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Computer Forensics Degree

A computer forensics degree can help aspiring computer forensics professionals gain the skills and knowledge needed to pursue employment in this rapidly changing and competitive field. Also known as forensic examiners, these professionals specialize in gathering evidence from computer data. Other common names for this role include computer forensics specialist or investigator. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment growth for forensic science professionals will be much faster than average through 2024, at 27%.1 Specialized computer forensics degree programs to prepare for this career field from the associate’s level to the graduate level are available at community colleges and four-year universities.

CJDS FACT: Computer forensics is a constantly developing field. New technology, like stronger encryption introduced into operating systems, creates new challenges for forensic examiners every day. Think about this: With every new software and hardware release, a new challenge is born. Are you up for the challenge?

What Is Computer Forensics?

Computer forensics, or cyber forensics, is based on the investigation of digital data to gather evidence relating to criminal cases. Computer forensics specialists search hard drives for hidden files or recover deleted files while maintaining the integrity of evidence. They use advanced tools like encryption decoding software or file recovery programs to gather evidence. Computer forensics experts and investigators may also be called to testify in court about their findings. The term digital forensics is often used interchangeably with computer forensics, but the former technically includes devices and digital communications other than computers such as cell phones and network servers.

How to Become a Computer Forensics Specialist or Investigator

Prospective computer forensics specialists typically must have a bachelor’s degree, preferably a computer forensics degree or a degree in computer science. Many colleges offer computer forensics certificate programs as well as bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in computer forensics. Some computer forensics examiners begin their careers in other areas of law enforcement and gain transferable skills through a computer forensics training program. Regardless of the path taken to this career, computer forensic examiners must have skills and knowledge related to digital storage devices, computer operating systems, a variety of programming languages, and common software applications. In addition to formal computer forensics training, technical, analytical, and critical thinking skills are important.

Computer Forensics Training and Courses

Areas of concentration in computer forensics include: computer crimes, child pornography, internet child exploitation, financial fraud, hacking, and other computer-related crimes. Computer forensics classes will teach you the skills necessary to process information, including encrypted data, stored on computers belonging to victims and suspects. Colleges and universities across the US offer various specialized computer forensics degree programs including digital forensics or computer security and forensics.

Examples of courses that are commonly part of a computer forensics curriculum include:

  • Introduction to Computer Forensics
  • Cybercrime
  • Cybercriminology
  • Current Issues in Cyberlaw
  • Computer Forensics File Systems
  • Architecture of Secure Operating Systems
  • Forensic Analysis in a Windows Environment
  • Malware and Software Vulnerability Analysis
  • Network Security
  • Mobile Forensic Analysis
  • Forensic Management of Digital Evidence
  • Cyber Incident Analysis and Response
  • Digital Forensics Investigative Techniques
  • Database Design
  • Forensic Management of Digital Evidence
  • Computer Ethics
  • Advanced Topics in Computer Forensics
  • Information Systems Security Planning and Audit

Profiles of Computer Forensics Degree Programs

John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York offers a Master of Science in Digital Forensics and Cybersecurity that focuses on the intersections between forensic science education and the criminal justice system. Courses are typically held in the evening hours, including required courses such as Architecture of Secure Operating Systems, Law and High Technology Crime, and Forensic Management of Digital Evidence. Students with a bachelor’s degree from fields other than computer science can be considered for admission to the program if the computer science fundamentals required for successful program completion are learned through additional undergraduate or graduate courses. Program faculty include experienced experts in the fields of computer science, law, and the social sciences. Students may also choose to pursue graduate certificates in Computer Science for Digital Forensics and Applied Digital Forensic Science.

Purdue University
Purdue University awards a master’s degree with a specialization in cyber forensics. The Cyber Forensics program is researched-focused and based in the Purdue University Computer and Information Technology Department. The program has a flexible policy for the admission of students who do not have comprehensive backgrounds in computer science; conditional admission may be granted for students who are willing to take additional computer science courses as prerequisites. After completing the six credit hour core curriculum, students take 15 credit hours of specialization in electives in courses such as Advanced Research Topics in Cyber Forensics, Cyber Conflict and Transnational Cyber Crime, and Expert Witness Testimony. The Cyber Forensics program maintains strong ties with the law enforcement community which may lead to networking opportunities for graduate students.

University of Maryland University College
University of Maryland University College offers a Master of Science in Digital Forensics and Cyber Investigation that can be completed entirely online. Recognizing the rapid pace of change in technology, this master’s program prepares students to successfully navigate future changes in technology and its impacts on the criminal justice field. The 36 credit hour program includes core courses in Cyberspace and Cybersecurity, Digital Forensics Investigation, and Cyber Incident Analysis and Response, as well as a six credit hour capstone in cybersecurity. Students enrolled in the program may choose to pursue a dual degree with a Master of Business Administration, which requires an additional 18 credit hours based on dual enrollment. As the Master of Science in Digital Forensics and Cyber Investigation curriculum does not assume that students have previous knowledge of cybersecurity or computer science, the degree is appropriate for and open to students from various disciplinary backgrounds.

Most computer forensic careers require a minimum of an associate’s degree. It is also necessary to continually update your computer forensics training and education in order to stay current with constantly changing technology. If you love continuous learning and keeping your skills sharp, requesting free information from a few schools to learn more about a computer forensics degree or computer forensics certification would be a logical next step.

Computer Forensics Degree Program Admission Requirements

Admission requirements for most graduate computer forensics programs is a bachelor’s degree with satisfactory academic performance. With the increased reliance on computers in everyday life, careers in this field offer good employment prospects. For some master’s programs, undergraduate coursework in computer science may be a prerequisite.

Additional Computer Forensics Resources

The International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists – An international association that provides education law enforcement professionals in the field of computer forensic science.

Online Computer Forensics Degree Info, Courses & Criminal Justice Programs

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What Jobs Can You Get With a Degree in Computer Forensics?

Some possible job titles for computer forensics graduates include:

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Forensic Science Technicians: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/forensic-science-technicians.htm