The role of digital forensics officers has become increasingly important in law enforcement operations in recent years. INTERPOL defines it as: “A branch of forensic science that focuses on identifying, acquiring, processing, analyzing, and reporting on data stored electronically.”

INTERPOL Aids Public Safety Agencies Digital Transformation To Combat Global Shift in Criminal Activities
INTERPOL Aids Public Safety Agencies Digital Transformation To Combat Global Shift in Criminal Activities

With the growth in Internet use and computer technology creating risks and vulnerabilities and paving the way for new types of criminal activity, electronic evidence is now part of most criminal activities. As a result, digital forensics support has become vital for many law enforcement and corporate investigations.

Law enforcement globally is facing unprecedented challenges and maintaining law and order and keeping communities safe is likely to become increasingly demanding. In addition, modern investigations are changing rapidly as digital evidence becomes ever more important.

INTERPOL Aids Public Safety Agencies Digital Transformation To Combat Global Shift in Criminal Activities
INTERPOL Aids Public Safety Agencies Digital Transformation To Combat Global Shift in Criminal Activities

Consequently, organizations of all sizes are realizing the critical value of digital or electronic evidence in helping them to find actionable intelligence from a growing number of digital sources to solve more cases faster. Both the public and private sectors are increasingly relying on digital forensics investigators and analysts to carry out file recovery, find the necessary artifacts, and then evaluate the information and find actionable intelligence.

In most cases, electronic evidence is not just found on smartphones, but also on a wide range of other electronic devices, such as feature phones, tablets, computers, unmanned aerial systems, and storage disks. Law enforcement bodies may fail to secure crucial evidence, misinterpret its meaning or importance, or even unintentionally destroy it if they lack effective digital forensics capabilities.

The Role of Digital Forensics

Comprehensive and professional forensic techniques are critical in ensuring that findings are admissible in court.

Courtroom – Source: Shutterstock

The primary role of digital forensics companies and staff is to extract this electronic data, process it in order to obtain actionable intelligence, and present the findings for prosecution whether in a criminal or civil court:

  • Criminal cases: the investigation of any unlawful activity by criminals. They are usually conducted by law enforcement agencies’ digital forensic examiners.

  • Civil cases: the protection of rights and property of individuals or corporations, or contractual issues between commercial entities where the digital forensics operations are known as electronic discovery (eDiscovery).

Law Enforcement Agencies Confirm the Importance of Digital Forensics

Cellebrite’s 2022 Industry Trends Survey for Law Enforcement emphasizes the vital role of digital evidence as part of investigations, with agency managers saying that it is part of 63% of cases. Devices are becoming more sophisticated and the number of sources that must be examined to find actionable digital evidence continues to increase, they confirmed.

Cellebrite’s 4th annual Industry Trends Survey provides an in-depth look at the trends affecting and defining how global law enforcement agencies, military organizations, and the intelligence community are operating today. Download here

Sources of evidence are soaring, and many cases now involve multiple cell phones and other electronic devices, and 62% of agency managers pointed to the sheer volume of evidence (including digital sources) as one of the biggest challenges their departments face.

Two major trends shown clearly in the survey were the need for agencies to modernize their investigative workflow, and to ensure staff members are properly trained with the right solutions to face technological challenges. Managers identified the growing skills gap, with 74% confirming an IT/tech skills gap in policing. Meanwhile, 52% of agency managers do not believe officers at their agency have the digital forensics skills to handle digital crimes.

In addition, locked devices, remain a big problem for forensic labs, with an average of 66% of devices reaching labs locked. And when examiners reported their labs have advanced digital forensic tools needed to unlock devices, 14% noted that locked devices were excluded – potentially missing crucial evidence.

High Demand for University Digital Forensics Degrees

A BA in computer forensics or similar is usually required to open the path to becoming a computer forensics investigator. Digital forensics jobs are so much in-demand that universities, colleges and online education providers now offer degrees or certifications.

Among the skills taught are how to communicate clearly and concisely, cybersecurity, the law and how to conduct a criminal investigation. These degrees provide a strong foundation in investigative techniques and computer use, as well as emerging technologies, and required practices.

The personal requirements required for being a successful digital forensics investigator or analyst include technical and analytical capabilities, strong attention to detail, excellent problem-solving skills, and an ability to interpret data and notice discrepancies.

What Does The Digital Forensics Role Involve?

Digital forensics positions include the following titles: investigator, technician, or analyst, with most of these roles being in the public sector such as law enforcement, state or national agencies, or crime labs.

The digital forensic analyst needs the ability to investigate suspects after the public reports evidence of a crime is critical. Analyzing digital activity and accessing the information on electronic devices to find more information about suspects is the next step.

Forensic investigators do not determine whether a suspect is guilty or innocent. Still, they often testify in courts and before juries to explain the importance of uncovered information in order to aid the judicial system in reaching a conclusion.

Forensic examiners and investigators must learn about and implement the best and most up-to-date ways of identifying, accessing, processing, analyzing and preserving data stored electronically using scientifically accepted and valid processes for use in and outside of court.

Digital Forensics Salary Levels

Salary for digital forensics officers will always vary based on experience, qualifications, and location, however, the average salary for digital forensics ranges from $67,213 to $86,681.

Starting salaries can be as low as $31,000 though they can also start at the $53,000 level depending on the agency, company and location.

More experienced investigators with a master’s degree and 10 years or more in the job can earn on average well above $95,000.

Discover how Cellebrite helps digital forensics experts uncover vital evidence.

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