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Cyber Detective  What They Do

Just the Facts


Insider Info

dotDo people describe you as detailed, accurate and methodical? How about curious? Are you interested in fighting growing crime problems -- and do you have a knack with computers? If so, a career as a cyber detective may be for you. This relatively new but fast-growing field needs employees now. And the future demand is likely to remain just as strong.

dotCyber detectives fall into two general categories: cyber detectives and computer forensic examiners. That's according to Robert Hopper, computer crimes manager at the National White Collar Crime Centre (NW3C). NW3C provides entry-level to very advanced computer forensic training. During the training, they assist law enforcement in the investigation of cyber crimes.

"Cyber detectives work crimes involving computer-related evidence," he explains. Some of the more obvious examples include child exploitation, cyber stalking and fraud cases where a computer was used as part of the crime.

Other people work as computer forensic examiners. These specialists recover data from devices like computers, cellphones and cameras. Hopper says that neither of these career paths will result in a typical 9-to-5 job.

"Detectives and computer forensic examiners are often called on to serve search warrants at odd hours of the day and night," he explains. "And they are often required to work long hours to collect and examine the electronic evidence they collect."

dot"This is mostly in a desk/lab environment," says Gord Hama. He works with law enforcement in a technological crime branch. "On occasion, civilian specialists are requested to provide offsite services to [police] and other law enforcement agencies for assistance in search and seizure of computers and other electronic equipment."

This is a dynamic field that has evolved a lot over the years. What started largely as pranks a few decades ago has turned into a serious crime problem.

"It started off as mischief, like unauthorized access to computers, and was often a game of curiosity," says Hama.

"Now, many traditional crimes such as fraud, child exploitation and hate crimes have moved onto the Internet."

"Criminals recognized that there was a lot of money that could be made using computers," Hopper adds. "They have a feeling that the Internet allows them to hide from their victims and the police and to some extent that is true."

Hopper explains that it is very difficult for a suspect who lives in another country to be prosecuted if he commits a fraud on someone who lives here.

"The information highway moves at light speed, and it is sometimes a challenge for law enforcement to keep up with it when they have to chase the bad guys with paper, like subpoenas, search warrants, etc."

Because of the scope of this work, cyber detectives can work for a number of employers. Law enforcement agencies hire a lot of detectives or train their own personnel. But private businesses and corporations, detective agencies, regulatory agencies, the military and the government all have use for these skilled people.

dotPhysically challenged individuals can attain very good positions in this field. "Within some constraints, physically challenged persons can be ideal candidates in the field of computer forensics," says Hopper.

"Private sector pay in this career field can be in the six-figure range so this is a field that can result in a very good career choice for some challenged individuals."

dotBoth Hopper and Hama also identify embedded systems as a continuing trend in computer crime. Embedded systems are dedicated computer systems serving a specific purpose -- think of PDAs, cellphones, etc. These systems are constantly changing, so they can be challenging to work with.

"The use of computers and embedded systems has seen a steep rate of growth in the last five to 10 years," says Hama. "Technology is constantly and rapidly evolving to such a degree that we currently project continued demand and growth in this field."

At a Glance

Track computer criminals

  • As technology evolves, the need for these professionals will increase
  • Attention to detail is essential
  • Many in this field have a computer science degree and police skills training