Computer Forensics

If you’re investigating a career in forensics, here’s all the evidence you’ll need.

What is Computer Forensics?

Computer forensics blends the evidence-gathering of criminal justice with the intricacies of evolving technology. Digital crime is becoming more common and evidence can be hidden anywhere, from an email to a smartphone. While carefully protecting a computer system and its data, forensics specialists search, seize and make sense of digital information. They are experts at getting past password-protected or encrypted information to find what they need.

A forensics career isn’t just about technology. In many of today’s courtrooms, a computer forensics specialist takes the stand to report on what they have found. You’ll need to understand how the legal system works and what steps to take to ensure you’ve collected information legally and ethically.

Who Should Get a Computer Forensics Degree

Fascinated by criminal justice and have a knack for technology? A computer forensics career is made for you. Digital crimes are often complex and you’ll need an investigative streak. It’s not just about malware and Internet security. Criminals participate in all types of illicit behavior, ranging from fraud to exploitation. You’ll need to dig deep to find answers.

A career in computer forensics can offer fulfillment to people who enjoy solving complicated puzzles and want to make a positive impact on society. With a forensics degree, you can help law enforcement departments and private organizations solve cases and ensure people are using computers as they were intended.

Traits & Aptitudes

Look past the characters you’ve watched on television; these are the real traits you need.

Problem Solver

Dig for necessary information and find the missing piece.

Analytical

Identify facts and understand principles by using reason and analysis.

Dependable

Many people will rely on you for crucial facts that also must be timely and accurate.

Ethical

Understand what’s right and wrong when it comes to collecting information.

Proactive

Taking the initiative can lead you to answers sooner.

Problem Sovler

Dig for necessary information and find the missing piece.

Analytical

Identify facts and understand principles by using reason and analysis.

Dependable

Many people will rely on you for crucial facts that also must be timely and accurate.

Ethical

Understand what’s right and wrong when it comes to collecting information.

Proactive

Taking the initiative can lead you to answers sooner.

Degrees in Computer Forensics

Computer forensics is a multi-step process: Preserve, seize, analyze and present. Each piece requires technical savvy, thoughtful action and a passion for the truth.

Changing technology and determined criminals make a computer forensic expert’s job challenging. A degree or certificate can prepare you for the obstacles you’ll face in this career while demonstrating the rewards for producing cold, hard facts.

Online Degrees in Computer Forensics

Adult learners have changed the way schools offer an education. Today, students from across the country earn their degrees online in a variety of subjects. With year-round admissions, rolling start dates and mobile apps, college has changed for the better.

But before you enroll in any school, do your research. While you want to find a school that offers a comprehensive curriculum and affordable tuition, accreditation is also important. This is your guarantee that the school meets outside standards for quality and rigor. It’s also necessary if you plan to apply for federal financial aid. Look for regional accreditation if you’re attending an on-campus program.

How It Works

You don’t need encryption software to get started in an online learning environment. An online degree emphasizes collaboration and problem-solving, which is helpful for a computer forensics career.

You’ll log in to hear lectures, watch videos, download assignments and communicate with professors and classmates. Instructors often assign group projects in which you collaborate with teams of other online learners.

If you choose an asynchronous program, you’ll be able to access your coursework on your own schedule. Be sure you’re clear on how your program works though. Some computer forensic degree programs expect students to log in at specific times for lectures.

If you’re looking for feedback from your professor or classmates, a discussion board is usually available. That’s where you can post questions and exchange ideas.

Benefits

If you’re like most technology students, you’re balancing work and a family. One of the biggest benefits to online learning is the schedule flexibility it can afford you.

You’ll also save time and money because you won’t need to get to and from campus. This will allow you to devote more energy to what matters: getting your coursework done.

Another benefit? Earning your degree online demonstrates to employers that you’ve mastered online environments and on-screen collaboration—both of which will be crucial to succeeding as a forensics analyst.

Why Get a Degree in Computer Forensics?

Potential Career Paths

Computer forensics is at the intersection of criminal justice and technology, the potential career paths are legion. From government entities to legal teams to healthcare organizations, a wide range of industries may need the help of a forensics specialist at one point or another.

Police departments, consulting firms and law firms are common employers that look for qualified forensics experts.

Job Outlook

Technological advances are driving demand for experts in the field of forensics. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the need for information security analysts will grow at a clip of 18 percent through 2024. From government agencies to healthcare organizations, skilled forensics experts can find work in almost any organization that relies heavily on computers.

Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t publish salary data specifically for computer forensic specialists. Information security is a related field and in 2014, analysts earned a median annual income of $88,890.

Advanced Technology Knowledge

From battling malware to cyber warfare, you’ll use cutting-edge technology to investigate and respond to digital crimes. As criminals become more sophisticated, you’ll need to ensure your investigative skills are top-notch. The benefit? You’ll have access to the latest tools and technology programs.

Educational Paths

Certificates

Add to your knowledge base with a certificate program specifically focused on computer forensics.

Program Length

Earn a forensics certificate in 10 to 12 months, depending on the program.

What You’ll Study

A certificate program will teach you how to track the “who, what, where, when and how” in a digital investigation. Typically designed for professionals who already hold a bachelor’s degree, a certificate in digital forensics solidifies your knowledge in this emerging field.

As a computer forensics analyst, you’ll be responsible for retrieving information from computers and other devices. Police departments and information system companies are common employers.

Coursework may include network security, digital forensics and intrusion detection. Studying these topics will also help prepare you for industry certifications such as CompTIA.

Associate’s

Use this degree as a building block to start your career in computer forensics.

Program Length

An associate’s degree in computer forensics can be completed in about two years.

What You’ll Study

An associate’s degree is another way to prepare for an entry-level forensics career. However, your education will be more comprehensive than a certificate program.

You’ll be equipped with the skills to preserve, collect and analyze digital evidence. With this knowledge, you’ll find roles as a computer forensics specialist or technician for healthcare organizations, legal firms and government. You could also begin your career as an information security analyst, which is someone who handles the security measures for computer networks. A strong background in investigation tactics and computer law can also be beneficial if you want to work in a law enforcement capacity.

Not only will you learn about computer forensics, but you’ll take classes related to the judicial system, law enforcement and general education. Your curriculum may include cybercrime and digital forensics tool, networking technology and cloud computing.

Bachelor’s

An undergraduate degree gives you a solid foundation for an exciting and challenging career fighting digital crime.

Program Length

The typical length of a bachelor’s degree program is four years.

What You’ll Study

Computer forensics degrees are offered through the information systems departments at many colleges and universities. Some schools will offer a B.S. in information systems with a forensics specialization, while others will offer a degree specifically in forensics.

Because you’ll spend more time in school, you’ll receive a more in-depth education in the field of digital forensics and computer crimes. Many programs also prepare you for industry certifications that are necessary for this career path.

From prosecutors’ offices to consulting firms, most employers look for computer forensic experts with a bachelor’s degree. With this undergraduate education, you’ll qualify for such roles as forensics intrusion analyst, digital forensics consultant, forensics security engineer and digital forensic examiner.

The FBI has an entire branch that focuses on investigating digital crimes. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum bar for entry.

Classes may include professional ethics, mobile device forensics, disaster recovery management and LINUX server administration.

Master’s

Learn sophisticated tactics to battle cybercrime at all levels of government and civil society.

Program Length

You can complete a master’s degree in about two years.

What You’ll Study

If you’re already working in information technology but want to expand into criminal justice, a master’s degree in forensics can help propel you to the next level of your career. You’ll participate in hands-on lab work as well as learn about complex technical topics.

You’ll be an expert in protecting evidence compromised and you’ll be qualified to lead a team of forensic examiners. A master’s degree could open potential career paths in large legal firms, major government agencies and influential financial institutions. Upon completion of the program, you’ll be ready to work as a computer forensic specialist or computer forensic examiner.

You’ll also hone your presentation skills in a graduate program. Forensics pros often testify in court or provide analysis to high-powered professionals.

Graduate-level coursework includes network and cloud forensics, cyber incident analysis and response, ethics and legal issues and cyber warfare and terrorism.

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