, and can record those observations accurately and in detail. To succeed in this field, communication skills are a must.
A personable demeanor is useful in any career, but especially that of a cybercrime investigator, as the job often involves taking statements from distraught and uncertain victims of cybercrimes. If you work on a consultant basis, you'll likely collaborate with many different individuals — meaning that it’s best to know how to get along with diverse personalities.
Some cybercrime investigators begin their career in traditional law enforcement or information technology backgrounds, before moving on to specialize in investigating online crimes. That said, those at the start of their careers, who know they want to become a cybercrime investigator, often earn a bachelor's degree in digital forensics.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham offers a digital forensics degree within its criminal justice department, and students within the program have assisted with many crime-fighting ventures. One achievement included helping taking down $70 million money-laundering ring based in the Ukraine.
Earning a master's degree is also a smart option if you’re an aspiring cybercrime investigator. If you're interested in leadership roles or increased earning potential, a master’s will help you get there. You might also work toward one or more of the certifications available for cybercrime investigators and those in related fields.
Beyond formal education, it's a good idea to stay abreast of cybercrime trends in certain parts of the country and the world. For example, many of the cybercrimes in the U.S. are centralized to specific locations. White collar crimes cost the U.S. $300 billion a year according to FBI statistics; in some states, such as Texas, computer and internet fraud cases are common.When you can demonstrate knowledge of geographic trends related to cybercrime, potential employers will see you as an asset to their teams.
When looking at public-facing sites for cybercrime investigator job openings, you may find that opportunities are more sparse than for other tech roles. This is because many of the open positions in cybercrime investigation are for state and national governments.
The FBI and the Department of Defense are two federal organizations that hire cybercrime investigators. Numerous military bases seek out this position as well. Opportunities are also present at the state level — for example, in offices of attorneys general.
If you'd prefer to work for private corporations, Facebook and Apple have hired cybercrime investigators in the past. And after a 2018 American Bankers Association survey found that seven out of 10 Americans use online or mobile banking channels, major banks including Ally and SunTrust are increasingly likely to hire cybercrime investigators for their teams. Cybercriminals often view financial institutions as prime targets because of the amount of money available and the potential to cause widespread chaos through successful attacks.
Determining how much you could earn as a cybercrime investigator is not a straightforward task. It’s rare that companies will post salary information online, and the overall job pool in this industry is smaller than that of some other tech careers.
According to Payscale, the average salary of a forensic computer analyst is $70,988 per year in the United States. And while the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not specifically address cybercrime investigator salaries, it does feature a listing for private detectives and investigators; the 2017 median salary for that category was $50,700.
Recent reports predict that damages from cybercrimes will reach $6 trillion globally by 2021; so while job earning are wide ranging in this field, it is clear that well-trained cybersecurity and cybercrime specialists will be in high demand for the foreseeable future.
For the right candidate, there are many benefits to pursuing a career as a cybercrime investigator. The work is action-packed, collaborative, fast-paced, and directly tied technological developments and innovations. In addition, there are endless opportunities in this field to make a difference in the workplace and in society-at-large. Protecting people and their data is definitely a noble pursuit.
If these career characteristics appeal to your interests, use this post as a springboard to learn even more about cybercrime investigation.