Cybercrime studies, also called digital forensics, is a field of study concerned with the extraction and analysis of data from computers and other digital media for the purpose of detecting illegal or unauthorized activities.
Cybercrime investigators examine intrusions into computer systems, recover and analyze data from erased or encrypted files, and present their findings for evidence in investigations. Typically, cybercrime studies programs at the certificate or associate's degree levels focus on investigative techniques and evidence collection, preparing students to work as computer forensics investigators in entry-level cybercrime jobs.
Bachelor's and graduate cybercrime programs tend to focus on the analysis of evidence and application of technology to cybercrime investigations, preparing students for more advanced positions, such as computer forensics analysis. In addition to retrieving data from electronic media, computer forensics analysts produce psychological profiles of subjects based on the information. Graduate programs require students to have bachelor's degrees and are typically designed to advance the skills of working professionals.
Distance learning classes may be delivered synchronously or asynchronously. While some classes may require students and instructors to meet for occasional lab work or project presentations, the majority of communication with instructors and fellow students is through e-mail, instant messaging and online chats. Students can view lectures, assignments and other course materials in a virtual classroom environment.
Distance learning cybercrime certificate programs teach students to gather evidence for a variety of cybercrimes, including child pornography, terrorism, cyberstalking, extortion, money laundering, fraud, forgery and identity theft. Students pursuing an online certificate in cybercrime studies learn to circumvent passwords, examine and access computer drives and write effective, thorough case reports. Cybercrime majors may also participate in case scenarios with fictional private investigators and phony evidence.
Distance learning cybercrime certificate programs generally require completion of 15-21 credits. Classes typically offered include the following:
- Forensic examination procedures
- Networked computers
- Write blocking
- Drive partitioning
- Media acquisition
- Imaging methods and restoration
- Ethical conduct issues
- Chain of custody documentation
Students pursuing a bachelor's degree in cybercrime studies are trained in computer and network technology, criminal justice and digital evidence investigation methods. Cybercrime majors learn to conduct thorough examinations, identify where and how data is stored, recover and interpret data, and draw and present appropriate conclusions.
Students enrolled in a typical online cybercrime bachelor's degree program learn forensic, evidence handling and proper documentation procedures. Topics commonly covered at this level include:
- Advanced digital investigations practice
- Server systems administration
- Forensic accounting
- Criminal investigation
- Anti-forensics and network forensics
- Introductory statistics
- Financial accounting
- Investigative interviewing
A typical distance learning master's degree program in cybercrime is comprised of around 30 credit hours of study beyond the bachelor's degree. Graduate students may be required to attend online video conferencing sessions or on-campus training sessions with instructors and classmates.
Classes for students pursuing a master's in cybercrime studies may include:
- Seizure and examination
- Network intrusion detection
- Wireless security and forensics
- Software and malware vulnerability analysis
- Processing of digital evidence
- File system and OS forensics
- Incident response technologies
Master's programs available online in this field usually require a capstone course or major project as the culminating experience for students.
Cybercrime investigators and analysts are employed by law firms, software development companies, accounting firms and businesses with large computer networks, as well as law enforcement and government agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Customs and U.S. Postal Service. In addition to having specific training in cybercrime or digital forensics, a background in computer science or accounting can also be beneficial in this line of work.
Cybercrime studies undergraduate and graduate programs are offered online, however in some cases students may meet occasionally. Students in the programs learn about computer systems, collecting and analyzing data, and looking at evidence for a variety of cyber crimes.