The international nonprofit cyber association (ISC)2 states that cyber forensics, also called computer forensics or digital forensics, is the process of extracting information and data from computers to serve as digital evidence – for civil purposes or, in many cases, to prove and legally prosecute cyber crime. In other words, computer forensics is the practice of collecting, analyzing and reporting on digital data in a way that is legally admissible. It can be used in the detection and prevention of crime and in any dispute where evidence is stored digitally. In essence, the goal of computer forensics is to do a structured investigation and find out exactly what happened on a digital system, and who was responsible for it. Therefore, it is a multifaceted profession involving computer science, cybersecurity, cyber law, and criminal justice.
Cybercrime has been on the rise in recent years, widely publicized after the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack (Vanity Fair, 2015) and other scandals, including China’s theft of 20 million U.S. government employees’ personal data (NYTimes, 2015), and the slew of celebrity phone-hacking cases around the world. Hence the tremendous demand for these professionals in government law enforcement agencies (NSA, FBI), as well as public and private corporations.
Some colleges integrate the cybercrime courses into their business, criminal justice, and cybersecurity degree programs. There are other colleges/universities that have Associate, Bachelor and Master degree programs whose curriculum is specifically devoted to digital and computer forensics. Here are a few examples for illustrative purposes:
St. Petersburg College of Florida provides an online Associate of Science (AS) in digital forensics and computer investigations. As part of this program, students complete their computer related crime investigation certificate, in addition to courses in criminal justice, file system forensic analysis, and internet pornography investigations, among others.
Champlain University offers a 100 percent online Bachelor’s of Science (BS) degree in Computer Forensics & Digital Investigations. The program has six convenient annual start-dates and includes classes such as mobile forensics, operating system forensics, and foundations of cybersecurity. You will learn the skills necessary to analyze and recover data that has been compromised, as well as to understand the source of the breach.
The University of Maryland University College (UMUC) hosts an online Master of Science (MS) in Digital Forensics & Cyber Investigation program. It requires 36 credits of coursework in areas such as human aspects of cybersecurity, digital forensics investigation, and cyber incident analysis & response. This program is designed for mid-career professionals who wish to help meet the challenges posed in uncovering digital evidence. Using a multidisciplinary approach, the program helps provide students with a broad analytical framework for becoming cyber investigators.
The University of Central Florida (UCF) provides an online, interdisciplinary Master of Science in Digital Forensics. This program—developed in collaboration with the National Center for Forensic Science (NCFS)—involves 30 credit hours of courses including wireless security & forensics, malware & software vulnerability analysis, and distributed processing of digital evidence. UCF requires minimal campus attendance and students choose between completing a thesis or a supervised internship as part of the program requirements. Graduates will be prepared for professional careers in digital forensics examination, forensic tool development, tool verification and validation, security and forensics administration.
Typical courses at the undergraduate level are: Criminal procedure, malware forensics, operating system forensics, forensics accounting, criminal investigation, and networking fundamentals (partial list). The online program at Champlain University, for example, consists of 63 credits of Professional Courses and 57 of the total 120 credits are General Education.