Computer science is more than coding sprints and programming languages. People use it to investigate criminal justice cases, solve crimes, and analyze forensic data. This field of computer science is forensic science.
Computer forensics is related to computer science. The two disciplines overlap. Because of this, you can land a job in forensics with a general computer science degree. This article explains how the two fields are similar and how they are different. It teaches you about the degrees computer forensics professionals have and how to get a computer forensics job with a CS degree.
Read on to find out how a computer science in forensics degree can help you get a job.
Computer Forensics Degree Programs
Computer forensics is also known as computer forensic science. It falls under the broader field of digital forensic science. It includes:
- Data retrieval
- Digital investigations
- Other evidence collection techniques
Investigations and retrieval methods apply to both computers and other electronic media. When someone has a degree in computer science, they have knowledge in data retrieval. They know how to digitally investigate and gather information. They know computer forensics because of how the two disciplines overlap.
You find computer forensics programs in computer science. Colleges and universities offer computer forensics programs as a standalone degree or specialization. It is more common to find a specialization in computer forensics than as a standalone degree. But they are available if you know where to look.
Computer Forensics Specialization
A computer forensics specialization is a niche area of computer science. To earn the specialization, you take several classes devoted to the subject. Your courses dig deeper than foundational computer science courses. They help you learn advanced topics in the field.
In a computer forensics program, you use forensic techniques to examine an electronic device or computer. You study storage mechanisms such as drives and memory. You also look at electronic documents like email and JPEGs. You learn how to trace and retrieve information. You then put together timelines and recreate situations. The knowledge helps computer digital forensic investigators solve crimes.
Computer Forensics Courses You Take
- Computer network and storage devices
- Computer systems analysis
- Digital evidence
- Digital forensics
- Operating systems
Why Study Computer Forensics
Computer forensics professionals have degrees. To get a job as a computer digital forensic investigator or computer forensics technician you need a college degree. Your degree can be in computer science as along as you have computer forensics knowledge. But to qualify for a job, you must have training in:
- Analyzing data
- Criminal investigations and digital data
- Digital evidence and discovery
- Digital forensics
If you want to become a certified computer examiner or computer forensics analyst, you also need certification.
Computer Forensics Wages
A career in computer forensics can lead to favorable earnings. The pay is another reason to study computer forensics. Below are several different job titles and their average annual computer forensics salary.
- Computer digital forensic investigators: $80,336/year
- Computer investigative specialists: $113,270/year
- Forensic computer analysts: $73,900/year
- Forensic computer examiners: $96,785/year
How to Get Into Computer Forensics
Computer forensic specialists have the same skills as computer programmers and analysts. Their skills include:
- Computer programming
- Knowledge of operating systems
They use data evidence to bolster cases in both civil and criminal court. A computer science degree can give a forensic investigator the requisite skills needed to work in the field.
But the degree level varies by job. Some entry-level positions ask for an associate degree. Others want a bachelor’s degree. Advanced roles call for more than a bachelor’s degree. They want a graduate degree, particularly if the job involves computer engineering. Upper-level jobs, especially government jobs, also want teaching experience.
To land a computer forensics career, you should have the right degree and computer forensics certifications.
Coursework Required for Computer Forensics
Coursework for computer forensic science jobs varies by the type of computer forensics degree you choose. Certain computer forensics careers demand specialized knowledge and training. If you want to become a computer forensics investigator, you need experience in digital evidence. You also need training in digital forensics.
But when you start your computer forensics education, your classes build a foundation in:
- Computer programming
You will also take liberal studies courses in English, math, and science. From there, you will take advanced computer forensics classes. These courses will give you knowledge in specific digital forensics techniques and surveillance methods. They will also teach you how to determine criminal activity and recover digital information.
Advanced forensic computer courses teach you how to track hacking patterns that impact computer systems and networks.
Computer Use in Computer Science Forensics
Not every job that uses computers in the field of forensics involves computer forensics. Computer forensics investigators use computers when they examine other aspects of a crime. These include simple criminal record lookups or DNA analysis. As a computer forensics technician searches blood samples from a crime scene, they also use computers
Criminal Background Checks and Record Lookups
Say that there is a suspect with a common name like Joseph Jones. In a large city like New York or Los Angeles, there might be dozens, if not hundreds, of men named Joseph Jones. Computers collate all the data about previous offenders. These databases contain:
- Lists of known associates
- Lists of previous offenses
- Other data found in a suspect’s dossier
To avoid questioning so many people, investigators define their searches. They search by known associates or photographs. In the past, this process took weeks or months. But now, a computer-savvy computer forensics expert can find information in seconds. They then pass it on to law enforcement agencies.
The same applies if a person unknown to the police becomes a suspect. Instead of phoning law enforcement agencies in another city and waiting for the mail or fax to deliver information, an investigator logs it into national databases. This is how to do a background check on a suspect.
The police do background checks for the general public when there is no criminality. Employers request background checks on new employees. People who work in finance or banking do background checks for job applicants. Employers also do background checks on people who work with children.
Lab Work in Forensics Computer Science
In the lab, investigators analyze collected evidence. They do this to establish a relationship to items at crime scenes. They use microscopes to take photos of carpet fibers. Then they use a computer to search for brands of carpet. They look for matches of fiber, material, age, and weave.
Computer forensics specialists also examine lists of chemicals to match a substance used in a homicide. They use advanced machines, such as the Phenom Desktop SEM. They test for gunshot residue. They also use computers to test for high-resolution, 3-D imagery for facial recognition.
Computer forensic investigators recreate chemical compounds found at crime scenes. They find these compounds on suspects’ clothing or personal items. If the investigators can match the compounds, they can show that the suspect was at the crime scene.
A computer forensics analyst also conducts computer forensic investigations with:
- DNA searches
- Fingerprint searches
This work requires access to a national database. Forty years ago, The Night Stalker terrorized Los Angeles and San Francisco. Had computer forensic professionals been able to access data from Richard Ramirez’s crimes in the national database, his capture could have been six months earlier.
Other Digital Forensics Equipment Used
A computer forensics analyst must know how to operate different types of equipment. There are times when computers are unable to enhance evidence using normal procedures. Read on for more information on the type of computer forensics work you will do with skills and training.
One example is identifying a murder victim’s tattoo. Due to decomposition of underlying tissues, normal procedures may not work. That’s where alternative-light photography comes into play.
An alternative-light photographer uses infrared light so that the specially designed camera captures the full tattoo. It takes what was indiscernible in light and creates a picture.
In a world full of technological advances, criminals have become creative. They hide illicit dealings on hard drives and storage devices of gaming systems, such as Xbox or PlayStation. They cover their tracks with encrypted data.
Only a certified forensic computer examiner has the data recovery skills to solve cyber crimes. The right training and skills helps computer forensics experts solve crimes. These skills can get you a job with the National Security Agency or other government agencies. You can also work in private practice.
Link Analysis Software
To become a computer forensics specialist you should learn about link analysis software. It is one of the most sophisticated computer applications used. It relies on algorithms to find patterns. It looks for links.
What are links in crime scenes? Patterns that connect people or things to a victim or crime. In cyber forensics, you find links in data recovery efforts. Cyber forensics analysts search a computer network for patterns between rocks found at crime scenes or lizard species found near victims. You find links anywhere, but it takes a skilled cyber forensics analyst or computer forensics investigator to uncover patterns.
Both bachelor’s degree and master’s degree programs teach link analysis. You learn the skills needed to:
- Bridge data analytics and forensic accounting
- Find digital evidence on computer systems
- Solve white collar crimes
- Track money laundering
Computer forensics experts use ultraviolet light to unlock a forensic puzzle. They use colored filters to see different kinds of trace evidence on a victim’s body. In a forensic lab, they examine the depth of bite marks or scratches. They map bruises and find small particles, such as pollen, that might not appear in natural light.
Once an investigator has photos, they use computer equipment to enhance images. They use data recovery processes to draw conclusions about the evidence in question. Straight photography won’t enhance images the way they need to be. Without computer evidence and the knowledge to collate data, an investigation would come to a halt. Having computer training is an asset to an investigation.
Other Forensic Computer Scientist Devices
Another forensic computer science equipment device is laser ablation. This specialized application couples plasma mass spectrometry to examine material samples found at crime scenes. Investigators use the laser to ablate tiny particles. They remove them from solid objects for computer-based analysis.
The process and the computers that aid it measure down to a single part per billion. The power is immense and helpful in computer forensic investigations.
Growing Need for Information Security Analysts
As technology progresses, so does the need for educated computer systems specialists. Some of the nation’s top schools like Carnegie-Mellon, Duke University, and MIT offer computer science in forensics degree programs. You can earn a general CS degree or specializations in digital forensics or computer forensics.
These credentials help you find jobs as information security analysts or forensics specialists. A four-year degree is the most common credential. But a master’s degree can help you advance.
A master’s degree can help you move up in your career, especially if you have leadership skills. Companies need team leaders who can oversee projects and cases. For this reason, a master’s degree helps.
Computer Forensics Jobs Near Me
You can put your forensic computer degree to work because your knowledge and skills are in demand. With a computer degree, you can qualify for many different jobs in the field.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports high demand for computer forensics analyst jobs. Now is a good time to earn a degree in computers or computer forensics science. Some law enforcement professionals, such as police officers, have chosen to go back to school and earn a computer degree. In fact, four-year degrees are now more common among police officers than in years past.
Starting out as a college student, look for forensics classes to jumpstart your career. In-demand computer courses help you see if you’re a good fit for the computer forensics field. You can take courses that prepare you for what the job entails. General and advanced digital forensics classes help. You can also take:
- Computer systems analysis
- Digital evidence recovery
- Operating systems and programming languages
These courses can help you launch your computer forensics career in roles such as computer forensics analyst or computer forensics investigator.
Final Words On Computer Forensics
Computer forensics is a broad and interesting field. A general CS degree will get you a job solving crimes, but having skills and training will help you advance in your career.
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This concludes our article on how to get a job with a forensic computer science degree.