Breaking down digital forensics certifications

Amber Schroader, CEO of Paraben, explains the different ways to pursue a career in digital forensics, like pursuing a college degree or studying toward a certification. And if a certification, which one will take you on the path you want? Schroader also talks about what doors can open for you, where to get started, and which upper-level certs you should work toward so you’re prepared for the job you want.

0:00 - Breaking down digital forensics certifications

1:08 - Different ways to learn digital forensics

2:07 - Digital forensics college courses versus certifications

3:45 - Main digital forensics certifications and paths

5:20 - Finding a digital forensics niche

6:18 - Hands-on projects for digital forensics experience

7:25 - How to get started in digital forensics

8:34 - Learn digital forensics

9:01 - Outro

[00:00:00] Chris Sienko: You want a career in digital forensics, but you got a lot of choices. College degree, you're studying for the certification. And if a certification, which one will take you on the path you want? Amber Schroader, CEO of Paraben, breaks down digital forensics certifications, what doors they can open for you, where to get started, and which upper level certs you should work towards, so you'll be prepared for the job you want. That's what I call a Cyber Work hack.

[00:00:28] CS: Welcome to a new series of short videos from InfoSec. The purpose is to give you quick, clear, and actionable answers to the questions that you have about learning cybersecurity. Today's guest is InfoSec skills author and Paraben Founder and CEO, Amber Schroader. I love talking with Amber. Her episodes on the Cyber Work Podcast about digital forensics are some of our very most popular episodes, so go check those out. So today, we're going to get you a little quick hit. Amber's going to talk to you about digital forensic certifications, versus college degrees and the pros and cons of different ways of learning digital forensics. Welcome, Amber.

[00:01:05] Amber Schroader: Thank you for having me. Excited to be here.

[00:01:08] CS: Thank you. So Amber, can you give us a brief overview of the different methods of learning and proving knowledge regarding the work of digital forensics? What are some of the primary certifications, and how does studying for them compare with, say, getting a college degree in the same topic?

[00:01:21] AS: It’s kind of a big area because, originally, when this field emerged, there were no college degrees. It was definitely all about a skills path, which is still, I think, what the field is about. It's about a skills path. Although many of you studying it in college, that is a benefit. I think it's a good foundation. You can't go anywhere without the skills. So when you see things like the CCFE and the CMFE, those type of offerings, they're really going to give you that hands-on that is going to get you hired.

It’s always great to have theory. I absolutely believe to understand it, but you got to have something. Don't just tell me how to screw in a light in a light bulb. It's like show me you can do it. That's what we want to see.

[00:02:01] CS: Put it put your hand and go over there. Yeah. So do you think that hiring managers see any difference on a resume between someone who's learned digital forensics as a college course versus those who completed certification? Because I know, certainly, with like things like computer science or something, there's a different field to I spent four years on computer science versus I spent – I got a CISSP. Is there a similar sort of preference for one or the other still in the job world?

[00:02:28] AS: I think there's still a hard time with hiring managers versus like someone who's actually the skilled person in the field. They look at it and say, “Oh, they've done these certifications. I know they had to do labs. I know they had this process.” Versus a hiring manager is going to look at it and go, “Oh, look. They have a college degree in this. They must understand it.”

I think that there's got to be a balance where the hiring managers start talking to the practitioners to really understand kind of – It sounds silly. I actually put a point value, and I have people apply for a job. Oh, you've got this. That's worth five points. I don't know. I'm gamifying my own hiring process because it's so hard to find the right people that make that fit. So it's a balance in between them.

I do know some schools are starting to get a little more practical lab experience, but I think a lot of people entering this field should be expected that they're going to have to do a lab to get hired. Kind of like when you do a programming test. All of my programmers, they have to go through a programming test to get hired in the first place. I think the same thing is going to happen with this.

[00:03:28] CS: Okay. That's interesting to know that sort of the college version is kind of behind the curve in terms of learning or at least was up until recently.

[00:03:38] AS: Yeah. They're getting a little better, where they're realizing that the kids have to have hard skills to be able to enter the workforce.

[00:03:44] CS: Got it. So everyone has to start with the basic learning or basic search to get started. Can you talk about some of the pathways? First of all, what are the main digital forensics certs? Then from there, where do you kind of like fork off into sort of like advanced level things?

[00:04:03] AS: I think you always get a foundational one, so you'll get that from BSCERS from organizations like IACIS, which is a nonprofit organization, but they only run the course one time a year. So you kind of have to balance it out with going some of the online courses so that you can enter the field at any time of the year. There's some great ones that InfoSec offers. There's other ones that are out there in the industry. Either one of those are giving you that foundational information you need.

After that, digital forensics really goes into the specialties. So I'm going to study email. I'm going to go into computers. I'm going to go into Internet artifacts, the registry. Or I'm going to go into smartphones, IoT, drones. All of those things happen, and those have entirely different courses of study. So it's great that there's so many unique things you can choose because you cannot be a master of all. It is terribly difficult. My brain actually fills up, and I cannot get another drive in there. I tried. It just doesn't happen.

[00:04:54] CS: Yeah, yeah. So is there a related cert for each of those sub specialties or – Yeah.

[00:05:01] AS: Yeah. There's a related cert for every single one of them, done by different organizations, done by vendors in the field that make the technology. Because, again, you've got to get that certification that says I can operate this drill that is allowing me to do this function within the process. So it's the same with the tools. I got to get certified that I can run those tools properly.

[00:05:20] CS: So is there – I mean, obviously, like you said, it's very important as you go higher up to specialize. But like at what point in your career would you move from getting very good at being a generalist to sort of finding your niche and then locking into that? Is that something where if you're in a certain type of job, then they say, “We really want you to be the email person on our team,” then you would go and get that certification? Or what do you – How does that usually look?

[00:05:46] AS: You're going to laugh. It kind of depends a little bit on your age. If I were just starting this out, and I was graduating from college at a normal time, and I’m in my mid-20s, I might work my way through different specialties to get that chance, to get that taste of them and say, “Oh, I really like this. I want to do this for the rest of my life.”

Versus someone who might be on a second career, “Hey, I had one. I now want to explore cyber. I want to look at digital forensics.” That's when it's time to kind of hone those skills into a specialty because I think you'll get hired a little quicker, as someone who might be at a different level or age at their career.

[00:06:17] CS: Got it. Okay. So in conjunction with certifications or academic studies we mentioned, what are some hands on projects or experiences, not just labs within like a certification, but like actual field experience that students should be trying to accomplish to let potential employer knows that they're not just an on-paper candidate?

[00:06:36] AS: So I think a lot of people don't think of this, but it's about doing a research project and going out and speaking on it, which I know you're like a lot of people just starting, they're like, “I don't want to submit to a conference.” You've got to because you've got to show not only can you complete the research, but you can present it because a lot of the field is about presenting the facts of what you've done.

That's all digital forensics is. It’s really about researching into a problem, finding out what that solution is, and then giving those results to someone else. Presenting at events is a big part of it, and I think a lot of people are intimidated by it, and they shouldn't be. They should absolutely submit, or they should write some blogs and ask to have them published in different sites, absolutely.

I know I'm always looking for great content because it's hard to keep them up all the time. So putting yourself out there, I think it makes a huge difference. Show that you know how to find the answers to something. That's really what digital forensics is all about.

[00:07:25] CS: All right. So you touched on this a little bit before, but I want to get very specific. If you are getting started, Amber, in digital forensics today, what learning path or combination of specialties or generalizations would you take, especially if like, as you said, you are at the start of your career? Where would you sort of see the future going, and what would you sort of focus on?

[00:07:47] AS: If it were me, because of the way that I learned, because I am learning disabled, so I'm dyslexic, anyway, so I take a little longer to get through materials. I would take some of the great online classes that I've seen many times with InfoSec is not a push for you. But you just put out great content, and I love the fact that I can then watch it, apply it, and then watch it again if I have to. So I love that aspect of it.

Then I would probably go to the BSCERS class, something that IACIS offers because that's going to give me some fundamental file system stuff, and it's going to see how I interact with a coach. That's the one thing I like about their program is they give you a coach through the process, which I think is fantastic.

At that point, I'm going to decide. Do I want to keep going or am I out? Hopefully, you find a passion in that moment. Between those two experiences, you're going to find whether or not you love it.

[00:08:34] CS: Oh, that was awesome. I love that answer. So for listeners who are excited by Amber's suggestions here and are eager to get back to their studies or even get into digital forensics, you can find Amber Schroader on the InfoSec skills platform. Just look for our digital forensics department, and you will find Amber's work all over there.

So Amber Schroader, thank you so much for taking time to talk with me today.

[00:09:00] AS: Thank you so much.

[00:09:01] CS: And thanks to all of you for watching this episode. So check back each week or subscribe to our channel for more quick takes and action items from InfoSec. Until then, we'll see you soon.

[00:09:11] CS: Hey. If you're worried about choosing the right cybersecurity career, click here to see the 12 most in-demand cybersecurity roles. I ask experts working in the field how to get hired and how to do the work of these security roles, so you can choose your study with confidence. I'll see you there.

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