Physical evidence can be collected from a crime scene, but these days many suspects are confirmed or exonerated with evidence from mobile devices. In 2022, 97 percent of American adults owned a smartphone, so knowing how to extract information from these types of devices is becoming an invaluable skill to law enforcement.
Instead of chasing a crime suspect 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. Data collected from mobile forensics investigations can be vital in solving or prosecuting a crime.
Digital forensics is also called computer forensics, which is closely related to but uniquely different from cybersecurity. Both fields focus on information security, but while cybersecurity is focused on theft prevention and data protection, digital forensics focuses on retroactive recovery. This means that digital forensics professionals do detective work after a data hack has occurred or run analyses on mobile devices belonging to criminal suspects to confirm or deny plausibility. Trained professionals can access a wide variety of digital forensics career opportunities.
But just how do you obtain this mobile forensics training? Most students complete a degree in a field such as computer 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.
Read on to learn more about colleges with online and on-campus mobile forensics programs, including admissions requirements, sample programs, and accreditation information.
As of 2022, there are no degree programs that are specific to mobile forensics. 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 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 program is a great option. 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 and 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 specialize further.
Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC)
Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) offers several computer forensics certifications, including 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 certification, but help prepare students for GIAC certifications. One SANS institute course offered online and in-person is the GIAC iOS and macOS Examiner (GIME): a non-vendor based course that teaches students how to analyze any Mac or iOS device such as an iPhone or iPad.
The course includes Mac and iOS fundamentals; user & device activity; advanced intrusion analysis and correlations; and Apple technologies. Courses can be completed asynchronously or through scheduled live training. Students should have a working knowledge of forensics, Unix command line skills, and access to an Apple Mac laptop that meets specific hardware and software requirements.
Cellebrite is a private training organization that offers the Cellebrite Mobile Forensic Fundamentals course both online and as a live training. This two-day course is designed for first responders and digital investigators who want to learn how to seize mobile devices for data extraction.
Upon completing this course, students can choose to take the Cellebrite Certified Mobile Examiner (CCME) Certification exam, which includes 75 knowledge questions. Completing 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 also tend to cover the basics of mobile forensics. 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 regularly. Programs differ significantly in terms of their requirements for synchronous, or real-time course attendance and participation.
Champlain College based out of Burlington, Vermont, offers an online 120-credit 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.
The University of Arizona offers an 18-credit online undergraduate digital forensics certificate. Courses include network forensics, from incident response to digital forensics, mobile device forensics, and advanced forensics. Graduates from this program are prepared for careers as computer forensics investigators, computer forensics technicians, information security analysts, mobile forensics experts, and disaster recovery experts.
The College of Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Central Florida in Orlando offers an online master of science in digital forensics that includes training in mobile forensics. Those who enroll can choose between a thesis or an internship track to complete their degree.
Courses include the practice of digital forensics, wireless security and forensics, and operating system and file systems forensics. It should be noted that not all elective courses are available online, so the online option will restrict what courses the student can take. Graduates from this program go on to work as security managers, information security analysts, forensic science technicians, and emergency management directors.
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 a Certified Mobile Forensics Examiner (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.
Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) offers a bachelor’s of science in digital forensics and cybersecurity through the department of computer science and information technology. Graduates from this program go on to learn how to defend cyber networks, respond quickly to cybersecurity threats, and examine digital evidence and network devices to use in criminal trials. EKU offers one of two on-campus programs in digital forensics that’s accredited by the Forensic Education Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC).
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 one of two digital forensics programs accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC).
George Mason University 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 college or university degree programs.
Programs such as those listed above, Eastern Kentucky University and Marshall University, offer an accredited digital forensics program. 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 Education Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). However, FEPAC accredits very few programs overall, meaning it is possible to find a reputable program with institutional 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 several regionally-based accrediting bodies.
When looking for undergraduate and graduate programs is essential to choose a school that has been recognized by an organization approved by one of the organizations approved by the US Department of Education’s Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA):
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: @racheldrummondyoga).