Computer Forensics – An Emerging Field
In today’s digitally dominated world, organizations, federal departments, and individuals rely on computers and the internet for information. The internet has succeeded in easing our lives, but the reliance on computers has certain drawbacks such as the risk of cybercrime. According to the US Department of Commerce, IP theft and cyber crime costs $200-$250 billion annually.
Computer data theft, hacking, and other forms of cybercrime can lead a company to ruins. This is why many small and large organizations are investing in improving computer security and protecting their data. The risk of cybercrimes is likely to increase as more and more companies are shifting many of their functions online to connect users around the world. A report data breach compiled by Verizon shows that 1,637 confirmed data breaches were reported in 2013 that affected approximately 95 countries.
Computer forensics has emerged as a vital field in the corporate world and is continuing to evolve. Organizations are on the lookout for computer forensics specialists who can help track, discover, and prosecute cyber criminals. The field of computer forensics can be described as the application of investigative techniques, and analysis of evidence gathered from a computing device, admissible in a court of law.
The demand for computer forensic professionals is high, which reflects a positive employment outlook. However, pursuing a career in this growing sector requires certain skills and education. A number of renowned educational institutes are offering degree programs in computer forensics aimed at helping individuals prepare for computer forensics careers.
Computer Forensics Programs
Computer forensics is offered as an academic field and major by many prestigious colleges and universities. Students can pursue associate, bachelor, masters, doctorate, and certificate programs in computer forensics. Each program is designed to provide students with in-depth knowledge of computer forensics, digital science, and security issues faced by organizations today. An associate degree typically takes two years to complete, a bachelor degree takes four years to complete, and a masters degree takes two years to complete.
For most entry level jobs in this sector, at least a bachelor degree is required. Associate and bachelors degree programs cover fundamental concepts of computer forensics whereas a master’s and doctorate degree will emphasize on more advanced-level concepts.
The curriculum of computer forensics degree programs will vary and depend upon the institute offering the program. However, the main objective of the degree will be similar. Students will gain an understanding of the computer crime and its diversity, and which laws govern this area. The program will cover various facets of the field, allowing students to gain an insight on computer forensics principles, computer systems, and digital evidence.
Alongside classroom-based learning, certain units of the curriculum will be covered in computer labs and training centers. It is important for students to gain hands on knowledge and develop a sound skill set. Training courses will enable students to practically apply skills and techniques to gather digital evidence, encrypt codes, and analyze damaged data files. Here are a few areas covered in most computer forensics degrees:
- Networking fundamentals
- Criminal procedure
- Operating systems
- Searching and seizing digital evidence
- Digital forensics investigative techniques
- Mobile Forensics analysis
- Cybercrime and forensics accounting
Each component or unit of the curriculum will carry a defined number of credit hours. Students must earn the minimum number of credit hours necessary to successfully complete the degree program. Some graduate programs may also include computer forensics projects and internships as a part of the degree.
Objectives of a Computer Forensics Degree:
By the end of a computer forensics degree, students will have a thorough understanding of the field. Here are a few objectives of computer forensics programs:
- Apply technological and basic procedures for forensic examinations
- Learn how to successfully conduct investigations of digital media storage and relevant devices
- Conduct hands-on searches related to computer forensics
- Apply appropriate methods of investigations and research
- Collect digital evidence through appropriate methods of data extraction
- Analyze data and generate findings/results for trials in the court of law
- Maintain integrity and understand the ethics of the field
- Deconstruct, decode, and analyze digital data
The trend of distance learning continues to grow all across the globe. Many students are unable to pursue their academic goals due to jobs and other important commitments. To help such students, schools and college are offering online programs that are flexible and cost-friendly. It is also possible to study computer forensics online. The coursework of an online computer forensics degree will be covered through videos, tutorials, online lectures and conferencing, and multimedia technology. In a computer forensics degree online, students can:
- Study according to their work schedule and in their free time
- Receive individual attention from instructors
- Cover assignments and coursework at their own pace
- Cut down on unnecessary travelling and textbook costs
- Study from any location at any time of the day
How to Enroll
Whether a student is planning to enroll in computer forensics online or an on-campus degree, certain admissions requirements must be met. The criteria for enrollment will vary from school to school and will also depend upon the level of program. For example, to enroll in an associate or bachelor degree, a high school diploma will be needed whereas a bachelor degree transcript is needed for enrolling in a masters program. Some schools may also require students to take an entry-test. Other general requirements include:
- Letter of recommendation
- Personal Essay
What can you do with a Degree in Computer Forensics?
A degree in this field can lead you to diverse career opportunities. Computer forensics experts and analysts are employed in a range of organizations such as:
- Law enforcement
- Forensic computing firms
- Banks and credit card companies
- IT organizations
- Software houses
- Corporate investigation companies
- Accounting firms
You can also consider joining intelligence agencies and federal organizations such as the FBI, CIA, and the Homeland Security Department. The FBI’s Cyber Crime division offers various jobs positions such as cyber special agent, computer scientist, information technology forensic examiner, and cyber specialist. However, you must fulfill the basic requirements to qualify for a position in any federal department.
Salary and Career Outlook
The responsibilities of a computer forensics analyst may include gathering, collecting, and analyzing digital evidence. The job description and income level will vary from job to job. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, forensic science technicians made a median annual income of $60,590 in 2020. Factors such as state, level of qualification, employer, and specialization will affect the income potential of the professional.