Computer forensics is an exciting, challenging, and growing field. Whether you're looking to advance your career, or earn a graduate degree before joining the workforce, an online master's in computer forensics is a great option. Most online programs offer flexible schedules, and some offer accelerated courses.
This guide includes the best programs you can find online, information about courses and specializations, careers options, and funding availability.
An online master's in computer forensics takes one to two years to complete. Students learn and develop a number of skills to help discover, record, and report evidence left by cybercriminals or terrorists. Learners will also become familiar with the legal context of such crimes.
When you enroll in an online program you will be able to schedule your courses around existing obligations, such as work or family. Some online programs offer intensive or accelerated course formats, which require the same amount of work, but can be completed in a shorter time period. While accelerated courses can be more work than normal online courses, they allow students to graduate faster.
Every online master's in computer forensics is different, but each covers the same foundational topics. Below, you'll find five sample classes that represent program coursework. Programs may have varying focuses and cover different topics in similar courses.
Computer forensics professionals often work on teams; therefore, learning to communicate and lead a team is an important skill. In this course, students will discuss the best methods for working with teams in a variety of fields.
In this course students discuss the foundations of cybersecurity, both technically and professionally. Courses address how computer forensics fits within the larger context of cybersecurity. Topics include cybercrime and cyberwarfare; legal issues in cybersecurity; and the intersections of cyber and physical security in the private and public sectors.
This course is designed to familiarize students with computer forensics tools. Students gain hands-on experience with software and other investigative tools. Learners discuss recording and reporting evidence in civil and criminal contexts.
This course builds on technology courses, students discuss how computer forensics professionals respond to breaches and cybercrime scenes. Topics include, how data is collected, analyzed, and reported, and include hands-on experience.
This course is focused on project-based experiences, which gives students the opportunity to work with computer forensics and become technology experts in the field. This course may be reserved for later in a program and allows students to apply coursework in a real-world setting.
Students should expect a capstone project at the end of a program, such as a research-based thesis or a hands-on practicum. This project can vary from one program to the next, and the details of every project change depending on the student. Some programs may involve investigating a sample breach and compiling a case. Others may require an in-depth research paper on a specific aspect of the field.
Some programs require a student to choose a specialization. Below are three examples of specializations you might consider while pursuing an online master's in computer forensics.
Smartphones are an incredibly common technology that attract cybercriminals. As these devices increasingly become targets of cybercrime and cyberwarfare, computer forensics professionals need to become familiar with the unique architectures and demands of smartphones.Cyber Criminology
Students in this specialization focus on the processes behind computer crimes. Students use learned skills to focus on the criminal, rather than the crime itself, in order to understand how to prevent future crimes.White Hat Hacking
This specialization uses computer forensics skills to test existing networks for weaknesses. Students can use their skills to find weaknesses based on evidence from previous breaches and implement security measures.
Below are five careers options for students pursuing an online master's in computer forensics. While this degree will not guarantee a job, there are many positions that require a master's degree. This list contains a few careers you can pursue with a master's in computer forensics.
These professionals work in a variety of industries analyzing existing information networks in order to find weaknesses or detect a breach. They might be independent contractors, work for a network analysis company, or a private corporation. They may handle analysis or plan and implement security systems and upgrades.
While law enforcement officials need training and education, there is a growing need for computer forensics and other IT professionals to work within law enforcement agencies. Computer forensics is valued in law enforcement at local, state, and federal levels. Law enforcement officials assist in cybercrime cases and help locate criminal activity on computers, smartphones, or networks.
Network architects play an important role in building and maintaining networks in different industries. Computer forensics allows architects to create networks that are stronger and safer, and make system maintenance easier. Computer forensics experts may work as part of a team at larger firms or individually in smaller companies.
There is a significant amount of crossover from one IT career to another, even within computer forensics. Systems analysts can draw on a forensics background when working with at-risk security systems. These professionals analyze existing systems to prevent or recover security threats, and work in the public or private sector of varying industries.
Software developers work on a variety of projects, from operating systems to video games to antivirus software. Computer forensics experts look at past breaches to determine how they occured and provide insight into how to prevent future problems. They are responsible for improving software security before it reaches consumers.
Professional organization's provide networking and professional development opportunities that can help students find work, expand skills, and gain certifications that might be required for certain positions.
The SANS Institute was established in 1989, and promotes IT education, certification, and professional development. SANS certifications are among the most valuable in the industry.
The High Technology Crime Investigation Association has been promoting education and collaboration since the mid-1980s, in order to help prevent, reduce, and respond to cybercrime.
The International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists supports its members through certification, training, networking, and scholarship opportunities. IACIS has been preparing experts for future challenges since 1990.
The High Tech Crime Network focuses on certification, with some of the most demanding qualifications in the industry. They also offer online courses for professional development and training.
The American Academy of Forensic Sciences is an interdisciplinary group focused on the application of sciences in law. They provide a variety of sources to members, including resources in computer forensics.
The table below lists five careers that graduates can enter with a master's in computer forensics degree, as well as the expected salary for each position. This list isn't exhaustive, but it should give you an idea of available careers when you start your job search.
|Job Title||Lowest 10% Earned Annually||Median Annual Salary||Highest 10% Earned Annually||Job Growth 2016-2026|
|Information Security Analyst||Less than $55,560||$95,510||More than $153,090||+28%|
|Law Enforcement||Less than $35,780||$62,960||More than $105,230||+7%|
|Network Architect||Less than $58,160||$104,650||More than $162,390||+6%|
|Systems Analyst||Less than $53,750||$88,270||More than $139,850||+9%|
|Software Developer||Less than $59,870||$103,560||More than $160,100||+24%|
Source: BLS 2018
Computer forensics is a growing field; increased cybercrime and the threat of cyberwarfare should continue to drive growth in the field. As technology evolves and criminal threats increase, law enforcement continues to hire more security.
A master's in computer forensics makes you a competitive job candidate and impacts your potential earnings. According to the Center on Education and the Workforce, individuals with computer science bachelor's degrees of any type have a median yearly income of $83,000. Meanwhile, those with a master's degree in the same field have a yearly median income of $100,000.
Accreditation is an important part of higher education. An accredited school has been reviewed by a national or regional board and meets educational standards. Determining if a school is accredited is pretty easy, and information can usually be found on the school's website.
Some programs receive programmatic accreditation by professional organizations like the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET). A computer science department that is accredited by ABET has met a set of standards that promises a top-notch education. Programmatic accreditation is not required for a quality education, but looks good on a resume. Keep an eye out for ABET accredited programs or other organizations when reviewing schools.
Paying for college is stressful for most people, and a master's degree is not cheap. Luckily, there are many ways to receive money to help you cover the costs of your degree. Below, are four funding options as a starting point in your own research.
Your first step should be filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. FAFSA will give you access to students loans and other funding options provided by the Department of Education, and is often required to get funding directly from schools and other organizations.
Many scholarships, such as those for women in the cybersecurity field, are designed for specific populations of students, generally those who do not represent a large portion of the existing student body.
Fellowships and grants are an excellent way to pay for college. Research fellowships, such as the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program, can be very competitive. Unlike a scholarship, fellowships often require specific work, presentations at conferences, or academic tasks.
Some groups, like the International Information Systems Security Certifications Consortium offer graduate scholarships. These are sometimes reserved for members of an organization, but some are offered to anyone interested in the field.