Certified forensic computer examiners, or analysts, are the private detectives of the digital age. When a company, person or government entity needs information located, recovered or extracted from digital storage media, they contact a forensic computer examiner. Most forensic computer analysts complete a two- or four-year program in information technology, or a related field, and then go on to obtain certification. The salary of a computer forensic examiner can vary depending on factors such as type of job, experience and geography.
In the digital age, many people pursue degrees at the associates or bachelor level in one of many information technology majors. While an educational background in IT is certainly important for anyone wishing to become a forensic computer analyst, many employers require additional certification or education that is specifically related to forensic work. Associations such as the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists and the International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners offer certification. Certification might increase your starting salary or qualify you for a raise if already employed.
Public vs. Private Sector
Both private and public sector employers use forensic computer examiners. In the private sector, anyone from a private detective firm to a multi-national company may need experts who are capable of retrieving hidden, or apparently lost, data. In the public sector, law enforcement agencies are using forensic computer analysts with increasing frequency to uncover hidden evidence to be used to prosecute criminals. The average salary for computer system design and related service employees working within the private detective and investigative fields is $79,480 as of 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Private sector jobs tend to pay more, but public sector jobs often offer more benefits.
As with any job, experience will directly affect your salary. Along with being certified, previous experience in the field can qualify you for significantly more income. For example, with an additional two years of experience, you might qualify for a starting salary of an additional $15,000 or more per year with a law enforcement agency. In the private sector, you might choose to work as a private contractor, once you have gained enough experience, allowing you to set your own fees.
Geography plays a critical role in your salary. Because of the nature of the job, large, international cities are likely to pay more than small rural communities because the need for your expertise is greater. Virginia, for example, has the highest paying average for all private detective and investigative jobs of all the states due, in large part, to being close to Washington, D.C.