Computer forensics bachelor's programs teach students to combine data systems information and criminal investigation techniques to gather and analyze digital evidence from a variety of sources. Master's programs may offer advanced training in data forensics or prepare computer professionals for administrative positions. Passing certification tests leads to credentials in specialized areas of computer or data forensics. Procedures vary, depending upon the topic, and there are many certifications available.
Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Forensics
Bachelor's programs require a high-school diploma or its equivalent for entry. The programs introduce students to information security systems and data extraction techniques. Problem-solving skills and analytical thought are exercised heavily. Some schools work with local law enforcement agencies on data forensics cases as part of the curriculum.
Classes cover various aspects of data-retrieval topics as well as ethical and legal concerns in investigations. Subjects include:
- Fundamentals of high-tech crime
- Forensic data mining
- Windows and forensic analytics
- Forensic methodology in file analysis
Master of Science Degree in Computer Forensics
A variety of master's programs are available in computer or data forensics. Some are IT grad programs that offer a concentration or minor in data forensics; others are directed toward data forensics professionals who wish to assume management positions. Finally, interdisciplinary, research-based programs that prepare graduates for Ph.D. level studies are available in information security. In addition to internships with law-enforcement agencies, grad students may be involved in research projects, which may involve areas such as cyber-criminal profiling.
A bachelor's degree in a computer-related field such as computer science is a common prerequisite, though sometimes the type of undergraduate degree isn't specified in admissions requirements. In most cases, a background that includes experience with algorithms, operating systems, object-oriented programming, calculus, data structures and statistics is beneficial if not mandatory.
Graduate coursework encourages intensive examination of data forensics topics. Courses cover subjects such as:
- Technology laws and enforcement procedures
- Hacking detection
- Economic espionage and piracy
- Gaming device and cell phone investigation techniques
- Secure operating system architecture
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Computer Forensics Certification
Certifications demonstrate professional competence in various areas of data forensics. Some employers seek applicants with specific credentials. Most certifications are open to both law enforcement agency personnel and private parties. The Certified Computer Examiner (CCE), a well-recognized credential, is offered by the International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners (ISFCE). The certification is awarded through an examination that tests several areas, such as seizure process and file systems. Training courses are available to prepare for the exam, and documentation of continuing education is required for certification maintenance.
Another common credential sought by employers is the Certified Forensic Computer Examiner (CFCE) offered by the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (IACIS). This certification is awarded after passing a peer review process, which involves completion of hands-on exercises with the guidance a coach. Passing a written examination is also required. Training courses offered by the IACIS may be counted as continuing education credit for recertification. Other in-demand certifications include the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and the EnCase Certified Examiner (EnCE).
Passing an examination is required for most certifications; study materials and, in many cases, training courses are available for test preparation. Data forensics competencies tested generally include topics such as:
- Volatile memories and networks
- Legal investigation procedures
- Tools used in data forensics
- Integrity and recovery of digital device information
- Evidence report writing
Data forensics majors may seek work in public and private sectors; they may work for the FBI or a law firm. Some people have bachelor's degrees in other areas of computer science or information technology and then become certified in data forensics. Career titles of those fighting cybercrime may include:
- Information technology specialist
- Network administrator
- Forensic data technician
- Systems analyst
Forensic computer analysts may be employed in fields such as accounting, auditing and tax services; financial services; IT and government, in addition to law enforcement. Some job titles computer forensics professionals assume include:
- Media and malware forensic analyst
- EnCase forensic analyst
- Forensic computer analyst
- Digital forensics analyst
- Intrusion analyst
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes data forensics professionals in listings for private investigators and detectives, as well as some specialized types of police and detectives. The BLS projected a 5% increase in employment opportunities for private investigators between 2014 and 2024, about average for all occupations. As of May 2015, it reported a median annual wage of $45,610 for these investigators. For the same decade, the BLS reported an expected decrease of -1% in employment opportunities for detectives and criminal investigators; their median annual salary was $77,210 as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov).
A career in data forensics, more commonly referred to as 'computer forensics,' can be very appealing to those who enjoy the challenge of solving a puzzle and working with different types of technology. Students may pursue a Bachelor of Science degree or Master of Science degree in computer forensics; they may also choose to pursue certification in one of a variety of areas.