With the rapid growth of technology and internet usage around the world, cyber security and digital forensics have become increasingly important fields. As more sensitive data is stored and transmitted online, the need for skilled professionals to protect that data and investigate cyber crimes has never been greater. But is pursuing a career in cyber security or digital forensics really worthwhile? Here we’ll examine the pros and cons of these fields to help you decide if they offer good career potential.
The growing importance of cyber security and digital forensics
Cyber threats are on the rise. A 2022 study by RiskBased Security revealed that ransomware attacks increased by 13% in 2021, with over 2,700 publicly reported cyber incidents. High profile data breaches at companies like Microsoft, Nvidia, and Okta have highlighted the vulnerabilities many organizations face. The cost of cyber crime is predicted to reach $10.5 trillion annually by 2025. This growing cyber threat landscape means there is huge demand for cyber security professionals who can keep data, networks, and systems secure.
Similarly, digital forensics specialists are needed to investigate the growing numbers of cyber crimes. When a security incident occurs, digital forensics experts step in to determine how the attack happened, identify the perpetrators, and preserve legal evidence. Their work is crucial for attributing cyber attacks and prosecuting cyber criminals. The FBI estimates that $4.2 billion was lost to internet crime in 2021. As cyber crime increases, more digital forensics specialists will be needed to support law enforcement and legal cases.
Strong career prospects and job growth
The rising demand for cyber security and digital forensics experts translates into great career opportunities. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 33% growth for information security analysts between 2020-2030 – much faster than the average for all occupations. Openings for digital forensics jobs are also expected to increase by 31% over the same period. Global shortages of cyber security talent mean qualified professionals are in high demand. The workforce gap is estimated at 2.72 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs by 2022.
These favorable job prospects make cyber security and digital forensics appealing options for those entering the IT field. Both careers offer opportunities for good salaries, career advancement, remote work options, and recruitment incentives. The field is constantly evolving with new technologies, ensuring an interesting career path for curious, tech-oriented professionals seeking to make an impact.
Strong demand enables cyber security and digital forensics practitioners to command generous compensation. According to PayScale, the average salary for an information security analyst in the US is $83,254 per year, while forensic computer analysts earn an average of $80,938. Seasoned professionals and those in leadership roles can expect six figure salaries. For example, Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) earn over $200,000 on average. The table below compares median salaries for different cyber security and digital forensics roles:
|Information Security Analyst||$83,254|
|Forensic Computer Analyst||$80,938|
|Chief Information Security Officer||$208,000|
|Cyber Security Engineer||$99,729|
|Cyber Crime Investigator||$98,350|
These competitive salaries make cyber security and digital forensics lucrative career choices compared to other IT roles. Those working for government agencies and large enterprises tend to earn higher than average compensation as well.
Job prospects and growth
Cyber security and digital forensics present solid job prospects now and for the future. The CyberSeek tool tracks supply and demand data for cybersecurity jobs across the US. As of August 2022, there were over 714,000 cyber security job openings but only 423,000 workers currently employed. With demand far outpacing supply, qualified candidates have their pick of job opportunities. Employers also compete through generous incentives like bonuses and help with training and certification costs.
In terms of growth potential, PayScale data shows cyber security salaries increasing by 17% and digital forensics salaries growing 12% over a typical career. Professionals who continue to upskill in new technologies and methodologies can expect to be handsomely rewarded. Leadership roles like CISO offer a potential career progression for those who demonstrate business acumen and management skills. Overall, the data indicates bright outlook for continued job openings, salary growth, and career advancement in both fields.
Challenging and meaningful work
Day-to-day work in cyber security and digital forensics provides intellectual stimulation and meaning for those who value technical challenges. Cyber security roles involve designing and implementing complex security solutions to safeguard systems and data. Tasks include:
- Installing firewalls, encryption programs, and other protections
- Monitoring networks for anomalous activity that may indicate an attack
- Evaluating systems and processes to identify vulnerabilities
- Developing and updating security policies and incident response plans
- Training staff on security best practices and protocols
Digital forensics work is similarly complex and detail-oriented. Key duties include:
- Preserving digital evidence from compromised networks and devices
- Reconstructing timelines of cyber attacks using system and network logs
- Analyzing malware code to understand how malware or hacking tools work
- Cracking encrypted files or bypassing passwords on devices
- Providing expert testimony on evidence and findings in legal proceedings
Both fields offer constant opportunities to learn – mastering new technologies for security implementations or developing innovative forensic techniques. The work provides intellectual stimulation through challenging puzzles, making each workday unique. At the same time, professionals gain meaning from protecting companies, customers, and even national security through their efforts.
While it’s possible to enter the cyber security and digital forensics fields without a degree, most roles require at least a bachelor’s degree. Common degree subjects include:
- Cyber security
- Computer science
- Information technology
- Computer engineering
- Information systems security
- Digital forensics
Degrees focusing specifically on cyber security, information security, or digital forensics are best aligned to the field. However, technology-related degrees in computer science, programming, networking, and similar disciplines provide relevant skills as well. Some employers may accept degrees in other numerate, technical subjects like mathematics, physics, or engineering when combined with cyber security certifications and training.
Those considering leadership or research roles should pursue a master’s degree in cyber security, information assurance, digital forensics, or a related field. A master’s degree provides additional technical expertise and demonstrates commitment to the field. It also enables career progression into senior positions like Chief Information Security Officer (CISO).
While degrees open doors, certifications demonstrate hands-on technical knowledge. They are invaluable for gaining experience-based skills and credibility with employers. Top certifications include:
- CISSP – Certified Information Systems Security Professional
- CISM – Certified Information Security Manager
- CEH – Certified Ethical Hacker
- Security+ – CompTIA Security+
- CCIFP – Certified Cyber Intelligence & Forensics Professional
- CFCE – Certified Forensic Computer Examiner
Both CISSP and CISM require several years of experience but are recognized as gold standards in cyber security. Entry-level professionals benefit from proactively earning Security+, CEH, or vendor-specific certifications to gain a competitive edge. Ongoing certification and training is critical for staying current in the rapidly evolving field of cyber security.
Cyber security and digital forensics professionals enjoy flexible work options, often with hybrid or fully remote positions available. Typical workplaces include:
- Corporate IT and information security departments
- Cybersecurity vendors and managed security providers
- Law enforcement cybercrime units
- Private cybersecurity consulting firms
- Forensic investigation firms and labs
The stakes are high when protecting enterprise networks or confidential data. Security operations centers offer exciting, high-pressure environments where analysts monitor systems 24/7 for potential incidents. Professionals should be comfortable working in structured, regimented IT settings with close attention to policies, procedures, and documentation. Strong communication skills are also vital when collaborating cross-functionally and reporting to leadership.
Digital forensics practitioners often split time between office work analyzing data and site visits to retrieve evidence from compromised systems. Their work environment can shift between corporate IT departments and hands-on investigation “in the field”. They should be prepared to handle disturbing cybercrime scenes involving illicit content.
Key soft skills
In addition to technical expertise, certain soft skills are extremely valuable in cyber security and digital forensics roles:
- Communication skills – Explaining security risks and procedures to non-technical colleagues; reporting findings and recommendations; corresponding with law enforcement
- Attention to detail – Identifying anomalies in system logs; preserving chain of custody for evidence; recognizing subtle indicators of an attack
- Analytical thinking – Connecting disparate clues to determine root cause of a security incident; deducing the capabilities of a new malware variant
- Discretion – Handling sensitive company data and Cyber threat intelligence appropriately
- Tenacity – Persisting when analyzing extremely complex situations or vast amounts of data
Cybersecurity and forensics specialists must distill technical details down to actionable intelligence for business leaders. Strong communication and analytical skills create value from their technical work. Meanwhile, an investigative mindset and meticulous attention to detail drive their ability to unravel cyber incidents.
Work-life balance varies across cyber security and digital forensics roles. Security operations center staff working 24/7 rotational shifts see periodic high stress and long hours when responding to incidents. Forensics teams may endure crunches when investigating major attacks. However, most roles offer a relatively stable 40-50 hour work week.
Work from home and hybrid options afford flexibility many professionals value highly. The ability to avoid lengthy commutes and have more control over one’s schedule is a major perk. Remote work also enables geographic flexibility to reside where desired while progressing one’s career.
Demand for skilled cyber security and forensics staff makes hiring managers amenable to work-life balance concerns. Professionals should proactively discuss priorities like schedule flexibility, remote work options, and parental leave. Reasonable accommodations tend to be made for valued team members in these critical roles.
Job satisfaction and outlook
Cyber security and digital forensics offer highly rewarding careers for technology professionals looking for new challenges. A 2021 survey by Enterprise Strategy Group found:
- 93% of cyber security professionals are satisfied with their careers
- 92% feel their work is rewarding
- 68% believe they are fairly compensated
The field continues to evolve with advances in cloud computing, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and more. Professionals enthusiastic about learning future technologies will find great job satisfaction. They also gain meaning by protecting critical systems and data that support human services, commerce, infrastructure, and national defense.
Bright job prospects, competitive compensation, remote work options, and exciting technical challenges make cyber security and digital forensics fertile ground for a fulfilling career. Candidates who pursue relevant education, certifications, and experience will be well positioned for success in these growing fields.
Cyber threats show no signs of slowing, meaning skilled cyber security and digital forensics professionals will remain in high demand. While the work is challenging, it leverages cutting edge technologies and offers intellectual stimulation. Professionals are well compensated with salaries averaging over $80,000 and ample prospects for advancement. Hybrid and remote work arrangements provide flexibility, while ongoing learning ensures the career path stays dynamic. For technologists seeking meaningful work with great future prospects, cyber security and digital forensics represent highly attractive options.