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Digital Forensics Education, Training and Certification Guide

digital forensicsAdvances in technology are rapidly changing how investigators collect and analyze evidence. With the latest tools at their disposal, digital forensics specialists help identify suspects and solve crimes. Employment in this field can be found in the public and private sectors, whether it is working for a government agency or as a private investigator.

A career in digital or computer forensics usually requires at least a bachelor’s degree, although educational requirements can differ from one position to the next. Let’s take a look at some of the options, from coursework to career paths.

Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Forensics

Graduating with a Bachelor’s in Computer Forensics should provide the core knowledge needed to begin working in the field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a bachelor’s degree is mandatory for forensic science technicians who work in crime labs.

Not all colleges have an undergraduate degree specifically in computer forensics. Degrees in areas such as forensic science, biology, chemistry or computer science can also help prepare an individual for a digital or computer forensics career.

Computer forensics programs usually combine criminal justice and computer science coursework to give students a solid foundation in the industry. Class topics may include:

  • Cyber security
  • Computer systems
  • Examination of digital evidence
  • Data mining
  • Recovering and analyzing data
  • Mobile device analysis

Interest in the computer forensics field has grown with the popularity of books, movies and television shows centered on criminal investigation. Although competition for sought-after positions may be keen, the overall job outlook is positive. Forensic science technicians are expected to have a 19% increase in employment nationwide from 2010 to 2020, according to BLS projections. As of May 2012, the median annual wage for this position was $52,840.

Certification Options in Digital Forensics

After attaining a bachelor’s degree, some students may want to supplement their education with a professional certification, which can increase their knowledge of a particular subject area and help prepare them for exams such as the certified fraud examiner (CFE) exam.

Since digital forensics certification programs are designed to build on a student’s existing knowledge, the programs often have entry preconditions. A bachelor’s degree, related coursework or relevant work experience might be required for enrollment.

Different certifications can help with specific digital forensics careers. For example, aspiring digital or computer examiners could pursue a certified computer examiner (CCE) certification. Individuals interested in working as a consultant specializing in a particular computer system could seek certification in that system.

Master’s Degree in Computer Forensics

Advanced positions in the computer forensics field may require a graduate degree. For example, a job listing on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) website shows that a master’s degree is the minimum education requirement for a forensic computer examiner.

Completing a bachelor’s degree is a typical requirement for a master’s program. Majoring in a related subject during undergraduate studies can help increase a student’s chances of being accepted into a graduate-level program.

Course titles may vary across computer forensics master’s degree programs, but the basic topics tend to be similar and may include:

  • Legal and ethical considerations in IT
  • Forensic accounting
  • Network security
  • Accumulating forensic data
  • Detecting intrusion
  • Digital forensics research

Getting Started in Digital or Computer Forensics

Pursuing a career in digital or computer forensics begins with getting an education. If you are new to the field, it’s important to do some research into the universities that offer degree programs in computer or digital forensics. For those already working in the digital forensics profession, certification programs can help take their careers to the next level.

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