Individuals who earn a computer forensics master's degree can find work in a variety of fields, including digital investigation and forensic accounting. Graduates with a computer forensics master's may also hold the advanced computing knowledge required to work in other realms of computer science and information technology. Organizations need highly skilled workers to make computing systems and data more secure. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for information security analysts will grow 28% by 2026. Individuals in computer forensics can expect to encounter many career opportunities in the coming years as computing technology continues to evolve.
Should I Get a Master's in Computer Forensics?
Prospective students should consider a variety of factors when deciding to pursue a computer forensics master's degree, including the benefits of online versus on-campus programs. An online master's in computer forensics, for example, may appeal more to working professionals or those with family obligations. On-campus master's in computer forensics programs, however, usually attract more students enrolling immediately after completing their undergraduate degree, as they are comfortable with the structure of in-person instruction.
Students pursuing a computer forensics master's degree analyze and manage cybersecurity threats, learning to identify security breaches and preserve data for legal proceedings. Beyond these industry skills, attending a master's program can also teach students to network with faculty, peers, and working professionals. Schools often have career services that facilitate internship placements, offer resume workshops, and run mock interviews. These experiences can lead to improved prospects for employment post-graduation.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Computer Forensics?
The forensic computer science field attracts inquisitive problem solvers with technical expertise. A digital forensics master's qualifies graduates for a number of job opportunities.
- Computer and Information Research Scientists
A master's degree is the minimum education required for computer and information research scientists. They find efficient ways to use existing technologies and create new programs, using computing to solve problems in business, government, and medicine.
Median Annual Salary: $114,520 *
- Computer Systems Analysts
Computer systems analysts improve the efficiency of an organization's network, fusing business and information technology together to find economical solutions to technology problems. Employers usually require a bachelor's degree as a minimum qualification, though often they prefer to hire candidates with a master's.
Median Annual Salary: $88,270 *
- Information Security Analysts
Information security analysts protect organizations' computer networks by identifying security concerns and implementing protective measures. They also help company employers understand cybersecurity.
Median Annual Salary: $95,510 *
- Computer and Information Systems Managers
Often called information technology managers, computer and information systems managers direct organizations' computer-related activities. They ensure computer security, stay informed about new technologies, and manage IT-related costs. They also oversee other IT workers.
Median Annual Salary: $139,220 *
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How to Choose a Master's Program in Computer Forensics
Prospective computer forensics master's students must consider numerous factors before choosing a program, including program length, the curriculum, cost, and accreditation status.
Students should also decide which modality they prefer: on-campus or online master's in computer forensics programs. Online programs typically offer a more flexible schedule for students with professional or familial obligations, and some even offer accelerated coursework to allow for faster graduation. Some online master's in computer forensics programs will use hybrid coursework, which requires on-campus classes or residencies a few times a year.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's Programs in Computer Forensics
Programmatic accreditation, a certification from industry-specific organizations, evaluates a program to ensure its curriculum meets universal standards of excellence and prepares its students professionally. For computer forensics, the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission provides programmatic accreditation to master's programs in computer forensics. Some computer forensics certifications may require applicants to hold a degree from a programmatically accredited institution.
Master's in Computer Forensics Program Admissions
The admissions process for master's in computer forensics programs varies by school. If you apply to an on-campus program, prepare to spend more time on the application. Admissions tend to be more streamlined for online programs. Applying to multiple schools, including a few safety schools and a few reach schools, bolsters your chances of acceptance. All master's in computer forensics programs require you to hold a bachelor's degree and meet a minimum GPA, typically 3.0. Most also request letters of recommendation, GRE scores, and a personal statement.
- Bachelor's Degree: Prospective students must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited school. If the bachelor's is not in a related field, students usually need to meet coursework prerequisites.
- Professional Experience: Most master's in computer forensics programs do not require applicants to hold professional experience.
- Minimum GPA: Most computer forensics master's programs require a minimum 3.0 GPA, though some schools consider other factors holistically.
- Application: Prospective students fill out an application for each school they apply to. You can complete the entire process, which usually takes a few hours, online.
- Transcripts: You must submit official transcripts from any previously attended institutions, even those from which you did not graduate. Contact the school registrar to request your transcripts, and expect to pay a small fee for each request.
- Letters of Recommendation: Most programs expect you to submit three letters of recommendation. Former professors or work supervisors who can attest to your academic rigor and work ethic often write the best letters. Ask them a few weeks in advance of the deadline.
- Test Scores: Some programs require applicants to submit GRE test scores. Rather than requiring a specific test score, many schools weigh your score against your other application materials.
- Application Fee: A typical application fee for a master's program in computer forensics costs about $50. If the cost is a financial challenge, ask the admissions committee if they offer fee waivers or reductions.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's Program in Computer Forensics?
A typical master's program in computer forensics curriculum covers topics like forensic analysis, evidence collection, and network security. Depending on which program you choose, you may need to complete a thesis or internship.
|Cybersecurity||A cybersecurity concentration requires students to take courses in ethical hacking, network security and cryptography, and intrusion detection. They learn to develop and defend secure software systems.||Information security analyst, cybersecurity expert, forensic science technician|
|Data Analytics||In a data analytics concentration, you learn to collect and analyze data for organizations. Information systems management and systems analysis both feature heavily in the concentration. Students take courses in data mining, geographic information systems, and data warehousing.||Computer and information research scientist|
|Cyberinvestigation||Students who select a cyberinvestigation concentration explore evidence collection from digital sources and cyberattacks. They learn to access and analyze digital evidence on smartphones, tablets, and computers. They also become proficient in digital analysis of network and computer technologies to help solve cybercrimes.||Forensic science technician, digital investigator|
|Information Systems Management||An information systems management concentration teaches students to successfully design, implement, and manage secure information systems. They take required courses like information systems project management, decision support system analysis, and impact of new technology. The concentration focuses on new and emerging technologies.||Computer and information systems manager, computer and information research scientist|
|Information Technology Project Management||Students take courses like strategic planning for IT management, quality issues for IT project management, and leadership skills for IT project management when they select an information technology project management concentration. They learn the practical skills necessary to manage IT projects in a wide variety of organizations.||IT project manager|
Courses in a Master's in Computer Forensics Program
The courses offered by a master's in computer forensics program varies by school. Before you enroll in a program, check the list of required and elective courses on the school's website. Make sure the program's curriculum aligns with your professional interests.
- Digital Forensics Technology and Practices
This course explores the tools most often used in computer forensics. Topics explored include physical memory, recovering artifacts, and reporting results. The course investigates both civil and criminal situations.
- Advanced Forensics
In this course, students learn the practical skills and theoretical knowledge needed to work as a professional forensics examiners. Students solve encryption and evidentiary volume problems while learning about jurisdiction, network preservation, and cloud-based evidence.
- Cyberspace and Cybersecurity Foundations
This lab-intensive course focuses on the foundations of cybersecurity and its relationship to national security and cyberterrorism. Students explore cyberarchitectures, security management practices, and business continuity planning. Students develop practical skills using real-world technologies and tools.
- Forensic Response and Analysis
Students taking forensic response and analysis courses learn to reconstruct forensic artifacts and recovery file systems of Linux, Macintosh, and Windows operating systems. Using mobile and workstation platforms, they conduct practice computer forensic investigations. Students must pass Digital Forensics Technology and Practices before taking this course.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Computer Forensics?
On average, students must complete 36 credits to graduate from a computer forensics master's program. With full-time study, students can expect to graduate in two years, while part-time students can expect to graduate in three to five years. Program length may also be affected by internship or thesis requirements.
How Much Is a Master's in Computer Forensics?
The cost of a master's degree in computer forensics varies considerably. Tuition is significantly more affordable at public, in-state institutions, and students who attend private or out-of-state schools can expect to pay much higher tuition rates. Some programs may offer tuition remission through graduate research or teaching assistant positions. Online schools sometimes offer resident tuition to accepted students, regardless of home state.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Computer Forensics Prepares For
- Certified Forensic Computer Examiner
The International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists oversees the CFCE program. The two-stage certification process includes testing and peer review. Applicants must demonstrate core competencies in computer fundamentals, partition schemes, file systems, data recovery, and Windows artifacts. The CFCE certification prepares individuals to work as computer forensics specialists.
- GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst
Global Information Assurance Certification certifies professionals in computer forensics, information security, and incident response. Applicants demonstrate core competencies in data collection and analysis using Windows and Linux computer systems. Individuals with the certification prove their knowledge about data breaches by passing a proctored exam.
- Certified Advanced Windows Forensic Examiner
Coordinated by the Advanced Certification Subcommittee of the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists, CAWFE certification requires a rigorous assessment process. Applicants complete a written exam and a practical assessment using Windows artifacts and image files.
Resources for Graduate Computer Forensics Students
An online community of computer forensics professionals, CFW encourages peer-to-peer assistance and information sharing. The site includes forensics downloads, forums, statistics, and training reviews.
An education and research organization for security professionals, SANS programs include computer security training and information security certification. This includes weekly bulletins, an information security reading room, and an information security glossary.
Designed for digital forensics and ediscovery professionals, Forensic Focus boasts more than 34,000 members. The website hosts forums, webinars, job postings, articles, interviews, and event listings.
Professional Organizations in Computer Forensics
Joining a computer forensics professional organization provides access to many valuable opportunities. Students and recent graduates can especially benefit from these memberships, and most groups offer students discounted rates. Becoming a member gives you access to a variety of networking, continuing education, and professional development opportunities. Professional groups often offer complimentary publications, career services, and access to job boards.