The Information Age has necessitated the development of an entirely new industry in digital forensics and cybersecurity. Given how interwoven technology is within daily life, the need for professionals trained in this industry is projected to grow robustly into the future. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022) projects that openings for information security analysts will grow 35 percent nationally between 2021 and 2031. This growth rate is seven times the average growth rate for all occupations during the same period.
Those pursuing formal education in digital forensics customarily complete coursework in criminology, operating systems, data management, and investigative techniques. Some academic programs feature additional requirements, such as internships, which can enhance a graduate’s competitiveness in the job market.
Job openings can be found in several settings. Some people work in positions within local, state, or national law enforcement agencies. Others may choose to work for national companies in the private sector. And still others become self-employed consultants.
The cybersecurity industry tends to be especially welcoming to individuals with current or former military backgrounds. Such individuals often can benefit from reduced tuition rates as well as academic credit for existing military education and work experience directly relevant to their chosen degree program and specialization.
On-campus digital forensics master’s degree programs offer a wealth of opportunities for students. Students attending on-campus programs can access facilities and research centers to gain in-person experience through internships and simulations.
On-campus programs work well for students who prefer to learn in person and live near a brick-and-mortar school. Some on-campus programs may include hybrid instruction, meaning some of the courses and assignments are delivered live or asynchronously online.
Here are seven on-campus master’s of science programs in digital forensics.
The University of South Florida offers a master’s degree in cybersecurity, with a concentration in digital forensics. Prospective applicants should note that this program focuses heavily on technology and collecting digital evidence. Students with prior training or experience in operating systems, computer architecture, and hardware will be well-equipped to succeed in the program. This 30-credit program includes a practicum experience, allowing students to apply their skills in a real-world setting.
Graduation also requires submitting an electronic portfolio demonstrating cybersecurity and digital forensics competency. The digital forensics concentration provides individuals with the skills and knowledge necessary to pursue careers as digital forensic investigators with government organizations or private companies.
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s master of science in digital forensics and cybersecurity program offers a unique balance of practice and theory. Students will study computer science, law, and criminal justice to become digital forensic scientists qualified to handle new technological challenges and effectively communicate their knowledge. This 36-credit program produces professionals well-equipped to tackle high-technology crimes in the scientific, legal, and criminal justice context.
Illinois Institute of Technology
The Illinois Institute of Technology offers a master of science in applied cybersecurity and digital forensics for individuals interested in protecting digital information and mitigating cyber threats. This 32-credit program is available on campus or online, and previous coursework or experience in technology is helpful but not required.
The National Security Agency and the United States Department of Homeland Security have designated IIT as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education, providing the opportunity for internships through the NORAD and USNORTHCOM Volunteer Student Internship Program. With digital forensics becoming increasingly important in today’s digital age, IIT’s program offers a crucial skill set for those looking to make a difference in cybersecurity. Additional coursework may be required for those without previous background in information technology, but all are welcome to apply for this valuable opportunity.
Stratford University offers a master of science in digital forensics for those looking to advance their careers in the field. The program can be completed on campus or online, and classes are offered in five- to ten-week terms. Students with an accredited undergraduate degree in a related field may have already gained competency in the program’s core areas. Those with degrees in unrelated fields can demonstrate competency through dedicated courses.
Overall, the program covers digital forensics topics such as computer technology, applications and security, relational databases, and networking. Stratford University ensures its students receive a well-rounded education in digital forensics to succeed in the constantly evolving digital world.
George Mason University offers an MS in digital forensics, with a core curriculum of 21 credits and a nine-credit elective component. Students can pursue a concentration in penetration testing/reverse engineering, or they may choose to participate in the accelerated master’s program that combines a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in five years.
To graduate from the program, students must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher in all coursework. The digital forensics program at George Mason University prepares students for careers in law enforcement, government agencies, and private corporations by equipping them with the skills and knowledge necessary to combat digital crimes and security threats. With its strong emphasis on technical competency and hands-on experience, George Mason’s digital forensics program sets itself apart as a leader in the field.
The University at Albany’s master of science in digital forensics and cybersecurity offers several concentration options in cybersecurity, risk, policy & compliance, and health security & privacy. The program offers full- or part-time completion options with evening classes, allowing students the flexibility to pursue their degree while balancing work and other commitments.
The program also includes a unique opportunity for undergraduate students with a 3.2 GPA to earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in just five years through the accelerated dual degree program, saving time and tuition costs. And for the hands-on learning experience, students can complete a three- to six-credit summer internship or thesis project to solve a real-world problem.
Marshall University’s master of science in cyber forensics and security (MSCFS) is a 33-credit program designed to prepare students for a leadership role in cybersecurity. Courses include digital forensics, cyber security policies and management, and advanced cyber defense. This program equips students with the skills necessary to investigate digital crime and defend against sophisticated cyber attacks.
Graduates will be prepared to face investigative challenges in the legal, corporate, or government sectors. Students can earn their degrees online or on campus, allowing them the flexibility to balance their education with work and personal commitments. Marshall’s MSCFS program is one of the few in the country accredited by the Committee on National Security Systems (CNSS).
Those interested in pursuing a career in digital forensics can select from many programs offering an online master’s degree in digital forensics. Many programs have received several awards and other forms of recognition due to their quality.
In addition, many programs offer a variety of resources, including reduced tuition rates, scholarships, opportunities at university-affiliated research centers, and lifelong access to career advising.
Capitol Technology University is located in the greater Washington D.C. area and offers a 39-credit master of science degree in cybersecurity. Capitol has an enduring reputation due to its welcoming atmosphere for military service members and its distinction for being one of the first schools in the nation to be recognized as a National Center of Excellence in Cyber Defense.
The curriculum prepares graduates for mid-career and senior positions in roles focused on data security and the design and management of cybersecurity programs and related infrastructure. A capstone course requirement featuring a risk assessment exercise provides students with an additional opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.
Named the best private online college by Intelligent.com (2022), Champlain College Online offers a 36-credit master of science degree in digital forensic science (MSDFS). The curriculum is designed for students to develop many competencies, including evidence management, forensic analysis, and independent research.
Since 2006, Champlain College has been designated a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education by both the United States National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. It is also a National Center of Digital Forensics Academic Excellence.
Located in Colorado Springs, Colorado Technical University offers a 48-credit master of science in computer science (MSCS) focused on cybersecurity engineering. Core coursework includes topics such as computing algorithms, software engineering, operating systems, databases, and networking.
Students may pursue a general track or a concentration in software engineering or cybersecurity engineering. The curriculum has been recognized by both the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency as aligned with their cybersecurity knowledge units.
University of Central Florida (UCF)
The University of Central Florida (UCF) is located in Orlando and offers a 30-credit master of science in online digital forensics. The curriculum was created through a collaboration between several UCF departments and emphasizes skills in computer technology, problem-solving, and communication. In 2022, Intelligent.com rated this program the best online master’s degree in computer forensics in the United States.
University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC)
Located in the Washington D.C. area, UMGC offers a 36-credit master of science degree in digital forensics and cyber investigation. The curriculum consists of one foundation course, four core courses, and one capstone course and is designed to provide graduates with the investigative, leadership, and executive skills necessary to become effective professionals. Students also are prepared to successfully pass several industry certification exams.
Candidates who completed an undergraduate degree in cybersecurity technology at UGMC may use a vertical pathway to complete an accelerated master’s program. Such students may be able to reduce total coursework requirements by up to six credits.
Recognized as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (CAE-CD), Utica University offers a 30-credit master of science degree in cybersecurity. Available concentrations include, among others, computer forensics, cyber operations, data analytics, and electronic crime.
Graduates of this program have the training needed to complete a variety of industry certifications, including CompTIA, A+, and Security+. This program offers a 10 percent tuition discount for online students and their spouses who are active duty, reserve, and National Guard service members.
While schools do offer unique specializations within the field of digital forensics, all programs require students to complete a set of core courses designed to provide students with the knowledge and skills in fundamental aspects of this field. Below appears a listing of common prerequisites and core courses for masters level students.
Prerequisites: Official transcripts from an accredited bachelor’s program, a minimum 2.5-3.0 GPA, satisfactory Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores, TOEFL scores for non-native English speakers, completion of relevant coursework, purpose statement, letters of recommendation, a resume of CV, in-person or telephone interview
Common courses: The foundations of computing and security, incident response technologies, mobile forensics, introduction to digital crime, digital forensics evidence, malware and software vulnerability analysis, capstone project
Sample program: Sam Houston State University
The accreditation status of a degree program is an important factor prospective students should consider when reviewing programs before making an application.
Accreditation is defined as the recognition from an accrediting agency that an institution adheres to a certain level of educational standards.
Individuals interested in learning about existing accrediting agencies may refer to the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, DAPIP, maintained by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE). The database holds information from the U.S. Department of Education from recognized accrediting and state approval agencies.
There currently exists no one body responsible for the accreditation of digital forensics programs. There are, however, several accreditation organizations recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. They include:
Many accredited educational institutions promote their quality through reference to awards and other forms of recognition they have received. A common institutional designation within the field of digital forensics is the National Center of Digital Forensics Academic Excellence designation. The National Centers of Digital Forensics Academic Excellence (CDFAE) is a partnership between academia, standards bodies, and the U.S. government designed to create best practices for digital forensics education.
Through such a designation, participating institutions demonstrate adherence to a set of education standards that ultimately substantiate the high quality of the skills digital forensics professionals will offer upon entering the workforce.
Bernd Geels is a Berlin, Germany-based freelance writer and artist. He holds an undergraduate degree in atmospheric science and two graduate degrees. He completed his most recent graduate degree in international environmental studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in 2011. He is interested in healthcare, climate change, marine conservation, indigenous science, and refugee issues. You can reach him directly at [email protected]