Getting started in computer forensics

Many private companies are turning to the military and law enforcement agencies to find computer forensics and security professionals. Some officers are leaving their posts for jobs in the corporate world, sometimes doubling or even tripling their salaries.

That's what Jose Granado did in the early '90s, when he left his job as a regional crime investigator at the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations. Now, as the national leader for Ernst & Young's profiling practice, he is what he calls a "white-hat hacker," breaking into clients' IT systems and then making recommendations to make them more secure.

How does one make the transition from the world of the military to private business?

Here's Granado's advice:

  • "Forensics work takes a thorough knowledge of Unix and NT," says Granado, since forensics examiners must go deep into operating systems to retrieve deleted files and other evidence of security breaches. A knowledge of networking and routing is also increasingly important, since more and more computer crimes involve the Internet and e-mail, Granado says.
  • The business world takes some getting used to. "There's always that bottom-line issue that you have to take into account," he says. As a result, he says, it's important to pitch security and forensics recommendations with a business's cost concerns in mind. Granado suggests reading business periodicals, taking business classes if possible and studying up on the specific industry you hope to enter.
  • Granado also advises that forensics experts broaden their base of skills to include general IT security skills and knowledge on how to set security policies and procedures within a company. Since there is no internationally recognized certification for forensics specialists, he suggests getting a Certified Information Systems Security Professional certificate, the most widely recognized credential of its kind.

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