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Online Master’s Degrees in Digital Forensics

Crimes defying imagination add to the allure of procedural TV shows. Programs such as “CSI,” “NCIS” and “Law and Order” present seasoned and stylish sleuths assembling clues and solving major crimes. Of course, real life is rarely this satisfying, as even the best crime labs and brightest investigators may take months or even years to process the evidence and create a valid case.

Becoming a professional mystery-solver is challenging, certainly, but forensic science is replete with opportunities, particularly for those interested in law enforcement. One subfield with high employment potential is digital forensics, which focuses on investigating cybercrime and properly preserving evidence of criminal activity on computers.

While digital forensics lacks the hands-on aspects of crime lab positions, it offers numerous career options in the public and private sectors. More companies realize that information security is crucial to monitor and defend their assets from internal or external threats. By illustration, large-scale cyber attacks on retailers such as Home Depot have shown that companies can lose money and consumer confidence in their businesses.

Part of the appeal of solving or preventing cybercrime is that it can pay well, and the field is growing. By illustration, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2023) estimates that the median pay for information security analysts is $120,360 per year or $57.87 per hour. Furthermore, the BLS (2024) states that the number of positions in this field was expected to grow by 32 percent between 2022 and 2032, which is over 10 times the average projected growth of all U.S. professions during that decade (3 percent).

So what does it take to succeed in this lucrative, high-growth career? Experts in digital forensics are familiar with common hardware, software, and computer networking systems. They need to master current methods of intrusion across different environments and how to defend against them. They also need a firm grasp of the legal standards of evidence and privacy and a working understanding of how to create proper chains of custody and safeguard digital data. It also helps to learn modern encryption and decryption methods, including how to legally access other people’s systems and digital media.

Digital forensics bridges investigative work and computer science, and several professional organizations in both fields offer support and continuing education in this field. These include CompTIA, which focuses on information technology topics; the International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners, available to public and private employers; and the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists, which also offers training and certification in ways to inspect remote attacks on computers properly.

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Fortunately for aspiring professionals in digital forensics, there is a wealth of training programs in the field. In addition to the traditional, campus-based degrees, there’s a growing number of distance-based programs as well. Most degree programs take an average of two years to complete.

This guide covers online master’s degrees in digital forensics, including the expected coursework.

Types of Digital Forensics Master’s Degrees

Online education has expanded access to higher education, meaning students can choose to earn degrees on-campus or online through accredited colleges and universities. When researching digital forensics master’s degree programs, it’s important to note that each type of program has unique benefits for students.

The first consideration is whether the program is offered on-campus or online. Students who can take time off from work or are in between careers may choose an on-campus program. By comparison, a student who lives far from a university campus works full-time, or needs a flexible schedule for familial responsibilities may find an online program is a better fit for their needs.

After choosing an on-campus or online program, a second consideration is which type of digital forensics degree to pursue. Some digital forensics degree programs are more computer science-based, while others blend computer science with management courses. Some master’s of science degrees specialize in information security or digital forensics.

Here’s a list of common types of digital forensics master’s degrees:

  • Master of science in digital forensics
  • Master of science in cybersecurity
  • Master of professional studies with a digital forensics specialty
  • Master of science in information security
  • Master of science in information assurance
  • Master of science with a computer forensics specialty

Master’s Degree Programs in Digital Forensics

National University

National University offers an online master of science program in cybersecurity with specialization options in ethical hacking and pen testing; enterprise cybersecurity management; digital forensics and incident response; or cloud security.

This online program provides training in assessing external and internal vulnerabilities of various systems. It includes instruction on ensuring security and analyzing risk assessments and general project management skills. Students take 40.5 units of core classes and 18 specialization credit

The program also discusses cybersecurity’s legal and ethical aspects at state, federal, and international levels. The program is available online or on-campus at several locations nationwide, including many U.S. military bases.

The curriculum includes courses such as cybersecurity technology; wireless and mobile security; cloud security; governance in cybersecurity; ethical hacking; advanced penetration testing; digital investigations; network forensics; risk management in cloud computing; and cloud security architecture.

  • Location: San Diego, CA
  • Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years

Penn State World Campus

Penn State World Campus offers an online master of professional studies program in homeland security with a concentration in cyber threat analytics and prevention.

This 33-credit online program offers advanced training in cyber threats and defense helping students acquire a broad base of knowledge relevant to the current programs and policies of the homeland security administration. It can further provide students with a focus on understanding cyber laws and preventing cyberattacks, as well as addressing system threats, cyber terrorism, and network vulnerabilities.

The curriculum includes courses such as homeland security administration: policies and programs; violence, threats, terror, and insurgency; network and predictive analytics for socio-technical systems; contemporary information systems architecture; crisis, disaster, and risk management; computer and cyber forensics; cybersecurity analytics; network management and security; and root causes of terrorism.

Penn State has been designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the National Security Agency (NSA). The designation demonstrates Penn State’s commitment to academic excellence in assurance education and information cybersecurity.

Graduates of this program will be prepared to take up roles such as cyber analysts, security analysts, information systems security analysts, threat intelligence analysts, and network security analysts.

Notably, Penn State also offers a 15-credit graduate certificate in information systems cybersecurity as well as a 12-credit graduate certificate in cyber threat analytics and prevention.

  • Location: University Park, PA
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years

Norwich University

Norwich University offers an online master of science program in cybersecurity.

This distance-based MS program in cybersecurity helps students develop the management skills and business acumen needed for leading the field. Norwich University has also been designated as a Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education by the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security.

The curriculum of this 36-credit specialized program blends the technical and management aspects of an information security or assurance program, enabling students to develop the knowledge and skills required for protecting their organization and its information.

Students in this program will be able to tailor their learning experience with six concentration options: computer forensic investigation and incident response team management; cyber law & international perspectives on cyberspace; critical infrastructure protection & cybercrime; project management; procurement and government contract management; and vulnerability management.

The core curriculum includes courses such as foundations and historical underpinnings of information assurance; information assurance technology; human factors and managing risk; and information assurance management & analytics.

Admission requirements to the program include a bachelor’s degree from a regionally or nationally accredited U.S. institution, or an equivalent, a completed online application, a current resume indicating three professional references, official transcripts, a letter of intent, and proof of English language proficiency for students whose first language is not English.

  • Location: Northfield, VT
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years

Utica University

Utica University offers an online master of science program in cybersecurity with a specialization in digital forensics. Notably, the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security have designated Utica University as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (CAE-CD).

Students through this program will learn how to address ever-changing attack and infiltration techniques and will gain hands-on experience in critical infrastructures, investigative principles, and cyber intelligence.

Made up of 30 credits, the program includes courses such as principles of cybersecurity; programming applications for cybersecurity; cloud infrastructure; threat hunting and incident response; computer forensics and investigation methods; intrusion forensics and network analysis; and malware practicum.

  • Location: Utica, NY
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years

Champlain College

Champlain College offers an online master of science program in digital forensic science helping students become scientists through a cutting-edge curriculum that is closely aligned with new trends and emerging technology in the digital investigation industry.

This fully online program includes 30 to 36 credits that can be finished in one to six years. The curriculum offers an overview of legal issues and technical challenges, including accessing different digital devices. Notably, the Department of Defense’s Cyber Crime Center has declared the program a National Center of Digital Forensics Academic Excellence. Students use virtual environments to simulate real-world conditions and work with various software.

The curriculum includes courses such as information technology and security; digital forensic science; the practice of digital investigations; scripting for digital forensics; operating system analysis; incident response and network forensics; mobile device analysis; digital investigations for civil litigation; malware analysis; and digital forensics and encryption.

Upon successfully completing the program, graduates can take up roles such as computer forensics investigators, digital forensics examiners, digital forensics analysts, and digital forensics consultants.

  • Location: Burlington, VT
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years

Capella University

Capella University offers an online master of science in information assurance and cybersecurity with a specialization in digital forensics. Graduates of this program will develop the knowledge and skills needed to perform advanced computer forensics, including an in-depth understanding of the legal challenges associated with digital investigations. They will be able to elevate their IT expertise and help make communities safer.

This online program focuses on the skills to investigate incidents related to data and assets. It covers the various legal challenges surrounding digital investigations and includes opportunities to work and practice in a virtual lab. Notably, the DHS and NSA have recognized the program for excellence.

Students in this 48-credit program will complete six core courses, five specialization courses, and one capstone. Courses include digital forensics processes; digital forensics tools; programming for security professionals; network architecture and cyber operations; network security fundamentals and cryptography; information security regulatory and legal environment; and operating system defense.

To get accepted into the program, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree from an institution accredited with a minimum GPA of 2.3, a background acknowledgment form, a valid, government-issued form of photo identification, and proof of English proficiency for students who have completed their most recent academic coursework, degree, or credential at an institution outside the United States. GMAT or GRE are not required for admission.

  • Location: Minneapolis, MN
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years

Stevenson University

Stevenson University offers an online master of science program in cybersecurity and digital forensics, preparing students with an in-depth knowledge of forensic techniques and tools and providing opportunities to enhance specialized skill sets in areas such as e-discovery, cloud and network forensics, penetration testing, and incident response.

Students learn to acquire, analyze, preserve, and document electronic data and digital evidence needed for security or legal purposes. Faculty members discuss current cybercrime plus how to design appropriate responses. A highlight of the 36-credit online program is an intrusion simulation which lets students demonstrate their knowledge and abilities as investigators to detect and analyze the attack.

The curriculum includes courses such as incident response and evidence collection; network penetration testing; cyber hunting; malware detection, analysis, and prevention; mock intrusion and response; file systems forensic analysis; windows intrusion forensic investigations; network and cloud forensics; cyber warfare and cyber terrorism; and forensic research and writing.

The program is part of the school’s Center for Forensic Excellence, which provides cybersecurity services to the surrounding community. The major admission requirements to the program include a bachelor’s degree in a technical or quantitative field of study or related professional work experience, a cumulative GPA of 3.0, a personal statement, official college transcripts, and a completed online application. GRE scores are not required for admission.

Graduates of the program can pursue roles such as cyber security engineers, cyber security analysts, network engineers or architects, cyber crime analysts, cyber security architects, and IT auditors.

Stevenson also offers a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity and digital forensics and a graduate certificate in digital forensics.

  • Location: Owings Mills, MD
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years

Sam Houston State University

Sam Houston State University offers an online master of science program in digital forensics preparing graduates for service in several commercial and public arenas as network security or digital forensics professionals.

This online program gives students the tools to create and administer information assurance in public or private settings. The school offers its own Network Security Lab and Data Recovery Lab, allowing real-time intrusion detection, data management, and information preservation training. It provides 30 credits and includes an overview of legal and security topics, plus some computer programming topics.

Made up of 30 credits, the program includes courses such as network and cyber security; file system forensics; digital security; cyber law; digital forensics investigation; and directed management and development projects.

This degree is designed for students who have completed undergraduate criminal justice or computer science majors or minors and those with baccalaureate degrees in technical fields. Additional requirements for admission include a completed graduate application, official transcripts of all previous college work, a current resume, and two letters of recommendation. Preference will be given to applicants with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

  • Location: Huntsville, TX
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years

Additional Digital Forensics Master’s Degree Programs

Other digital forensic master’s programs include:

Also, several schools offer distance-based graduate certificate programs in digital forensics. These graduate certificate programs are designed for bachelor’s degree holders and require less time to complete than a two-year master’s degree.

Admissions Requirements for Online Digital Forensics Programs

While admissions processes vary by institution, a majority of online digital forensics master’s programs ask for applicants to have the following:

  • A bachelor’s degree in an analytic field such as computer science, network administration, criminal justice, math, or science
  • A competitive GPA (typically at least a 3.0)
  • Letters of reference and a personal statement
  • Background in computer science, including familiarity with programming, algorithms, operating systems, networks, and data structures
  • GRE scores with high scores in math
  • Professional experience in a related information technology or systems administrative field, which can also help waive some credits

Accreditation for Digital Forensics Master’s Degree Programs

Whether a student is considering an online or on-campus program, it’s essential to ensure its curriculum has received appropriate approval from industry or educational sources. Various accreditation organizations exist nationally and by region. The U.S. Department of Education’s Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) has recognized six central regional accreditation bodies. These include:

  • Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

Lastly, it’s essential to ensure an institution accepts distance-based students from an applicant’s state. This is referred to as “state authorization.” If a school doesn’t list this information on its site, prospective students are advised to call a particular program to discuss their eligibility.

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Jocelyn Blore is the chief content officer of Sechel Ventures and the co-author of the Women Breaking Barriers series. She graduated summa cum laude from UC Berkeley and traveled the world for five years. She also worked as an addiction specialist for two years in San Francisco. She’s interested in how culture shapes individuals and systems within societies—one of the many themes she writes about in her blog, Blore’s Razor (Instagram: @bloresrazor). She has served as managing editor for several healthcare websites since 2015.