You may dream about catching a criminal and helping to put them behind bars, but instead of using handcuffs, you use evidence found on a mobile device. With 77 percent of American adults owning a smartphone, according to the Pew Research Center (2019), knowing how to extract information from these types of devices is becoming an invaluable skill to law enforcement. Instead of chasing a criminal down on the streets, mobile forensics experts work to extract critical data from handheld devices, including contacts, calendars, photos, geographic locations, notes, e-mails, text messaging and web browsing histories that may be relevant to solving or prosecuting a crime.
But just how do you obtain this mobile forensics training? Most students complete a degree in a field such as digital forensics or cybersecurity that introduces them to the fundamentals of extracting information from a range of digital devices, including laptops, tablets, Androids, and iPhones. Mobile forensics training is also available on-campus and online from private training organizations that are not affiliated with traditional colleges or universities.
Because there are no degree programs that are specific to mobile forensics, there are not typical prerequisites or admissions requirements. However, students interested in pursuing a degree in computer forensics or a broader topic relevant to mobile forensics should investigate the specific requirements of that program, including GPA, entrance exams, and the application process.
As for certificate programs, previous experience may or may not be a prerequisite depending on the certification. Entry-level certifications may require attendance at pre-examination workshops as a prerequisite while those applying to advanced level certification programs may need a minimum number of years of professional experience in order to qualify for admission.
There is no official mobile forensics degree or certification specifically required to work in mobile forensics, but having formal training can be helpful when it comes to finding a career. Online courses are particularly well suited to mobile forensics training and are worth exploring for interested students.
For those who do not want to commit to the rigors of an entire undergraduate or graduate degree, a mobile forensics certificate can be a good choice. Mobile forensics certificate programs typically offer basics or advanced concepts of mobile and/or computer forensics and ready students for entry- or senior-level careers. Certificate programs are available from colleges and universities, as well as private training organizations.
Who should enroll in an online digital certificate program in mobile forensics?
An online certificate in mobile forensics can help working professionals who already have employment in the law enforcement or criminal justice field to be able to specialize in mobile forensics. Mobile forensics certification might be a good choice for someone with some level of experience in computer forensic investigations who would like to further specialize.
Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC)
Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) offers an advanced smartphone forensics (GASF) certificate. This certification is designed for experienced digital forensic examiners and other information security professionals. In this certificate exam, areas covered include fundamentals of mobile forensics and conducting exams, device file system analysis and mobile application behavior, and event artifact analysis and identification.
To help applicants prepare for the certification exam, GIAC partners with SANS Institute for Digital Forensics and Incident Response.
The SANS Institute for Digital Forensics and Incident Response offers a wide range of forensic-specific courses that do not culminate in any official degree. One course offered online is Advanced Smartphone Forensics, which specifically addresses mobile technology and criminal investigations. These online courses are available on-demand or through scheduled live training.
Another private training organization, Cellebrite, offers the Cellebrite Mobile Forensic Fundamentals course both online and as a live training. After registering and paying to take the Cellebrite Certified Mobile Examiner (CCME) Certification, applicants receive access to an on-demand three-hour workshop to help prepare them for the CCME. The completion of this course along with the Cellebrite Certified Logical Operator (CCLO) course and the Cellebrite Certified Physical Analyst (CCPA) course are eligible to take the exam to become a CCME. While this is not a designation officially recognized by any government organization, it can be a resume-booster for mobile forensic technicians.
Neither undergraduate nor graduate degrees are available that focus solely on mobile forensics. However, online computer or digital forensics degrees tend to cover the basics of mobile forensics as well. This type of degree can help graduates start or advance a career in law enforcement or a forensics unit.
Who should enroll in an online degree program in mobile forensics?
Earning a degree online is a great choice for those students who are skilled at managing their time and need the flexibility that online education allows. However, an online degree also requires that students commit not only to completing assignments but also to interacting with faculty and classmates on a regular basis. Programs can differ quite significantly in terms of their requirements for “synchronous” course attendance and participation, meaning students log in to attend class at the same time, together in a virtual sense.
Champlain College based out of Burlington, Vermont, offers an online bachelor of science (BS) degree in computer forensics and digital investigation and an online master of science (MS) degree in digital forensics. Both programs are part of the college’s Senator Patrick Leahy Center for Digital Investigation (LCDI). The center has been designated a Center of Academic Excellence by the NSA and Department of Homeland Security, and a DC 3 National Center of Digital Forensics Academic Excellence by the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations. It was also a finalist for the “Best Cyber Security Higher Education Program” by SC Magazine in 2018.
The University of Central Florida in Orlando offers an online master of science in digital forensics that includes training in mobile forensics. The program is offered as part of the College of Engineering and Computer Science. Those who enroll are able to choose between a thesis or an internship track in order to complete their degree. It should be noted that not all elective courses are available online, so the online option will restrict what courses the student can take.
Some students may find the self-motivating aspect of online learning to be an insurmountable challenge, or simply prefer to see and interact with their instructor and other students face-to-face. For these students, an on-campus mobile forensics program will be a better choice.
The INFOSEC Institute offers a mobile computer forensics “boot camp.” The accelerated program takes only two days to complete. A large portion of the course is spent engaged in hands-on learning where students can expect to learn a range of mobile forensics techniques, including:
Between 10 and 20 students are enrolled in every course, allowing for significant one-on-one instruction. Students who complete this program are prepared to become Certified Mobile Forensics Examiners (CMFE). The INFOSEC Institute guarantees 100 percent satisfaction and provides a free second attempt to test-takers who don’t pass the exam on the first attempt.
Marshall University, in Huntington, West Virginia offers a master’s degree in forensic science with an emphasis on digital forensics that includes the study of mobile forensics. Courses in the digital forensics curriculum include forensic digital imaging, network forensics, advanced digital evidence detection and recovery, and digital evidence search and seizure. The program is the only one of its kind to be accredited in digital science by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC).
George Mason University, as part of its Volgenau School of Engineering, in Fairfax, Virginia offers a 48-credit digital forensics concentration as part of their MS in data analytics engineering. Students who elect to pursue the concentration can take classes such as mobile device forensics, along with a host of other network and digital forensics courses; some courses are available online. Students from this program go on to work as computer forensic examiners (CFEs) in the public and private sectors.
It is important for mobile forensics students—particularly those planning on furthering their education—to find schools that have earned accreditation from a recognized body. It should be noted that private training programs are not accredited. Though they may offer valuable information and training for real-world applications, credits for courses from programs such as SANS and INFOSEC will not transfer to a college or university degree programs.
Programs such as those from Marshall University or George Mason University, offer an accredited education. This means credits will likely transfer to other programs and the degree will be recognized for further educational purposes. Accreditation indicates that the program was evaluated by a third-party organization for its curriculum, faculty, facilities, and other aspects. Accreditation specific to forensic sciences is available from the aforementioned Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission. However, FEPAC accredits very few programs overall, so many reputable programs lack accreditation.
In the case of programs that do not have programmatic accreditation, applicants can look to institutional accreditation. This accreditation, which involves the evaluation of a school as a whole, is offered by a number of regionally-based accrediting bodies such as the Higher Learning Commission. Be sure that any accrediting entity has been recognized by the US Department of Education’s Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
Since mobile forensics remains a relatively new field, professional credentials are typically not required to enter the field. However, in addition to the certifications available as part of certificate programs, a Certified Mobile Forensics Examiner (CMFE) credential is available from the Information Assurance Certification Review Board (IACRB). The two-hour exam does not have any specific prerequisites, although the aforementioned INFOSEC boot camp is recommended.
Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Rachel writes about meditation, yoga, coaching, and more on her blog (Instagram: @oregon_yogini).