How to become a cybercrime investigator: A complete career guide (2024)

A cybercrime investigator works at the intersection of cybersecurity and criminal justice.

The work of a cybercrime investigator focuses on gathering evidence from digital systems that can be used in the prosecution of internet-based, or cyberspace, criminal activity. In addition to having good technical skills, professionals interested in becoming a cybercrime investigator also need to learn the proper way to handle investigations, inquiries, and chain of custody issues.

In this guide

  • Important career steps
  • Career overview
  • Important skills
  • Salary and outlook

While possessing and utilizing many of the same skills as a computer forensics investigator, the cybercrime investigator is more focused on and adept at investigating crimes that use the internet as the primary attack vector.

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The cybercrime investigator takes the lead for investigating cyber-attacks by criminals, overseas adversaries, and terrorists. The threat from cybercriminals is serious — and growing. Cyber intrusions are becoming more common, more menacing, and more advanced.

Both private and public sector networks are targeted by adversaries every minute of every day. Companies are targeted for trade secrets and other sensitive data and universities attacked for their research and development. Citizens are targeted by identity thieves and children by online predators. The ability to preserve and recover digital evidence can be critical for the successful prosecution of these crimes.

Steps to becoming a cybercrime investigator

A combination of both education and experience are needed to become a cybercrime investigator. This education and experience, or a combination of each, should be in both cybersecurity and investigations.

Education A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or cybersecurity is generally required to qualify for a position as a cybercrime investigator. Some community colleges offer two-year associate degrees in criminal justice, which allow aspiring cybercrime investigators to then transfer to a four-year college or university to earn a bachelor’s degree. Pursuing a degree in computer science is also desirable for work as a cybercrime investigator.

As surveyed by Cyberseek, 57 percent of cybercrime investigators graduated with a bachelor’s degree, while 25 percent pursued master’s and only 17 percent had an associate degree.

Career path A common career path for this investigative specialty passes through several years as an integral part of a cybersecurity team. A sound understanding of cybersecurity defenses arms the applicant with the basis for understanding how cybercriminals will react in a variety of circumstances. Work in a discipline that has helped the applicant acquire skills related to investigative work are valuable within the industry.

Below are examples of common job titles/openings related to cybercrime investigators:

  • Geek Squad agent
  • Network analyst
  • Information security analyst
  • Security analyst
  • Security engineer

Professional certifications While there is no industry-wide prescribed professional certification required for a career as a cybercrime investigator, two certifications stand out as desirable qualifiers. The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) demonstrates that an applicant has a sound understanding of security architecture, engineering, and management. The Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) further demonstrates an in-depth knowledge of cyberattacks and mitigation methods.

Enumerated certifications below are the top certifications requested according to Cyberseek:

The EnCase™ Certified Examiner (EnCE) program certifies both public and private sector professionals in the use of Opentext™ EnCase™ Forensic . EnCE certification acknowledges that professionals have mastered computer investigation methodology as well as the use of EnCase software during complex computer examinations.

GIAC Incident Handler certification validates a practitioner’s ability to detect, respond, and resolve computer security incidents using a wide range of essential security skills.

GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA) certifies that candidates have the knowledge, skills, and ability to conduct formal incident investigations and handle advanced incident handling scenarios, including internal and external data breach intrusions, advanced persistent threats, anti-forensic techniques used by attackers, and complex digital forensic cases. The GCFA certification focuses on core skills required to collect and analyze data computer systems.

Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US) covers U.S. government privacy laws, regulations and policies specific to government practice, as well as those more broadly applicable to the public and private sectors in the U.S

GIAC Certified Forensic Examiner (GCFE) certification validates a practitioner’s knowledge of computer forensic analysis, with an emphasis on core skills required to collect and analyze data from Windows computer systems. GCFE certification holders have the knowledge, skills, and ability to conduct typical incident investigations including e-Discovery, forensic analysis and reporting, evidence acquisition, browser forensics and tracing user and application activities on Windows systems.

Experience Because the knowledge base required to be a successful cybercrime investigator is, in many aspects, cross-functional it is a position best suited for the experienced cybersecurity or criminal investigations professional. Even coming out of college with one of the above-mentioned bachelor’s degrees it is unlikely that a candidate would possess the experience needed in both cybersecurity and investigations. Experience in the field will allow for adding a solid knowledge of investigation principles and practices on top of cybersecurity skills or vice versa.

What is a cybercrime investigator?

A cybercrime investigator is a highly-skilled and specially-trained investigator or detective. Sought after in both the private and public sectors, these investigators bring the skills needed to unravel today’s sophisticated internet crimes.

Billions of dollars are lost every year repairing systems hit by cyberattacks. Some take down vital systems, disrupting and sometimes disabling the work of hospitals, banks, and emergency call centers around the country. The cybercrime investigator gathers the information necessary to stop cybercriminals from continuing their nefarious activities.

Cybercrime investigator skills and experience

This is a multi-functional role in that both investigative techniques and cybersecurity skills must be deployed to correctly gather and preserve evidence for later prosecution.

The ability to work in a multi-jurisdictional or cross-jurisdictional environment is important. An important aspect of cybercrime is its nonlocal character. Illegal activity can occur in jurisdictions separated by vast distances. This poses severe challenges for cybercrime investigators since these crimes often require international cooperation. For example, if a person accesses child pornography located on a computer in a country that does not ban child pornography, is that individual committing a crime in a nation where such materials are illegal? The cybercrime investigator must be able to ask and answer questions related to understanding exactly where cybercrime has taken place.

Top skills requested according to Cyberseek:

  • Computer forensics
  • Linux
  • Information security
  • Consumer electronics
  • Hard drives
  • Information systems
  • Forensic toolkit
  • UNIX
  • Malware engineering

Projected skills for cybercrime investigators:

  • Threat hunting
  • Security information and event management (SIEM)
  • Anomaly detection
  • Network firewalls
  • Counter intelligence

What do cybercrime investigators do?

Most cybercrime investigators work for law enforcement agencies, consulting firms, or business and financial companies. In some cases, cybercrime investigators can be hired, either full time or freelance, as white hat hackers. In this role, while often providing penetration testing (pen testing) services, the investigator has the responsibility to examine the defenses of a specific network or digital system. The objective is to find vulnerabilities or other security weaknesses that could be exploited by real adversaries.

Once investigators gather digital evidence, it must be recorded and cataloged. The evidence is also used to create reports and presented in a court of law, as well. These can all be functions of a cybercrime investigator.

Cybercrime investigator job description

While a detective or law enforcement investigator may investigate various types of crimes, a cybercrime investigator is a specialist that is focused primarily on cyber, or internet-based, crimes.

A cybercrime investigator investigates a number of crimes that range from recovering file systems on computers that have been hacked or damaged to investigating crimes against children. In addition, cybercrime investigators also recover data from computers that can be used in prosecuting crimes.

Once the necessary electronic evidence is gathered, cybercrime investigators write reports that will later be used in court. Cybercrime investigators must also testify in court.

Cybercrime investigators may also work for large corporations to test security systems that are currently in place. Investigators do this by trying various ways to hack into the corporation’s computer networks.

Job responsibilities may include:

  • Analyzing computer systems and networks following a crime.
  • Recovering data that was either destroyed or damaged.
  • Gathering evidence.
  • Gathering computer and network information.
  • Reconstructing cyberattacks.
  • Working in a multi-jurisdictional or cross-jurisdictional environment.
  • Preparing expert reports on highly complex technical matters.
  • Testifying in court.
  • Training law enforcement on cyber-related issues.
  • Drafting expert testimony, affidavits, and reports.
  • Consulting with clients, supervisors, and managers.
  • Continually developing investigative and cybersecurity skills through research and training.
  • Recovering password-protected/encrypted files and hidden information.
  • Assessing software applications, networks, and endpoints for security flaws.
  • Identify and recommend methods for the preservation and presentation of evidence.
  • An ability to work and collaborate well with a team.

Outlook for cybercrime investigators

Because of the early and widespread adoption of computers and the internet in the United States, most of the earliest victims of cybercrime were Americans. By the 21st century, though, hardly a community remained anywhere in the world that had not been touched by cybercrime of one kind or another. Today, the need for cybercrime investigators is worldwide and rapidly growing. There are no indications that the demand for cybercrime investigators will slow in the foreseeable future.

The proliferation of criminal activity on the internet, such as identity theft, spamming, email harassment and illegal downloading of copyrighted materials, will increase the demand for investigators. Opportunities are expected to be excellent for cybercrime investigators.

Based on the projected growth of this job in the next five years, employers may also request skills such as threat Hunting, security information and event management (SIEM), anomaly detection, network firewalls, or counter intelligence.

How much do cybercrime investigators make?

According to Salary.com, the salary range of cybercrime investigators in the United State ranges between $44,847 to $61,935 with an annual salary average of $52,029.

However, Indeed reported that the average US Department of the Treasury Cyber Crime Investigator yearly pay in the United States is approximately $139,513, which is 81% above the national average as of 2023.

Frequently asked questions

What is a cybercrime investigator?

A cybercrime investigator is a specialist that is focused primarily on cyber, or internet-based, crimes.

What does a cybercrime investigator do?

A cybercrime investigator is responsible for investigating and analyzing cybercrime incidents, such as hacking, identity theft, fraud, and other types of cyber-related crimes. Their primary goal is to identify the culprits and gather evidence that can be used to prosecute them in court.

How do I start an cybercrime investigator career?

Starting a career as a cybercrime investigator typically requires a combination of education, training, and experience in cybersecurity and law enforcement. Getting a degree in computer science, cybersecurity or criminal justice is a good starting point. To be more competent, try considering a certification and by learning the tools of the trade, gain experience through internships and expand your network through events organizations.

What is the outlook for cybercrime investigators?

As the number of criminal activity on the internet increases, including identity theft, spamming, email harassment, and illegal downloading of copyrighted materials, demand for cybercrime investigators will rise.

What are important skills and/or experiences needed?

To be a successful cybercrime investigator, you will need a combination of technical, analytical, and investigative skills, as well as a deep understanding of cybersecurity and criminal justice.

Sources

Cybercrime investigator career pathway information was sourced from cyberseek.org in February 2023.

How to become a cybercrime investigator: A complete career guide (2024)

FAQs

What are the skills required to become a cyber detective? ›

Top Skills Needed for Computer Forensics Jobs
  • Technical Aptitude. ...
  • Attention to Detail. ...
  • An Understanding of Law and Criminal Investigation. ...
  • Communication Skills. ...
  • Comprehension of Cybersecurity Fundamentals. ...
  • Analytical Skills. ...
  • A Desire to Learn. ...
  • Ability to Work with Challenging Material.

How much does a cyber crime investigator earn in the US? ›

The estimated total pay for a Cyber Investigator is $82,141 per year in the United States area, with an average salary of $77,064 per year. These numbers represent the median, which is the midpoint of the ranges from our proprietary Total Pay Estimate model and based on salaries collected from our users.

What is the job outlook for a cybercrime investigator? ›

Cybercrime investigator salary and job outlook

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics does not offer job outlook information for cybercrime investigators, but the agency predicts the employment of information security analysts, a similar career, to grow by 35% between 2021 and 2031.

What does a cyber crime investigator do? ›

A cybercrime investigator is responsible for investigating and analyzing cybercrime incidents, such as hacking, identity theft, fraud, and other types of cyber-related crimes. Their primary goal is to identify the culprits and gather evidence that can be used to prosecute them in court.

What coding do you need to know for cyber security job? ›

The top programming languages used by hackers include Python, JavaScript, PHP, SQL, and C. Understanding these languages will help cybersecurity professionals counter attacks and understand how to defend against them.

What hard skills are needed for cyber security? ›

Here are several skills required for cybersecurity positions:
  • Fundamental technological skills. ...
  • Programming. ...
  • Risk identification and management. ...
  • Data management and analysis. ...
  • Cloud implementation and management. ...
  • Logical reasoning and troubleshooting. ...
  • Adaptability. ...
  • Communication skills.
Mar 23, 2023

What is the highest-paid cyber security? ›

13 high-paying cybersecurity jobs
  1. Security engineer. National average salary : $76,789 per year. ...
  2. Information security analyst. National average salary: $87,647 per year. ...
  3. Risk manager. ...
  4. Chief information officer. ...
  5. Senior security consultant. ...
  6. Cloud consultant. ...
  7. Network security engineer. ...
  8. Identity manager.
Mar 10, 2023

Who pays the most in cyber security? ›

Information Security Managers top the list of highest-paid cybersecurity jobs with an average salary range of $150,000 to $225,000. This position plays a key role in avoiding security disasters by identifying any areas that might make your information systems vulnerable.

How much can you make in cyber security for the FBI? ›

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Salary FAQs

What is the salary trajectory of a Cyber Security? The salary trajectory of a Cyber Security ranges between locations and employers. The salary starts at $63,478 per year and goes up to $151,397 per year for the highest level of seniority.

What are the pros and cons of being a crime scene investigator? ›

There are several benefits to being a criminal investigator, such as developing investigative and analytical skills, helping protect communities from crime, and seeking justice for victims. However, it can be extremely stressful and demanding work, involving long hours and potentially dangerous situations.

Is CSI a good career? ›

The work is varied and interesting. CSIs earn a good average salary. This depends on what state and the police department they work in, but most CSIs earn a comfortable living that can provide a good life for themselves and their families. The average salary for a CSI in the United States is $93,809 per year.

Is cyber security a respected career? ›

Thus, it is clear that Cybersecurity is a great and rewarding career choice. With highly sought-after skills and more companies offering specialized training programs to stay up-to-date on the latest technologies. There are plenty of opportunities for those interested in working in the field of Cybersecurity.

How do I become a cyber security analyst? ›

To become a Cybersecurity Analyst, you need to understand information systems and networks, gain hands-on technical experience, and stay up-to-date in cybersecurity training. Cybersecurity is a relatively new field compared to other technology careers.

What are the 4 major categories of computer crimes? ›

Cybercrimes in general can be classified into four categories:
  • Individual Cyber Crimes: This type is targeting individuals. ...
  • Organisation Cyber Crimes: The main target here is organizations. ...
  • Property Cybercrimes: This type targets property like credit cards or even intellectual property rights.
  • Society Cybercrimes:

What do cyber spies do? ›

Cyber espionage, or cyber spying, is a type of cyberattack in which an unauthorized user attempts to access sensitive or classified data or intellectual property (IP) for economic gain, competitive advantage or political reasons.

What skills do you need to be a detective and criminal investigator? ›

Criminal Investigator Skills and Qualifications
  • Good communication and interview skills. ...
  • Ability to use various forms of equipment or technology. ...
  • Thorough knowledge of the law. ...
  • Honesty and good ethics. ...
  • Critical thinking, deductive reasoning, social perceptiveness and problem-solving skills.
Apr 15, 2023

What type of skills is cyber security? ›

As the name implies, cybersecurity is a technology-focused field: you will be likely be tasked with responsibilities such as troubleshooting, maintaining, and updating information security systems; implementing continuous network monitoring; and providing real-time security solutions.

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