Forensic data recovery programs are available at the associate's, bachelor's, and master's degree levels. An associate program in computer forensics prepares students to gather and investigate digital evidence, secure computers against threats and manage networks. Students in a bachelor's program in computer forensics learn the skills needed to work as computer forensics investigators. Specializations and internships are common in master's programs in digital forensics. Associate's and bachelor's programs are often available online.
Associate Degree in Computer Forensics
Associate degree programs in computer forensics frequently have courses in computer technology intermingled with courses in criminal justice. Network design and operating systems are often a primary focus of the program. Students are given experience in gathering evidence and using investigative tools. They also learn how to make computer systems secure against hackers, viruses and other security threats. To enroll, students must have a high school diploma or GED and meet the age requirement.
Although each program has its individual approach to forensic data recovery, there are basic courses that are part of most programs. These might include:
- Applying and enforcing local, state and federal laws to criminal computer activities
- Computer security fundamentals, problems and solutions
- Criminal justice technologies
- Detecting computer systems intrusion
- Forensics and computer networks
- Principles of forensic investigation
Bachelor's Degree in Computer Forensics
Bachelor's programs often include hands-on projects that give students experience in conducting forensic examinations of mobile devices, networks and computers. Students will also learn how to use major computer forensic software. They may even participate in software beta tests, analyzing software programs. This encourages students to develop critical thinking skills when performing research. To be admitted into this program, students must have a high school diploma, high GPA, and high standardized test scores.
Bachelor's programs cover much of the same information as associate programs. Other coursework may cover:
- Auditing information systems for security
- Evaluating computer file systems
- Fraud and fraud examination
- Processes of the U.S. criminal justice system
- Social impact and ethics of computer technology
- Visual basic programming
Master's Degree in Digital Forensics
Students in a master's level program in digital forensics often receive concentrated specialization in topics in the field. Some programs are tailored especially for baccalaureate graduates of criminal justice or computer science courses. Some master's programs focus on preparing students to enter a Ph.D. program. Program goals include qualifying students for careers in both public and commercial settings. Prospective students must have a bachelor's degree and meet the GPA requirements.
Because many master's programs encourage specialization, coursework may vary greatly. Some courses specific to a master's level program can include:
- Current forensic science topics
- Distributed and parallel processing of digital evidence
- Forensic procedures against malware (malicious software) codes
- Forensics for wireless networks
- Technical and legal concern in seizing and obtaining computer evidence
- Tracking and identifying cybercriminals
A variety of entry-level career positions are available to graduates of associate programs in computer forensics. These might include:
- Computer systems technician
- Law enforcement forensic examiner
- Security systems staff member
- Computer support analyst
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Computer forensic investigators are included in statistics for private detectives and investigators by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Jobs for that occupational group were predicted to increase by 5% from 2014 to 2024, which about as fast as the average for all occupations. The BLS made specific mention of cyber crimes driving the need for professionals who can provide investigative services (www.bls.gov).
Continuing Education Information
Graduates with associate degrees in computer forensics may choose to earn a bachelor's degree in computer forensics. At the least, associate degree holders will need to continually take courses that allow them to keep up with the constant changes in technology. Membership in a professional organization such as the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (IACIS) can help.
Beyond a bachelor's degree, forensic data recovery specialists have several immediate educational opportunities open to them. There are a large number of graduate certificates in computer forensics or forensic computer investigation. Graduates also may choose to pursue a master's degree in digital forensics.
Forensic data recovery specialists may be eligible to earn one or more voluntary certifications. Major certifications available include EnCase Certified Examiner (EnCE), which is a certification of expertise in the widely-used Guidance Software's EnCase computer forensic software program. Another certification is the Certified Computer Forensics Examiner (CCFE), from the Information Assurance Certification Review Board. Two other broadly-recognized certifications are the Certified Forensic Computer Examiner (CFCE) from the IACIS, and the Certified Computer Examiner (CCE) from the International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners (ISFCE).
Graduates of master's programs in digital forensics may choose to earn a Ph.D. in the field. Doctoral degree holders may find positions in academia or qualify for other teaching and research-oriented jobs.
Associate's degree programs in computer forensics focus on gathering evidence and securing operating systems, while bachelor's programs discover forensic software and conduct forensic examinations. Master's programs vary due to the fact that students can specialize in different topics of criminal justice and computer security.