What is Computer Forensics?
Computer forensics degree programs are a subset of cyber security. So, is a branch of digital science. But one that relates only to crime solving. An aim of computer forensics is to recover evidence. In the case of hacking, bank fraud. Or identity theft, for instance. Most programs thus help you learn key detective skills. And understand how to conduct an audit. Even from an impenetrable computer.
What Do Computer Forensics Analysts Do?
A Computer Forensics Investigator has another name. They are also known as Forensic Analysts. In both cases, professional training is vital. And, is one of the goals of a computer forensic degree. As the jobs titles suggest, these pros are like detectives. But their crime scenes are computers. Or any other device that stores data.
Computer Forensic Analyst Tasks
They do this work during a criminal investigation. For instance, when hackers and viruses corrupt a system. Once they start to look into a crime, Analysts follows specific steps. These steps help them to recover data. Also, examine it.
In some cases though, Analysts have to deal with damaged equipment. So, they must know how to dismantle it. And rebuild systems too. To do this work, computer forensics experts need to know computers. From hard drives and networking. To data encryption.
After they collect all the evidence, other protocols follow. The first one is usually to write up a technical report. It details their findings. And also, shows all the steps taken during the retrieval process. Another protocol is to testify in court. Doing so, they often help law enforcement prosecute the criminal.
Computer Forensics vs. Cyber / Digital Forensics
At first glance it may look like cyber security pros and computer forensic analysts are the same. In fact they do share one goal. The protection of digital assets and intelligence. Apart from that, the roles are different. Both in their education. And, in the scope and duties asked from each.
In fact, some say that cyber security and computer forensics are two sides of the same coin. Put in simple terms, cyber security is about prevention. While computer forensics is about response.
What’s the Difference Between Cyber Security and Computer Forensics?
A cyber security team works to defend an info sec system. And, to defend against cyber attacks of all types. Unfortunately, their efforts may fail. So, when a breach takes place, they need help with these things.
- Identify the hack
- Understand the source
- Recover compromised data
The team they call for this help are Computer Forensics Analysts. For instance, if a criminal wiped a computer hard drive to hide evidence. An analyst knows how to retrieve that data.
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Types of Computer Forensic Degrees
You may find computer forensics degrees at all levels. From undergrad (associate, bachelor). To graduate (master, PhD).
Bachelors in Computer Forensics
In most cases, a bachelor degree is the entry point to a career in computer forensics. So, it may cover key concepts. As well as help you know how to apply them in real time. To give you an example, let’s take a closer look at a bachelor’s program. The BS in Computer Forensics and Digital Investigations This degree program aims to prep you to pursue a career. And to do so, may help you learn some of these things.
- Identify, retrieve, examine, and present digital evidence
- Asses & apply new laws to digital forensics
- Apply computer skills
- Know the ethics of investigating a cyber crime
- Use effective digital forensic methods
- Spot the culture and methods used in white collar crime
- Test digital forensics tools and know what works
Master’s in Computer Forensics
If you want to advance an info sec career, you may need a master’s degree or MBA. These programs often help you gain two sets of skills. Business and technical. So, may be perfect for someone who strives to climb the ladder.
Computer Forensic Course Curriculum
Many computer forensics degree programs are part of a cyber security course plan. As such, many feature Comp Sci classics. Like programming and cryptography. But there are a few courses that focus in a deep way on the practices and theories of forensics. For instance, cyber and privacy laws, and ethics.
Here’s a list of sample topics you may find in a computer forensics study plan.
- Mobile device forensics, and malware
- Fraud and how to investigate it
- Psychology of cyber crime
- Incident response and timeline analysis
- Reverse engineering and malware
How Long Does It Take For a Cyber Forensics Degree?
A bachelor’s degree in computer forensics often takes a full time student four years. That said, many people earn their computer forensics degree online. Online programs may fast track your pace. They do this if you take a very full course load. And, no breaks in between.
You may also have some transfer credits. For instance, from an associate degree or military experience. In these cases, you may have fewer credits to do. After your four year degree, you may want to earn your master’s. If so, most cyber security master’s programs take from 18 months to two years.
Top Schools for Computer Forensic Degrees
NCES lists 709 institutions with Computer Forensics Degree programs. From those schools, 264 degrees were awarded to students in 2016.
|School||2016 Degrees awarded||2018/19 Graduate Tuition|
|University of Maryland University College||96||$12,000|
|Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania||39||$17,700 (out of state)|
|University of Baltimore||35||$18,256 (out of state)|
|Robert Morris University||29||$27,320|
|Farmingdale State College||28||$16,320 (out of state)|
|George Mason University||28||$29,486 (out of state)|
|CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice||19||$13,440 (out of state)|
|Keiser University Ft Lauderdale||28||$17,488|
This program entails 120 credits with the possibility to use up to 90 transfer credits. The focus in on using industry standard digital forensics tools.
- Malware Forensics
- Intro to Operating Systems
- Criminal Investigation
- Apply and interpret digital evidence laws
- Scientific methods
- Critical thinking
University of Maryland Global Campus
This is a 36 credit program. It centers around investigation, leadership and executive skills. These areas intend to grow your ability to handle complex cyber threats and incidents.
- Advanced Forensics
- Digital Forensics Tech & Practices
- Capstone in Cybersecurity
- Problem solving
- Conduct hands on forensic searches
- Detect data breaches
Robert Morris University
This 120 credit program was formerly a BS in Cyber Forensics and Information Assurance. The option still exists to delve into digital forensics while also cyber security basics.
- Digital Evidence Analysis
- Computer & Network Security
- Argument & research
- Database management
- Professional conduct
University of San Diego
This program is planned out over 20 months and entails 31 credits. It is ideally for current workers with IT or cyber experience who want to hone leader and technical skills.
- Cyber Incident Response
- Operational Policy
- Secure Software Design
- Deeper understanding of theories
- Management and risk
Salve Regina University
This four course graduate certificate is a stand alone program or add on to the M.S. It discusses basics of computer networks and proper storage of evidence. Also federal rules and criminal codes.
- Network forensics
- Mobile Forensics
- Malware Basics
- Strategic security management
- How threat actors choose targets
- Data analysis
Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania
In this 120 credit program the focus is on the tech side of investigating computer crimes. It goes through all aspects of cyber. Both about reacting to and being proactive about security.
- Digital Forensics Software
- Database Design
- Examine computers and smart phones
- Recover deleted pictures, documents and internet activity
- Explore hidden areas on hard disks
Florida State University
This program entails 120 credits. It unites criminology, criminal justice (CJ) and computer science into one bachelor of science degree. You thus study crimes, computers and security.
- Cybercrime Detection
- Computer Security Basics
- CJ System Responses
- How crimes occur on computers
- Research methods
- Computer & network security
University of Baltimore
This 80 credit program targets those with an associate’s degree who want to expand their skills. It exposes students to all aspects of data recovery from computers and digital devices.
- Cyber Crime and the Law
- Operating System Forensics
- Mobile Forensics
- Forensic analysis of documents
- Understanding of ethical hacking
College of Southern Nevada
This program spans 71 credits. Coursework aims to support students in growing the skills necessary to investigate computer crime. It also touches on PC troubleshooting and CISCO networking
- Internet Forensics
- Digital Crime Investigation
- Intro to Electronic Crime
- Evaluate computer hardware and software
- Develop organization security policies
Manage the security of a network system
Farmingdale State College
In this program you take 121 credits. It is a technical course plan that is about facing security threats from malware and unauthorized access.
- Biometric Recognition
- Digital Signal & Image Processing
- Critical thinking
- Computer skills for the security industry
- Leadership and ethics
Rose State College
This program explores the world of cyber while covering networks and networking. Including local area networks, remote access, data recovery, data analysis and basic reverse engineering.
- Cyber Law and Ethics
- Script Programming
- Network Administration
- Basics of network security
- Forensic investigation methods
- Understanding of mobile, wireless and remote access tech
Sinclair Community College
This program comprises 61 credits. It focuses on criminal justice and computer security skills. Along with these areas, you study economics and management.
- Computer Crime
- Constitutional Law
- Linux Operating System
- Problem solving
- Computer programming
- Ethics & professionalism
CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice
This 120 credit program draws primarily from chemistry (organic, analytical and physical). It also features courses in biology, physics and law. You can tailor studies with a focal area in toxicology, molecular biology, or criminalistics.
- Calculus I,II
- Instrumental Analysis
- Law & Evidence
- Draw conclusions using science
- Problem solving
- Data collection
The total credit hours for this program is 120 but the school allows up to 117 eligible transfer credits. You may focus your degree in cyber operations which is about homeland security. Or keep a general course plan, depending on your intended career path.
- Cyber Attacks & Defense
- Network & Application Security
- Computer Forensics
- Describe defensive network architecture
- Evaluate and apply industry tools to respond to cyber incident
- Create cyber reports
George Mason University
This program entails 126 credits. It is about developing cyber resilient systems that protect hardware and software. For those who prefer, there is an accelerated B.S. / M.S. option too.
- Secure RF Communications
- Cyber Vulnerability Lab
- Understand integrated cyber / physical systems
- Oral communications
- Math and statistics
Keiser University - Ft. Lauderdale
This is a 60 credit completion program for associate degree grads in computer areas. It focuses on basic forensic methods used to collect, keep, analyze and report digital network evidence.
- Security Policies
- White Collar & Economic Crime
- Digital Media Forensics
- Use of information systems security tools
- Critical thinking & communication
- Analyze legal aspects of prosecuting computer crimes
Sacred Heart University
This technical program entails 120 credits including capstone and internship. You can choose between two areas of focus. Cyber operations and cyber defense.
- Forensic Computing
- Software & System Security
- Apply security principles
- Analyze and evaluate systems
Embry Riddle Aeronautical University
This is a 30 credit program. It focuses on the enterprise and business in the Information Age. How cyber crime leads to financial loss. And at the impacts of faulty design and bad data.
- Risk Management
- Cyber Law & Compliance
- Knowledge of complex threats
- Enterprise wide strategy
- Management skills related to security
This program entails 180 quarter credits and allows up to 135 eligible transfer credits. It focuses on the skills that support security systems in online banking, health care, national security and beyond.
- Cyber Attacks & Ethical Hacking
- Operating Systems & App Security
- Computer Forensics
- Evaluate security policies
- Social engineering
- Access control & authentication
Guilford Technical Community College
You complete 67 to 69 credits for this program. It focuses on trends in cyber crime and the forensic tools and methods to recovery data and prep for trial. You study these skills for desktops, laptops, mobile devices, and different operating systems.
- Computer Crime Investigation
- Penetration Testing
- Constitutional Law
- Identify current ethical issues in computer technology
- Use appropriate software to monitor network traffic
- Identify network vulnerabilities
Computer Forensic Careers
Earning a computer forensic degree may prep you to launch or further a career in info sec. At the moment, info sec analysts earn an average of $99,730 a year. And, the job market is hot. By 2029, BLS.gov predicts a 31% surge in the number of jobs.
With the skills of a forensic computer analyst, you may work with private firms. Or, within the criminal justice field, with gov’t or law enforcement.
|Career||Entry level education||Average Median Salary||Projected growth rate|
Forensic Computer Analyst
Information Security Analyst
Computer and Cyber Forensic Certifications
Many computer forensics programs serve as study guides for extra certifications. These come from industry agencies. And usually involve an exam.
Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator (CHFI)
The CHFI certification is for people with a back ground in computer hacking forensics. So it may help to validate your investigative skills.
Certified Forensic Examiner (GCFE)
A certified forensic examiner displays knowledge, skills and aptitude to run a standard incident investigation. They usually do this for the legal and law enforcement industries. A such, the GCFE focus is on core skills and the uses on Windows computer systems.
Certified Computer Examiner (CCE)
The ISFCE offers the CCE. And, is a credential many need when working in gov’t agencies. One goal of the CCE credential is to certify forensic examiners. It shows they can provide a fair and neutral investigation. Also, it sets high standards for the profession.
Certified Forensic Computer Examiner (CFCE)
The CFCE Certification program proves the holder has expertise. And pertain to the core skills needed in the field of computer forensics.