Computer Forensics in Focus

Students who want a career in computer forensics have many things to consider -- from degree options and program delivery to funding and specialization. This guide makes the process easier for prospective computer forensics students. It outlines different degree programs and includes tools to help search for salary information and career growth opportunities in specific geographic areas.

Careers in Computer Forensics

Computer forensics is a relatively new career field and involves recovering and analyzing evidence found in computers and digital storage. Professionals in computer forensics work in the law enforcement field or private sector, but the field requires additional education in computers and technology.

Networking, cyber security and software management are just a few areas of focus for a degree and career in computer forensics. Additional options for students include:

  • Certified computer examiner: Work in conjunction with law enforcement personnel or in the private sector to analyze and conduct investigations on computer crimes.
  • Computer and information research scientist: Invent and design new approaches to solving technology challenges. Generally requires a doctorate degree.
  • Forensic science technician: Investigate crimes by collecting and analyzing physical evidence, in this case technology-based evidence.

Technology is ever-changing and new security risks and cyber crimes happen regularly, making this a growing and possibly lucrative career. In addition, the need and compensation for workers in computer forensics varies throughout the country. Below, find out how salaries and job growth compare across the country.

Career Salary Tool

  • Computer Science Type:
  • Select a state:
  • Select City 1:
  • Select City 2:
Birmingham 2012 MEAN PAY $74,220 per year
Decatur 2012 MEAN PAY $68,160 per year

Internships

In a field as specialized as computer forensics, it may be difficult to break into the job market. An internship during college is a great way to get noticed by a prospective employer. Some interns who perform well get hired immediately after graduation by an organization for which they’ve interned.

Internships allow students to gain some real-world experience and hone their skills -- skills they can apply in their future career and in the classroom as well. Internships save companies money because they allow them to train prospective employees at a fraction of the cost of a traditional new hire.

Below are just a few of the internship opportunities available for prospective computer forensics experts:

FBI
Cyber Internship Program
This program allows students to assist in preventing and investigating computer threats worldwide. Interns collect and analyze information, assist in the computer forensic lab, and more.

U.S. Department of Justice, High Technology Investigative Unit
Computer Forensics Internship
Interns perform a wide variety of duties, including restoring servers and analyzing files from wiretaps. Long-term assignments are specialized and based on expertise, career objectives, and the needs of the unit.

University of Rhode Island
Digital Forensics Internship
Opportunities are available through the Rhode Island Digital Forensics Center and the Rhode Island State Police.

T-Mobile
Intern
A variety of computer networking internships are available through T-Mobile, including digital forensics, network cost analysis, and more.

Mediacom Communications Corp
Engineering Intern
This internship focuses on assisting with monitoring and tracking modem levels and issues and implement solutions to related issues.

Space Dynamics Laboratory
Software Engineer
Students pursuing a master’s degree or higher are eligible to pursue this opportunity to develop software for network analysis applications.

Do Something
Tech Wizard Intern
Tech Wizards are responsible for making sure employees’ technology-related needs are being met, including tech support, hardware configuration, a machine installation, and network maintenance.

Akami Technologies
Emerging Products SQA Internship
Interns work to improve upon existing test tools and create new test tools for automated security and functional testing of critical Akami networking infrastructure.

EchoStar
Information Systems/Technology Intern
Interns participate in projects such as PC replacements, Symantec anti-virus, and imaging. They test, explore, and work on automation for either DishAnywhere or Bell IPVOD projects.

Internet Brands
PHP & Java Intern
Interns design and code new features and enhancements, assist with all aspects of the product lifecycle, and collaborate to find and fix bugs.

Laird Technologies, Inc.
Technical Support Intern
The technical support intern is responsible for technical information and guidance while working directly with both customers and internal departments.

CGI
Infrastructure Internship
Interns will install, test, support, and implement new technologies and applications as well as assist technical architects with infrastructure requirements.

Computer Forensics in College

A degree in computer forensics allows students to have a hand in both computer science and law enforcement. At the associate degree level, students learn basic legal concepts and evidentiary procedures for investigating criminal activity and how that relates to computers and web-based systems. At the bachelor’s level, students delve deeper into computer systems and apply their knowledge to studying forensic techniques and international crime. Graduate students conduct hands-on forensic searches and apply rigorous procedures necessary for forensic results to stand up in a court of law. Ethics are taught as a foundation at all levels of education.

Before choosing a degree level to seek out, it’s important to think about finances. Numerous scholarships are available to students looking to earn a degree in computer forensics.

Scholarships

Whether you’re just starting out with an associate degree or are looking to a graduate degree, paying for an education in computer forensics can be a challenge. Scholarships are a great way to help pay for college because they don’t have to be repaid after graduation. Scholarships are both merit- and need-based with some designed for specific minority groups. Here are just a few of the many scholarships available for students of computer forensics:

Women in Defense HORIZONS Scholarship

Amount Eligibility More Info
Varies This program is designed for women pursuing careers related to U.S. national security and defense. To be eligible, the applicant must be enrolled in an accredited university or college, have attained at least junior-level status, have a minimum GPA of 3.25, demonstrate financial need, among other qualifications. http://wid.ndia.org/horizon/Pages/default.aspx

Lint Center for National Security

Amount Eligibility More Info
$1,500 This program helps to further the education and career development of scholars in the areas of international affairs, counterintelligence, and national security. http://www.lintcenter.org/Scholarships/JAHL.htm

Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship

Amount Eligibility More Info
$10,000 Female undergraduate and graduate students are awarded the scholarship based on the candidate’s academic background and demonstrated leadership. The scholarship is designed to encourage women to excel in computing and technology and become active role models and leaders in the field. http://www.google.com/anitaborg/us/

ExCEL Computing Scholarships

Amount Eligibility More Info
$5,000 to $7,000 per year Undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in a variety of computing-related degree programs at Loyola University Chicago are eligible for this award. They must be enrolled in a full-time degree program and demonstrate financial need. http://www.luc.edu/cs/financial/excel/

Executive Women’s Forum INI Fellowship

Amount Eligibility More Info
Full Scholarship Open to students admitted to a Carnegie Mellon INI graduate program who have an accumulated and maintain a GPA of 3.25 or higher. Recipients must have no outstanding employment contract or obligation while attending Carnegie Mellon, show exemplary promise and potential, and demonstrate exceptional leadership skills. http://www.ini.cmu.edu/prospective_students/financial/assistance.html

Ann Arbor AWC Scholarship for Women in Computing

Amount Eligibility More Info
up to $1,000 Recipients must be pursuing a career in a computer or technology-related field and have at least two semesters of coursework remaining. Applicants must submit an essay about their computer-related experience and how they might encourage other women to join the field. http://www.aaacf.org/scholarships/aaacf-scholarship-funds/awc-scholarship-fund-women-computing

Oregon Space Grant Consortium Scholarship Program

Amount Eligibility More Info
up to $2,000 New and continuing students in STEM majors are eligible for this competitive award. The OSGC makes recommendations for funding. http://spacegrant.oregonstate.edu/scholarships

TELACU Scholarship Program

Amount Eligibility More Info
Varies based on scholarship and degree level Recipients must be first-generation college students from a low-income household with a minimum 2.5 GPA and enrolled full-time throughout the awarded school year. Specific resident criteria must be met. http://telacu.com/site/en/home/education/applications.html

EDSF Board of Directors Scholarships

Amount Eligibility More Info
up to $5,000 Eligibility depends on the specific scholarship awarded, but recipients must have an interest in a career in document management and the graphic communication industry with a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA They must attend an accredited college or university on a full time basis. http://www.edsf.org/what_we_do/scholarships/index.html

Ford Motor Company Tribal Scholars Program

Amount Eligibility More Info
up to $3,000 American Indian, Alaska Native, or Hawaii Native students who demonstrate leadership and commitment to the American Indian community are eligible. They must have at least a 3.0 grade point average and be a full-time student with a declared major in math, science, engineering, business, teacher training, or environmental science. https://www.fordscholars.org/scholarships/american-indian-college-fund

Computer Forensics Degree Programs

Advancements in technology allow students to earn degrees through several learning modes, depending on their preference. Campus-based programs give students direct interaction with professors and peers in a traditional classroom setting. Class times are set by the school and the majority of learning occurs within the walls of the classroom. Online programs are more flexible. Students “attend” class from anywhere with an Internet connection and submit assignments and participate in discussions via the Web. Hybrid programs are a third option. They are designed for students who would like the flexibility of some online classes and coursework, but also need some traditional conveniences such as lectures and labs in a classroom setting.

Online Degrees in Depth

A cyber-classroom is the perfect place to earn a degree in a computer-based field. Skype, Blackboard and Adobe Connect allow students to communicate with one another and professors as well as turn in assignments. Email and chat programs also offer communication channels that are simple and effective.

Self-Paced vs. Real-Time

Students choose a degree program -- whether it’s online or campus-based -- to suit their individual needs. But online learning options offer additional choices. Self-paced, or asynchronous, programs allow students to work completely at their own pace. They log in to view lectures and submit assignments when it’s convenient for them. Real-time, or synchronous, programs and classes have specific lecture times and deadlines for assignments and assessments.

Equipment Standards

Online programs require that students have specific equipment, as a minimum, to be successful. At the very least, students need to have a quality working computer with an Internet connection, an up-to-date web browser, access to a word processing program, and the ability to view videos. However, in an online computer forensics degree, students typically need access to much more advanced technology. For instance, students should have a powerful computer with specialized computer programs and hardware that will allow them to complete all assignments. Enrollment counselors and academic advisors at the student’s college of choice can help determine the specific program requirements.

Student Profile #1

Barbara comes from a family of law enforcement officers but isn’t interested in becoming an officer herself. She has always been interested in computers and computer networking, and after an introductory class in forensic science, she decided to pursue an associate’s degree in computer forensics and then continue on with a bachelor’s degree in the field.

Associate’s Degree in Computer Forensics (2 years)

An associate degree in computer forensics is a two-year degree that allows the graduate entry into the field. The first year includes basic English and mathematics requirements for an associate’s degree and introduces students to criminal law and basic computing. The second year of the program delves further into network security and various methods for legally searching for cybercrimes. While requirements vary from school to school, the table below represents a typical curriculum path for an associate’s degree in computer forensics.

First Semester (Freshman) Credits Overview
English 3 Develops students’ ability to write for learning, thinking, and communicating.
Intro. to Forensic Science 4 Students learn about the science behind forensic investigation.
Criminal Law 3 A comprehensive analysis of the fundamentals of criminal law.
Networking Fundamentals 3 An introduction to the many topics related to networking.
Mathematics 3 This is a basic requirement for all associate degrees.
Second Semester (Freshman) Credits Overview
English 3 Building on the skills from the first semester, this class focuses on research and reporting skills for college.
Criminal Procedure 3 Focuses on the rules and procedures governing how the American criminal justice system processes individuals suspected of a crime.
Introduction to Computer Systems 3 An introduction to the broad discipline of computer science and software engineering.
Introduction to Statistics 3 Students learn a statistical approach to decision-making.
Third Semester (Sophomore) Credits Overview
Financial Accounting 3 Students learn accounting as the language of business.
Operating Systems 3 A comparative study of popular PC-class operating systems and environments.
Law of Searching & Seizing Digital Evidence 3 Provides an understanding of digital evidence that submitted as evidence for prosecution.
Criminal Investigation 3 Includes the history, theory, and fundamentals of criminal investigation.
Fourth Semester (Sophomore) Credits Overview
Computer and Network Security 3 An exploration of back-end security and networks.
Digital Forensics 3 Discusses best practices in securing, processing, acquiring, examining, and reporting on digital evidence.
Ethics in Professions 3 Students apply principles of ethics, deontology, and utilitarianism.
Computer Science Elective 3 This is an optional course for students.

Student Profile #2

Savannah earned an associate’s degree in computer science and, because of her interest in digital security, continued on to earn a bachelor’s in computer forensics. She scored an internship with her local police department, gaining hands-on experience that allowed her to find a full-time job upon graduation.

Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Forensics (4 years)

A bachelor’s degree in computer forensics generally takes four to five years to complete. A typical program focuses on international crime and in-depth computer networking and readies students for careers at major corporations or local law enforcement departments. The third and fourth years of a typical bachelor’s degree in computer forensics might look similar to the program below.

Fifth Semester (Junior) Credits Overview
Anti-Forensics and Network Forensics 3 A study of specialized areas in digital forensics, such as information hiding, anti-forensics, and network forensics.
Linux/UNIX Systems Admin 3 Students learn the key components of the Linus/UNIX operating system as well as its history and evolution
Economics 3 Discusses the nature and method of economics with a focus on microeconomics or macroeconomics.
General Elective 3 This is an optional class for students.
Sixth Semester (Junior) Credits Overview
Digital Forensics Analysis 3 Explores advanced methodologies for examining digital evidence.
Windows Server Systems Admin 3 A lab-based course that investigates current Windows server systems.
Cybercrime 3 Students investigate economic and other crimes perpetrated online.
Interpersonal Communication 3 A study of the theories and concepts of communication and apply this knowledge to everyday life.
Seventh Semester (Senior) Credits Overview
White Collar Crime 3 Students learn about the various types of white-collar crime and methods used by white-collar criminals.
Forensic Accounting 3 An introduction to fraud accounting, including examination and interview techniques.
Forensics Elective 3 This is an optional class for students, relating to their major.
General Elective 3 This is an optional class for students.
Eighth Semester (Senior) Credits Overview
Senior Seminar in Digital Forensics 3 A research-based course. Students prepare projects based on discussions and learnings from previous coursework.
Mobile Forensic Analysis 3 Students learn how to analyze and examine data from mobile devices.
File Forensics 3 Students explore how to analyze information as it relates to file system structures and use.
Forensics Internship or Elective 3 Students choose between an internship in the field or a forensics-based elective.

Student Profile #3

After earning a bachelor’s degree in computer forensics, Juan wanted to learn more about the law and policy behind cyber security. Eventually, he wished to pursue a career within the Department of Justice, helping to track and prosecute criminals that threatened national security. He opted to earn his master’s degree and to focus on law to make that dream a reality.

Master’s Degrees in Computer Forensics

Earning a master’s degree in computer forensics usually consists of an additional two years of study in the field. Students choose between academic-based or career-focused programs, depending on their individual needs. Students looking to affect research and academia within the field should work toward a thesis-based program, where they prepare a paper or project and present it to a board of experts to earn their degree. Career-minded students might consider a more hands-on program that involves a comprehensive assessment throughout the program.

Many different “tracks” or specializations are available for master’s programs. While computer forensics is already quite specialized, there are still options for concentration. Opportunities are available for students to study criminal law, investigations, national security, and other areas. Because of this variety, it’s difficult to list program requirements for a master’s in computer forensics. However, the table below shows the requirements for just one possible course sequence:

Master’s Program Courses Overview
Academic Writing for Graduate Students Focuses on the research and reporting for master’s-level coursework.
Introduction to Cybersecurity Discusses the history of information security, including governments, businesses, and individuals.
Cyber Warfare Addresses the current and emerging policies and operational requirements of cyber warfare and multiple levels.
Trends in Cybersecurity An overview and investigation into challenges facing the nation and individuals.
Law and Policy in Computer Forensics Students study national and international policy and legal considerations related to computer forensics and investigation.
Managing Computer Operations A look at the operations behind security in highly networked enterprises.
Cybersecurity Capstone A project-based class that allows students to conduct a research project on a digital forensics topic of choice.
Cryptography and Data Security Students learn about various cryptosystems, including DES and RSA, among other topics.

PhD in Computer Forensics

A doctorate degree in computer forensics is the highest degree possible in the field. Graduates often work in academia or as researchers who help monitor and protect the online security of citizens and the government. Programs like this involve about four years of post-master’s research and coursework with an advisor’s guidance. Most PhD candidates defend a dissertation in front of a panel of advisors and experts to earn the degree.

Schools with Computer Forensics Programs

Search A School
State
DEGREES OFFERED
TUITION COST
STUDENT POPULATION
City
SCHOOL TYPE
PROGRAM TYPE
Total Results:
SCHOOL NAME CITY, STATE STUDENT POPULATION SCHOOL TYPE TUITION PROGRAM TYPE PROGRAMS
University of Phoenix-Online CampusPhoenix, AZ307,871Private, 4-year$9,216Campus
Bachelor’s
  • Computer and Information Systems Security/Information Assurance
American Public University SystemCharles Town, WV50,838Private, 4-year$6,000Campus
Bachelor’s
  • Computer and Information Systems Security/Information Assurance
Master’s
  • Computer and Information Systems Security/Information Assurance
Indiana University-BloomingtonBloomington, IN42,731Public, 4-year$8,750Campus
Master’s
  • Computer and Information Systems Security/Information Assurance
University of Maryland-University CollegeAdelphi, MD42,713Public, 4-year$6,024Campus
Bachelor’s
  • Computer and Information Systems Security/Information Assurance
Master’s
  • Computer and Information Systems Security/Information Assurance
Florida State UniversityTallahassee, FL41,087Public, 4-year$4,587Campus
Bachelor’s
  • Cyber/Computer Forensics and Counterterrorism
University of HoustonHouston, TX39,820Public, 4-year$7,176Campus
Master’s
  • Computer and Information Systems Security/Information Assurance
University of Southern CaliforniaLos Angeles, CA38,010Private, 4-year$43,722Campus
Master’s
  • Computer and Information Systems Security/Information Assurance
College of Southern NevadaLas Vegas, NV37,717Public, 4-year$2,265Campus
Associate
  • Cyber/Computer Forensics and Counterterrorism
Capella UniversityMinneapolis, MN36,375Private, 4-year$11,952Campus
Bachelor’s
  • Computer and Information Systems Security/Information Assurance
Master’s
  • Computer and Information Systems Security/Information Assurance
Doctorate
  • Computer and Information Systems Security/Information Assurance
City College of San FranciscoSan Francisco, CA34,558Public, 2-yearNRCampus
Associate
  • Computer and Information Systems Security/Information Assurance