Completing a digital forensics certification program enhances your professional skills, experience, and credibility. Dozens of digital forensics certification programs are available, and some are more valuable than others. So, where do you start? Read on!
In this article you will learn the benefits of getting a digital forensics certification, details about five highly regarded introductory and advanced certifications in the field, and the education, qualifications, and skills needed to become a Digital Forensic Analyst.
Why Get Certified?
So, why get certified? Digital forensics certifications provide the training and tools to help you advance your digital forensics career. Certifications prove you retained specific knowledge and gained new skills. The knowledge and new skills increase your qualifications, making you a more valuable asset to a current or prospective employer.
Gain a New Skill
Hiring managers love certifications. Seeing a certification on your resume confirms to a prospective employer the skills detailed on your resume. Having a certification goes a long way in helping a hiring manager better understand your skill level and determine that you are the right person for the position.
Prove You Have the Knowledge
A digital forensics certification program is an opportunity for you to gain a great deal of knowledge in a very short period of time. The coursework will expose you to new tools and processes as well as previously unexplored perspectives on the course topics, expanding your knowledge and broadening your experience.
Apply this new knowledge to your current role, use it as proof to your employer that you are ready to take on additional responsibilities, or use it to prove your digital forensics knowledge when pursuing new opportunities.
Some of the most highly sought after intermediate and advanced digital forensic certifications include:
- GIAC Battlefield Forensics and Acquisition (GBFA)
- GIAC Certified Forensic Examiner (GCFE)
- GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA)
- GIAC Network Forensic Analyst (GNFA)
- GIAC Reverse Engineering Malware (GREM)
A good place to begin your certification path is with a training course like FOR498: Battlefield Forensics and Data Acquisition or Windows Forensic Analysis.
FOR498: Battlefield Forensics and Data Acquisition teaches you digital acquisition, data handling, and how to rapidly identify and start data extraction to properly preserve evidence. You can expect to learn how to identify, collect, and preserve data forensically from many types of devices. The knowledge provided to you in this course prepares you for the GBFA certification.
FOR500: Windows Forensic Analysis teaches you how to choose and apply forensic techniques to real-world scenarios. This course provides you a deep dive into analyzing and authenticating forensic data in Microsoft Windows operating systems. Completing FOR500 imparts the skills and knowledge needed to ready you for the GCFE certification.
Once you have received one of the previously mentioned certifications, you may decide to pursue an advanced level certification like the GCFA or the GNFA. SANS training courses that align with these certifications are FOR508: Advanced Incident Response, Threat Hunting, and Digital Forensics and FOR572: Advanced Network Forensics: Threat Hunting, Analysis, and Incident Response.
FOR508: Advanced Incident Response, Threat Hunting, and Digital Forensics teaches you how to respond to enterprise network threats from organized crime, hackers, and global adversaries. You will learn to detect how and when a breach occurs and how to track adversaries and develop threat intelligence.
FOR572: Advanced Network Forensics: Threat Hunting, Analysis, and Incident Response teaches you how to use network evidence in a forensic investigation. Some of the topics you will learn include how to reverse engineer network protocols, decrypt captured traffic, and analyze wireless network traffic.
Another valuable advanced course of study is the FOR610: Reverse Engineering Malware: Malware Analysis Tools and Techniques SANS training course. This course aligns with the GREM certification and teaches you how to examine malicious Microsoft Windows programs. In this course, you will learn everything about malware, including but not limited to malware analysis, reverse engineering, setting up a laboratory, and intercepting traffic using a variety of cutting-edge tools.
The education path of a digital forensic analyst is varied. The most traditional approach is to pursue a bachelor’s degree in digital forensics or cybersecurity, such as the SANS Technology Institute’s bachelor’s degree program in applied cybersecurity, which includes nine GIAC certifications as part of the degree program. However, the fastest route to a career as a digital forensic analyst is a certificate program like the SANS Technology Institute’s undergraduate certificate program in applied cybersecurity. Students in SANS.edu’s undergraduate certificate program complete four courses, earn four GIAC certifications, and receive lifetime support from the SANS.edu Career Center. Certain fields like law enforcement or various positions in government may prefer to see that you hold a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or another similar field.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree, you may decide to pursue a graduate certificate or master’s degree. A master’s in digital forensics, cybersecurity, or another computer science degree is a great educational path to follow if you are looking to find an advanced level digital forensics analyst role. Jeremiah Hainly, a senior cyber defense analyst for The Hershey Company, chose to purse a Master of Science in Information Security Engineering at the SANS Technology Institute because he found no other graduate degree program that offers industry-recognized certifications. “I knew that a SANS Technology Institute degree would make me stand out among my peers and help me build my confidence in a field where up-to-the-minute knowledge can be a game-changer,” said Jeremiah.
Once you are working in the field, earning a graduate certificate is a great way to upgrade your skills and advance your career. Digital forensic engineer Jessica Stainer completed the SANS Technology Institute’s Graduate Certificate Program in Incident Response after pursuing a dual major in Computer Science and Criminal Justice and Law as an undergraduate and earning a Master of Science degree in Information Security and Assurance from George Mason University. “George Mason University gave me a wonderful graduate degree education with an emphasis on theoretical basics. But I needed more hands-on instruction,” said Jessica. “Cybersecurity is an industry that values certifications and SANS certifications get noticed by those looking to hire. SANS courses also gave me practical, hands-on knowledge that I use to perform on the job every day.”
Digital forensic specialists are employed throughout many different industries, including banking and finance, healthcare, insurance, network and cybersecurity, computer software, defense, space, aviation, as well as state and federal government agencies. Often, an employer will require work experience before they offer an advanced level job. This can also sometimes be the case for an entry level job. Should you choose to pursue a Ph.D. in a computer science field, employers will often waive the work experience requirement.
The SANS Technology Institute’s undergraduate certificate program in applied cybersecurity can be completed in 10 to 18 months. A bachelor’s degree is usually a four-year program, while a full-time master’s degree is usually a two-year program. A master’s degree program for working professionals, like the SANS Technology Institute’s cybersecurity master’s degree, can be completed in three to five years.
Most training programs, and all the ones detailed in this article, are six-day courses, developed to provide an immense amount of information in a very short period of time. All the training courses listed here also provide 36 continuing professional education credits (CPEs) which can be used to maintain and update other professional credentials. CPEs help to ensure that professionals holding certifications continue to learn and remain up to date on current and trending developments within their profession.
A digital forensic analyst must be well versed in many aspects of forensic science, computer science, and cybersecurity. An understanding of data science is also valuable knowledge to apply to digital forensics.
Completing a college degree in a field of computer science or a certificate program like the SANS Technology Institute’s undergraduate certificate in applied cybersecurity is the first step to enter the profession of digital forensics. A degree or certificate program that gives you industry recognized certifications, such as the cybersecurity programs at the SANS Technology Institute, will provide prospective employers with the assurance they need that you are ready to begin your professional journey as a forensic analyst.
Starting a forensics career as an entry-level technician or examiner builds experience and imparts real-world knowledge not learned in school. This foundational experience builds your confidence and your credibility with your company and supervisor. Learning new skills through on-the-job training provides you with the experience - and a resume - that shows you are ready for new responsibility.
With new knowledge comes new responsibility, which imparts more knowledge still. You will have the opportunity to learn many different aspects of your field and even discover a particular focus that you find most interesting and fulfilling. This knowledge acquisition is vital to progressing in your career. As your experience grows, your value as a digital forensic expert increases, giving you the ability to pursue many new and rewarding opportunities.
Often, you will find your employer is willing to pay for your continuing education. Getting your employer to pay for you to get an advanced degree or a digital forensics certification is a great way to build additional skill and advance your career. Accredited college programs like those at the SANS Technology Institute are also eligible for Veterans Education Benefits.
Certification is an important step in advancing your career as a digital forensic analyst. The skills and knowledge you will gain from any of the certifications listed above provides the experience you need to progress to the next phase of your career. Continuing your education, through a degree or certification program, will keep you up to date on the latest trends in digital forensics.