Bachelor's degree programs in computer and digital forensics give students a solid background in the field through courses in computer science, accounting, and criminal justice. Individuals seeking fraud examiner certification can receive the necessary training through graduate certificate programs or master's degree programs. Programs, especially at the graduate level, may be found online. Internships may be a part of a program's curriculum.
To enroll in a bachelor's degree program, students will need a high school diploma or GED and satisfactory SAT or ACT scores. Master's programs will require students to hold a bachelor's degree, likely with a minimum GPA. Graduate certificate programs require students to have a bachelor's degree or professional certification.
Bachelor's Degree in Computer Forensics
Some bachelor's degree programs require students to earn the CompTIA A+ certification as a technician in computer support before beginning the rest of the computer forensics program. Other programs prepare students to earn one of several nationally recognized computer forensics certifications.
Computer forensics bachelor's programs generally require several accounting courses. Other major courses are primarily computer-related, and often include a few criminal justice classes. Classes common to many programs include:
- Computer networks and security
- Criminal law
- Interviewing in investigations
- Digital evidence examinations
- Types of cybercrime
- Digital data recovery and analysis
Graduate Certificate in Digital Forensics
Digital forensics graduate certificate programs are 15-16 credits long and give graduates thorough knowledge about investigating digital crimes in a shorter course than a master's degree program. Certificate program graduates may be prepared to take the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) exam.
Varied admission requirements lead to varied program coursework. Topics may include:
- Basics of communication networks
- Collecting and analyzing digital evidence
- Computer forensics legal issues
- Cybercrime investigation tools
- Data mining and carving
- Investigations and virtualization of operating systems
Master's Degree in Computer and Digital Forensics
Master's programs are based on forensic theories in computer science, as well as legal, political, and criminological frameworks.
Programs vary from 30-39 semester credits. Some programs are general, while others require a specialization. Core courses for each of these may include:
- Computer forensic investigating
- Computing and systems analysis theories
- Cybercriminology and cyberlaw
- Forensic responses to digital incidents
- Retrieving, preserving and analyzing forensic data
- Software for managing forensic evidence
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipated good job opportunities for qualified private detectives and investigators, including computer forensic investigators, with an 8% growth in employment expected from 2019-2029. The Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory programs have been actively expanding through partnerships between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local law enforcement agencies, having opened 16 regional offices since the program's inception in 1999 (www.rfcl.gov). The regional offices directly employ examiners to assist law enforcement agencies, in addition to providing digital forensics training for non-specialized police officers.
Because computer technologies are constantly changing, computer forensic specialists must constantly update their knowledge. This may be done through programs given by software vendors, university continuing education departments and professional associations.
Certification and Training Information
Although there are no governmental requirements for certification of computer and digital forensics specialists, some employers may prefer one of the many that are available. The two most recognized credentials from software vendors are the EnCase Certified Examiner (EnCE) from Guidance Software and the AccessData Certified Examiner (ACE) from AccessData.
Law enforcement and computer forensics professionals may earn certifications through professional associations. The Seized Computer Evidence Recovery Specialist (SCERS), from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, is primarily for law enforcement personnel. Other widely accepted certifications are:
- Certified Computer Examiner (CCE) from the International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners
- Certified Forensic Computer Examiner (CFCE) from the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists
- Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners
Professional associations and universities also offer specialized training programs for digital forensic specialists. Some are specifically for law enforcement officers and may be funded by the U.S. Department of Justice. Others may focus on computer security, computer security incident response team leaders, courtroom testimony, or customized training for any digital forensic job.
As in all careers, the amount of training - whether scholastic or experience - determines eligibility for specific jobs. Some of the possible jobs for computer and digital forensic specialists include:
- Applications specialist
- Computer systems consultant
- Cybercrime specialist
- Digital or computer forensic examiner
- Installation technician
A bachelor's degree program in computer and digital forensics is designed to give students a firm foundation in computer systems, plus basic to advanced digital forensics, while master's degree programs and graduate certificates in computer and digital forensics prepare graduates to be computer forensics examiners. Students will need to keep their skills updated through continuing education, and can earn both general and specialized professional certifications.