Cyber forensics, also referred to as computer or digital forensics, is the science of searching computer systems and electronic documents for legal evidence. Some programs in cyber forensics allow students to choose a particular track, such as forensic biochemistry or forensic analysis. A few offer online courses. Most programs consist of about 36 credit hours and can be completed in two years.
Students first gain a technical understanding of operating systems, networks and computer science, then review the theories and protocol of forensic science and evidence-gathering. They learn to search computer systems, hard drives, e-mails and networks for information that may help legal teams reconstruct criminal activity or events. Many master's degree programs in the field include a capstone project, thesis project or required internship (or practicum experience).
Those who are interested in enrolling in a master's degree program in digital forensics are expected to have a bachelor's degree in a field such as computer science, network administration or criminal justice. Graduate degree programs are also open to professionals in the criminal justice field who are interested in expanding their role to forensics.
Master's Degrees in Cyber Forensics
Many of the courses included within a graduate degree program in cyber forensics take place in a classroom setting or a computer laboratory. Students apply concepts learned in these courses through experience in the field or research projects. Examples of courses available include:
- Introduction to forensic science
- Computer operating systems
- Seizure and examination of computers
- Collection and analysis of forensic evidence
- Theories of intelligence analysis
- Forensic expert courtroom preparation
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not report data specific to the career of digital forensic investigators; however, it did report that private detectives and investigators, including forensic investigators, held about 30,460 jobs in May 2015 (www.bls.gov). Many of these professionals worked for investigative services and the government. The BLS reported that most private detectives and investigators earned annual salaries between $26,920 and $85,190 in May 2015.
Certification for digital forensic investigators is completely voluntary. However, professionals in the field can choose to apply for certification from organizations such as the International Association of Computer Investigation Specialists or the International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners.
A master's program in cyber forensics will prepare a student to enter into this field. The ability to gather and analyze information from electronic devices will play an increasingly important role in our criminal justice system.