Computer forensics is the marriage of criminal justice and information technology. Numerous accredited postsecondary institutions offer relevant online programs at the certificate, associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels. Distance education programs are available in digital or computer forensics, computer programming and engineering with a network security concentration. Prior to enrolling in one of these programs, students may need to equip their computers with additional software.
Online certificate programs in computer forensics are geared toward students seeking career training for entry-level employment; these programs are also for current law enforcement or information technology professionals looking to expand into digital forensics. Course requirements can generally be completed in less than a year.
Students learn to use specific computer programs designed to search for the kind of data than can be helpful in criminal investigations, such as passwords or browsing history.
Students receive basic education in fundamental forensic concepts like:
- Network security
- Digital forensic analysis
Online students can earn associate's degrees in either computer science with a forensics concentration or computer forensics itself. Curricula provide students with a combination of applied and theoretical instruction in all computer technologies relevant to criminology or other investigative work.
Courses cover computer systems engineering topics like:
- Operating systems
- Information security
- Digital evidence collection
- Digital crime investigations
Online graduate certificate programs delve deeper into the technological foundations that drive the discipline than do their undergraduate counterparts.
Students wishing to enter these programs typically must undergo the same admissions process as on-campus graduate students. This includes applying to the degree-granting institution's graduate school and generally requires possession of a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related area.
Relevant coursework includes:
- Computer hardware and software operations
- Data mining and recovery
- Digital signatures
- Forensic legal regulations
About Distance Learning
Course content can be delivered entirely online, with instructors using digital teaching and learning systems to post such interactive materials as instructional videos and reading assignments for mandatory group discussions. Other learning materials could include textbooks and CD-ROMs, and additional software may be required.
Students may be required to use their computers to complete projects and submit them. Some online programs may run for shorter sessions when compared to their campus-based counterparts, specifically 6-7 weeks as opposed to 15 weeks for onsite programs.
Additionally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that computer forensic specialists may benefit from a formal education in accounting or computer science (www.bls.gov). Individuals who complete training in computer forensics generally pursue careers as forensic information security technicians or investigators. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), forensic science technicians can expect 14% growth between 2019-2029 which is much faster than average for all other occupations. As of May 2020, these professionals earned a median annual salary of $60,590.
Continuing Education Information
Students and current computer forensic professionals may earn continuing education and career advancement opportunities, as well as keep up with industry trends in computing and technology, by earning professional certifications.
Numerous professional associations offer network security certifications to any computer forensics professional who can pass a proficiency exam. According to America's Career InfoNet, issuing organizations include the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (IACIS) and the International Council of E-Commerce Consultants (www.acinet.org).
In undergraduate computer forensics programs, students receive an overview of the information technology and legal fields while also taking general education courses. Graduate-level programs provide a more in-depth look at the intersection between computers and the law, preparing them for career advancement.