If you’re a fan of James Bond-style thrillers, you know that technology is king in the criminal world. Although forensic scientists still work with fingerprints and gun powder samples, more and more students are choosing to specialize in computer forensics, also known as digital forensics. The digital forensics field uses technological skills to be able to identify instances of forensic crime. After all, digital fraud, computer terrorism and technological espionage are some of the many facets of cyber-crime that students must be able to recognize. Computer forensics colleges provide students with the knowledge to discern when these types of crimes are occurring and the skills to be able to help prevent or even stop them. Students will also receive training about how to use mathematics, logic and advanced equipment to be able to identify criminal behavior and to determine when and how computers and digital information are being illegally used.
There are many levels of computer forensics programs available, both online and at traditional campuses. For students who just completed their high school education, colleges such as ITT-Tech and St. Petersburg College offer a 2-year Associate of Science (A.S.) degree in Computer Forensics or Digital Forensics. Although this degree is not as rigorous as a 4-year degree, credits from an A.S. in Digital Forensics can often be transferred to a Bachelor’s of Science (B.S.) degree in Computer Information Technology or B.S. in Digital Forensics.
Although all 4-year computer forensic degrees are considered bachelor’s of science degrees, each computer forensic college offers its own unique programs to help students gain skills and knowledge. For example, Missouri Southern State University offers a double major program that leads to both a B.S. in Computer Information Science and a B.S. in Criminal Justice Administration. Other computer forensics colleges, like George Mason University, offer an accelerated program that allows students to complete Bachelor’s of Science and Master’s of Science (M.S.) in Information Technology degrees at the same time. Students could also choose to pursue a master’s of science degree or master’s certificate in forensics science after completing a bachelor’s degree in the field. A master’s degree, like an M.S. in Computer Forensics, can take two to three years to complete and require completion of 35 to 40 class credits. Many master’s degrees can also require students to complete a thesis to obtain a degree, but some colleges, like John Jay College of Criminal Justice at SUNY, may waive a thesis project in lieu of an internship or additional elective courses. However, this could lengthen the time needed to complete the degree.
Students who already have experience in the field or a background in computer technology may find graduate certificates a good and quick alternative to undertaking a full M.S. in Digital Forensics. These computer forensics certificates typically require 10 to 20 credits of coursework and can help students gain skills about data gathering and evidence collection, which are essential to a career in computer forensics.
Students just graduating from high school will need to have strong grades in math and science to be able to apply for an A.S. or B.S. in Computer Science program. Core classes like English, math and psychology, are the building blocks for new knowledge and needed as prerequisites to be able to complete more advanced coursework in a computer forensics degree. Associate of of science degrees may offer courses such as Introduction to Criminal Justice, Operating Systems for Forensic Investigators and Legal Aspects of Computer-Related Criminal Investigation. As students move into 4-year bachelor’s of science degree programs, they should explore classes and subjects like these in much greater depth. Also, bachelor’s degree programs in computer forensics schools may necessitate students completing at least two semesters of Forensic Accounting, Systems Administration and/or doing a forensics internship or project.
Students pursuing a M.S. in Computer Forensics will find that the requirements are more rigorous than for a bachelor’s of science degree. In fact, computer forensics colleges may require students to have a background or bachelor’s degree in computer technology to be accepted. Once students have shown they have these basic skills, they may find themselves involved in courses such as Investigative and Intelligence Analysis or Law and High Technology Crime. Almost every college requires students in master’s degrees in digital forensics programs complete a thesis project or paper. Students may be required to complete a short internship as well.
Students who are interested in pursuing a graduate certificate in forensics science will find that a previous degree or experience in computer technology or criminology is needed. Otherwise, they will just lack the basic skills to be able to succeed. Once accepted into a program, students should gain even more skills germane to to career success, which could include coursework such as Architecture for Secure Operating Systems, Network Security or Forensic Management of Digital Evidence.
Fortunately, digital forensics is one field where it is possible to complete almost, if not all, of the required coursework online. For example, Champlain University offers a 100 percent online bachelor’s of science degree that is nationally recognized by the National Security Agency (NSA) as a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education. The University of Central Florida is known for its excellent criminology department and offers the classes for its master’s degree in forensics science entirely online. However, the internship requirement for this advanced degree does need to be done in-person. The University of Maryland at University College, Stevenson University and Champlain College also offer completely-online graduate programs. Other colleges, like Sam Houston State College and Purdue University, offer online courses that apply toward the final master’s degree program, but that require some on-campus coursework. Graduates schools also offer certificates in computer forensics that can be done partially or completely online. Schools such as Boston University, The University of Rhode Island and University of Massachusetts at Lowell offer graduate certificates in computer forensics in an online environment.
It is important that computer forensics colleges be accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Council (FEPAC). This organization is dedicated to maintaining high standards in forensic education, and regularly evaluates the techniques and training that undergraduate and graduate programs offer. FEPAC also provides comprehensive guide to accredited college programs. Other computer forensics colleges may also have accreditation through the Computer Sciences Accreditation Board (CSAB), the computer science and technology component of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). CSAB is responsible for creating and defining the requirements for accreditation of programs relating to computer science, information technology and technological systems.
Barry spent two decades in the financial software industry before moving over to digital publishing in 2013. Barry joined publisher Sechel Ventures as partner, and now produces and edits content for ForensicsColleges.com.