Bachelor's degree programs in digital forensics, often under the program title of computer forensics, are available fully online; some schools require a short internship. These programs may be designed as bachelor's degree completion programs for those who've already completed general education requirements. Online students may be required to have Windows XP or Mac OS X, Internet Explorer 7.0 or Firefox 3.0, as well as CD-ROM or DVD-ROM. Investigators and detectives typically have some formal postsecondary training; this may be especially helpful for digital forensic investigators, whose work involves a great deal of technical skill with computers.
Bachelor's Degree in Digital Forensics
An online degree in digital forensics includes classes in law, investigative procedure and information technology. Students learn about networking, computer security and the types of crimes commonly committed online. Some schools require applicants to have already completed general education courses prior to admission. Graduates of a digital forensics program are prepared in the use of technology to obtain evidence from computers and other electronic devices, which is then employed in criminal and civil courts.
Program Information and Requirements
The coursework for an online bachelor's degree can be completed in four years, though students with transfer credits can finish sooner. The courses are delivered online, although some programs may include a short internship. Internships can be completed at school-approved local agencies or departments. Using a course management system, such as Blackboard, students have access to lessons 24 hours a day. In many cases lectures and assignments are posted in a discussion forum. Although students are not required to 'attend' class at specific times, assignments are generally due within prescribed time periods. Communication with classmates and instructors is carried out via discussion forum and e-mail.
Technical requirements include a computer with DSL or cable Internet access and loaded with at least Windows XP or Mac OS X. Internet Explorer 7.0 or Firefox 3.0 or higher are the recommended browsers. Some programs may have lectures or course materials on disc. In those cases, a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive is required.
Common Digital Forensics Courses
Depending on the school and program, a number of general education courses may be required, including algebra, American government, psychology, written communication, oral communication, economics and humanities. The remainder of the digital forensics curriculum consists of required courses and electives.
This cybersecurity course addresses the fundamentals of securing networks and computers. Among the topics studied are firewalls, intrusion detection, security objectives, threats, vulnerabilities, authentication methods and types of attacks.
Students are introduced to the discipline of computer science and software engineering in this course. Topics include computer architecture, programming logic, programming design, integer representation and object-oriented principles.
This is an introduction to technology used in criminal investigations. Forensic methods examined include DNA analysis, digital analysis, forensic toxicology, forensic serology, document, voice and fingerprint analysis.
The fundamentals and theories of criminal investigation are the focal points of this course. The history and process of a crime and its investigation are examined from the scene of the incident to the courtroom. Emphasis is placed on appropriate techniques to be applied to specific crimes.
This broad-based course covers the entire spectrum of computer forensics analysis as it is applied to a criminal investigation. Students learn how digital forensics experts prepare for computer searches and how these searches are conducted according to the law and investigation guidelines. Later, the class explores how discovered evidence is prepared for use at trial.
Typical career fields for individuals holding a digital forensics bachelor's degree include law enforcement, legal services, government contracting, computer services, independent consulting and financial services. In each case, the individual acts as an investigator. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities for all private detectives and investigators, including computer forensic investigators, are expected to increase 8%, about as fast as average for all occupations, from 2018-2028 (www.bls.gov). As of November 2019, a survey conducted by PayScale.com found the national average salary for forensic computer analysts to be $72,019.
Continuing Education Information
Graduates who wish to continue their studies can enroll in online or on-campus programs leading to a master's degree in digital forensics, computer forensics or cybersecurity. These programs may be offered with options which allow students to concentrate on either academic theory and research in forensics or practical application in the field.
Although not legally required, certification is recommended as a sign of competence in the field. The International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (IACIS) offers a program leading to the designation Certified Forensic Computer Examiner (CFCE), which is renewable every three years. IACIS also offers numerous professional development and advanced certification courses. The International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners (ISFCE) offers the designation Certified Computer Examiner (CCE), which is renewable every two years.
Bachelor's degree programs in digital forensics can prepare students for work as computer forensic investigators, professional certification and master's degree programs in the field. These programs can be completed fully online and may cover topics like criminal investigation, computer theory and computer forensics.