What is Computer Forensics and Counterterrorism?
Computer forensics and counterterrorism is a field of study emphasizing the use of software applications and computing power to investigate, analyze, and understand data. Computer forensics is a discipline within digital forensic science dealing with evidence residing on digital storage devices and computers.
The primary object of computer forensics is to capture and examine digital media in an effort to better understand, analyze, preserve, recover, and identify salient aspects of the digital media.
Counterterrorism is a field of study that incorporates tactics, techniques, policies, and strategies used to prevent and combat terrorism. Depending on employment arrangements and contractual duties, a counterterrorism professional will be directed to take action by a government agency, business, military, law enforcement or other authorized intelligence agency to help fight terrorism.
What Do Computer Forensic Specialists Do?
Computer forensics technicians leverage their knowledge of specialized software and computer applications to perform understand data. They can be responsible for any number of tasks that can include: data configuration, installation, data analysis, database design, performance monitoring, security, migration, back-up, diagnostic, and data recovery.
A computer forensic major will have deep knowledge in software systems, data modeling, system design, system connectivity, network design, database management, software design, computer programming, information technology, and computer science. In addition, this knowledge will be applicable across various network systems, applications, and devices in an organization.
Digital and computer forensics in an ever-growing field of study that changes by the month. Degrees in computer forensics may tilt towards software and devices while others dive into policy administration and data modeling. Regardless of the areas of specialty, computer forensic majors will possess knowledge of various data models, operating systems, software applications, and network tools.
Top Computer Forensic Degrees
A degree in computer forensics or digital forensics can help prepare students for a number of careers in the field. Graduates from a digital forensics program should have a solid understanding of a variety of key principles that include the ability to:
- Recognize and mitigate cyber breaches
- Systematically protect data and systems from hackers
- Audit computers, cell phones, and electronic devices for threats
- Scrutinize internet activity, hidden information on hard drives, and recover pertinent documents
- Discover network weaknesses through testing and analysis
- Understand and minimize network vulnerabilities
- Perform a variety of security tests on networks and computer systems
Degree programs in computer forensics, digital forensics, and counterterrorism prepare students for a number of career opportunities. Many graduates work with Homeland Security, National Security Agency, private organizations, law firms, public high-tech companies, and private start-up corporations.
Programs will vary from college to college with the most popular programs including certificate programs, bachelor degrees, and graduate degrees. A summary of each can be found below to help you determine the line of best fit for your career.
Computer Forensic Certificates
Online digital forensics certificate programs can come in two different modes: undergraduate and graduate. An undergraduate degree in computer forensics is a foundational course that provides students with the essentials to start in the field.
Upon completion, students earning an undergraduate degree will be equipped to find employment in an entry-level capacity and grow from there. Graduate certificates are effectively a set of upper level courses that focus on a defined aspect of digital forensics.
Qualifying graduate students leverage certificate programs from accredited colleges and universities to upskill, remain competitive in their career, prepare for a career transition, and/or help achieve a satisfactory bump in pay.
Computer Forensics Bachelor's Degree
A bachelor degree in computer forensics online or in class can be conferred as a Bachelor of Science (BS). Bachelor degrees can typically be completed in 4-years. The first portion of the program blends liberal arts studies with core classes.
General education courses may include classes such as communications, philosophy, history, statistics, psychology, and math. Core classes in digital forensics and counterterrorism will vary from school to school. However, principles taught across degree programs will be similar including classes such as:
- File System Forensics
- Digital Forensics
- Networking & Security
- Operating System Forensics
- Discrete Mathematics
- Malware Analysis
- Digital Forensic Analysis
- System Administration
- Advanced Python
- Computer Security & Networking
- Mobile Device Forensics
The culmination of the bachelor or science program will often include a capstone course and an internship at an approved organization. The combination of both programs ties together lower-level courses plus provide hands-on learning opportunities for students to marry theory with practical applications.
Computer Forensics Master's Degree
Computer forensics programs at the graduate degree level is designed to provide deep insight into the field of study for qualifying students. Master’s degrees in counterterrorism and digital forensics are most often conferred as a Master of Science (MS).
To qualify for a master’s degree program, students will need to meet all academic requirements and requisite professional work experience thresholds. Many colleges and universities provide students the ability to select an area of emphasis in digital forensics and build coursework around an approved area of emphasis. Building classes that fit you best will take place with a school’s academic advisor to customize a curricular program that fits you best.
Employment in Computer Forensics
Counterterrorism and computer forensic specialists will be highly trained and well paid professionals. Balancing speed and accuracy, these professionals will work under pressure to solve an array of thorny quandaries. Students seeking to utilize these unique skills in similar vocations may be interested in alternative careers. Examples of similar careers include information security analyst, research scientist, database administrator, information research scientist, network administrator, computer network architect, computer systems analyst, computer programmer, and software developer.
Computer Forensics Career Specializations
Earning a degree in computer forensics can afford student’s the ability to specialize in a number of adjacent fields of study. In fact, the ever-expanding field of computer forensics and digital forensics has created new jobs within sub-industries across the job market. Having the right skills and eagerness to learn can help propel students towards careers in the digital forensics field with a concentration in the following areas:
- Digital Forensic Science
- Cyber Investigations
- Computer Science
- Information Security
- Statistical Analysis
Top Job Duties of a Computer Forensic Specialist
In a recent survey by the U.S. Department of Labor, digital forensic professionals from around the country provided key insights. As an example of valuable data we can glean from the survey, a list of job duties was illuminated by the respondents. The top job responsibilities of a computer forensic professional include the following:
- Studying computer systems and network activities to develop a set of heuristics that can be utilized in a variety of situations
- Preparing comprehensive presentations, charts, and reports to make sense of data and imminent threats
- Validating intelligence with data from internal and external sources
- Managing network security and information after analyzing, gathering, filtering, evaluating, and correlating data
- Cross-collaborating with team members and executives to develop strategy to benefit the organization short-term and long-term
Computer Forensics Job Growth
Jobs in computer forensics and counterterrorism is projected to be exceptional in the coming decade. In fact, the DOL estimates a job acceleration of 15% for forensic scientists and computer forensic technicians. Likewise, adjacent careers in computer systems analyst and database administration is forecast to jump 21% and 11% respectively.
With a median annual income of $88,270, computer systems analysts are poised to capitalize on industry growth with highly technical skills. The largest employers of systems analysts and forensic specialists are technology-based companies, private corporations, government entities, insurance companies, and consulting firms.