The emerging field of computer forensics applies scientific technology for the recovery of data stored on computers and other digital devices to legal and criminal cases. A bachelor’s degree in computer forensics provides a pathway to expanding careers in government, military agencies, and law enforcement. Graduates also find employment in the private sector, including law offices, financial and accounting services, and security firms. Most organizations that depend on a computer system need these specialists to manage software and hardware vulnerabilities.
Several schools feature a computer forensics degree online. The flexibility of an online degree appeals to students working full time or those with family responsibilities that make it difficult to enroll in a campus-based program. This guide to the best online bachelor’s degrees in computer forensics compares school rankings, program features, and requirements. It also features useful information about financial aid, career possibilities, job growth, and salary potential.
Over the next decade, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects increased demand for skilled technicians and administrators to work with law enforcement to recover and analyze digital evidence and to help organizations protect data storage systems. While a bachelor’s degree in computer forensics does not guarantee employment, it equips graduates with the training needed to qualify for positions in the public and private sectors. The following careers represent a small sample of the employment possibilities for graduates with a bachelor’s in computer forensics. Students pursuing a computer forensics degree online enjoy a job market characterized by increasing occupational growth and relatively high salaries.
These analysts monitor threats, investigate breaches, and implement solutions. They also install and maintain software, such as firewalls or data encryption programs, to protect information. They must stay current on developments in IT security. They often work with law enforcement to recover information from computers and other digital storage devices attacked by hackers or viruses.
These managers oversee the maintenance and protection of an organization’s computer network and data storage systems. They develop policies that promote a culture of information security. They also monitor systems and educate employees about security threats. If a security violation happens, they supervise the investigation, recover data, develop a strategy to repair the security breach, and implement measures to ensure that it will not recur.
Because most organizations depend on computer networks, these administrators perform functions to maintain the day-to-day operations of networks and computer systems, including local area networks, wide area networks, intranets, email platforms, and other communication systems. They also evaluate network security, as well as update and monitor security permissions. They must possess the technological skills to diagnose system alerts, diffuse threats, and solve problems as they occur.
Database administrators use software to organize and store all types of data, including financial statistics, educational records, and healthcare and other personal information. They identify user needs and develop policies about user access. DBAs are responsible for ensuring the security of organizational data. An important aspect of their work includes protecting data from unauthorized access and backing up and restoring databases to prevent loss.
Sources: BLS 2018
The BLS projects higher-than-average job growth for information security analysts, although career opportunities and salary prospects vary depending on the region, setting, and required skills. The top three regions offering the best salaries include the District of Columbia, New Jersey, and New York. The highest employment rates are in the urban centers around the District of Columbia, New York, New Jersey, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Chicago and its suburbs.
Whether you're seeking a computer forensics bachelor’s degree online or on campus, take time to research course offerings and program features at different schools. Most undergraduate programs offer a combination of forensic science and criminology courses. This list reviews the kinds of courses you might take in an undergraduate computer forensics program.
Students study general forensic procedures, evidence handling, and how to recover deleted files. Students receive training in the tools used by forensic practitioners in audit, security, privacy, legal, and criminal cases and investigations.
Students examine federal and state laws regarding computer violations and appropriate legal responses, including prosecution in court. Course content includes the adjudicative process, scientific evidence, laboratory reports, hearsay, and expert testimony.
This class explores the types of information security threats, vulnerabilities, and protocols, as well as the countermeasures used to prevent and recover from external violations. The course addresses computer security for private households, businesses, government, network systems, email, and internet.
This course introduces students to all aspects of crime scene documentation and evidence analysis. Topics include evidence collection methods, presumptive testing of biological and chemical evidence, and methods to collect and preserve impression evidence.
Students gain proficiency in the tools and technologies used in forensic examination, including the use of digital media and physical memory. They also learn how to analyze and report results for criminal and civil cases.
There are several factors to consider when choosing the best online computer forensic program for your needs, including tuition costs, online delivery formats, and graduation requirements. Accreditation status can affect your eligibility for federal financial aid or private awards. It may also impact your ability to transfer credits and how potential employers view the validity of your degree. The following are answers to commonly asked questions about choosing the right online computer forensics degree.
Most programs comprise 120 credits and take four years for full-time students to complete, although some schools offer accelerated degrees that allow students to complete sooner. Many students with work or family responsibilities take longer to graduate, completing just one or two courses each semester. Several factors, like internships and on-campus requirements, may impact the time to completion.
Several bachelor’s in computer forensics programs are offered completely online with asynchronous classes that students complete on their own time. Other programs use synchronous schedules, where students and instructors log in at a specific time for lectures, discussions, and workshops conducted in real time. Some schools offer hybrid programs requiring on-campus courses in addition to online work.
Nationally and regionally accredited schools have been evaluated by external agencies that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to verify that they meet established academic standards. Some forensic science programs receive specialized or programmatic accreditation by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission. You can check the accreditation of any computer forensics program on each school’s website or through the ED database.
Many programs require internships or fieldwork to provide students with practical experience. Online programs with this requirement generally work with students to find flexible and convenient onsite options. A growing number of schools place online students in internships close to home and some schools offer virtual internships where students interact with their supervisor through video conferencing.
A student with an online bachelor’s degree in computer forensics receives the same diploma as a graduate from a campus-based program. Online and traditional campus programs offer the same rigorous standards for courses and curriculum requirements, with the same grading rubrics, assignments, and examinations.
Students should explore all financial aid options to defray the costs of an online bachelor’s degree in computer forensics. Grants and scholarships, unlike government and private loans, do not require repayment. You must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your federal financial eligibility. Some nonfederal, need-based scholarships also require the FAFSA. This chart provides examples of need-based and merit-based awards sponsored by professional organizations for computer forensics undergraduates.
AFCEA awards scholarships worth $5,000 to undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees at an accredited postsecondary institution related to the support of U.S. cyber security enterprises. Eligible majors include cybersecurity, security, information science, information technology, computer science, digital forensics, and electronic engineering. Applicants must be U.S. citizens in their second year of study; students in distance learning programs are also eligible. Applicants must demonstrate academic excellence, leadership, and financial need.
The Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship, sponsored by the ACFE Foundation, supports students pursuing a career in fraud examination and investigation. The scholarship ranges from $1,000-$10,000, which is paid to the recipient’s postsecondary institution. Scholarship applicants must be enrolled full time at an accredited, four-year college or university with a major or minor in accounting, auditing, business administration, finance, or criminal justice, including digital forensics and information security.
The SWSIS program, in partnership with the Applied Computer Security Associates and Computing Research Association, promotes the participation of women in information security careers. SWSIS provides 10-15 scholarships annually with a maximum value of $10,000 for women enrolled in undergraduate or graduate degrees related to information security. Applicants must be U.S. citizens enrolled in an accredited U.S. postsecondary institution. Undergraduate students must be in their third or fourth year of study.
The foundation’s WU Global Scholars Program provides funding for tuition and fees for undergraduate students in STEM majors or related fields. Applicants for this $2,500 scholarship must be enrolled at an accredited college or university working toward an undergraduate degree in one of the following majors: science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or business/entrepreneurship. A transcript and one letter of recommendation must accompany the application. Recipients for the scholarship must meet the foundation’s criteria related to themes of perseverance, aspiration, and commitment.