U.S. software company Symantec found in a recent security insights report that cybercrime affected 143 million Americans, costing them $19.4 billion in 2017 alone. Information security, a branch of computer forensics, deals with cybercrime involving computers and other digital storage media. Today, employment for these professionals continues to increase; the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 28% growth in the field between 2016 and 2026. As a computer forensics examiner, you will be at the forefront of investigations and court cases involving the recovery, collection, analysis, and presentation of digital evidence.
Choosing a Program
Computer forensic science blends technology, scientific testing, and criminal justice. It falls under the broader scope of digital forensics, most often associated with the investigation of computer crimes. Computer forensics examiners or specialists respond to criminal cyber activity, such as fraud or espionage.
Professionals in the field typically have a background in computer science. A bachelor's degree in computer forensics is a common way to gain skills and knowledge. Students earning a computer forensics degree online typically learn about both the technical and legal aspects of the field.
While a computer forensics curriculum shares similarities with that of a cybersecurity program, there are important differences. Whereas cybersecurity focuses on prevention, computer forensics concentrates on what to do after crimes occur. Typical courses in a computer forensics program include cybercrime, cyber criminology, database design, and network security. A computer forensics degree online curriculum also explores cyber threats such as malware, investigative techniques, computer ethics, and cyber law.
What Are the Best Online Bachelor's in Computer Forensics Programs?
|Virginia Beach, VA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 61%||
Established in 1978, Regent University awards associate, bachelor's, and graduate degrees from a Christian perspective, both on campus and online, in over 130 areas of study. Its bachelor of science in cyber and digital forensics, offered online in eight-week sessions, requires 120 credits. Impressively, the National Security Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have recognized Regent as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education.
Regent's BS curriculum applies a criminal justice perspective to the analysis of digital forensics through courses that explore criminal evidence, digital investigations, and the legal aspects of cybersecurity. Students acquire a foundation in research and writing, mathematics, and statistics that complements major courses in information systems, database fundamentals, and malware and mobile forensics. Students earning this computer forensics degree online or on campus receive professional development through coursework that emphasizes theological thinking and a Christian framework for leadership. Finally, this degree trains its graduates to work as computer and information systems managers, information security analysts, database administrators, network architects, and in other cyberdefense roles.
Regent bases its admission requirements on students' overall educational and life experiences. Online and adult learners may apply by submitting their transcripts documenting completion of a high school diploma or a GED and any college-level credits they may have earned. All students at Regent, whether they reside in Virginia or out-of-state, pay the same flat tuition rate.
|Burlington, VT||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 60%||
A small, private institution founded in 1878, Champlain College offers undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs at its main campus in Burlington, Vermont; abroad in Montreal, Canada, and Dublin; and online. Its fully online bachelor of science in computer forensics appeals to working adults and other students seeking a flexible way to earn an undergraduate degree in this rapidly expanding field.
Online learners in Champlain's BS program take asynchronously delivered classes, logging in at their convenience to access lectures and other class materials. The 120-credit degree delivers most classes in an accelerated seven-week format, although a few courses, including the mandatory senior seminar, require 15-week sessions. Depending on the number of transfer credits and courses completed each semester, some students can finish the computer forensics bachelor's degree online in as quickly as 12 months. Champlain accepts up to 90 transfer credits toward the degree.
The curriculum integrates criminal justice perspectives -- emphasizing criminal law, procedure, and investigation -- with applied training in areas such as digital forensic techniques, operating system forensics, and malware forensics. Students may acquire one of three specialized certificates as part of the degree program, in computer forensics and digital investigations, cybersecurity, or forensic accounting. Champlain supports the academic achievement of its distance learners through advising, career guidance, and tutoring.
The BS in computer forensics has been designation as a National Center of Digital Forensics Academic Excellence by the Defense Cyber Crime Center Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Notably, Champlain is the the only private college in the country to hold this distinction.
Robert Morris University
|Moon Township, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 61%||
Robert Morris University, located in Moon Township near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, offers 80 undergraduate, master's, and doctoral programs, and several professional certificates. Its bachelor of science in cyber forensics and data analytics, one 27 online degree programs at RMU, incorporates multidisciplinary perspectives from law, business, organizational behavior, and technology.
Administered by the School of Communications and Information Systems, this degree emphasizes programming, operating systems, computer and network security, systems analysis and design, and database management. Students who complete RMU's computer forensics bachelor's degree online acquire the same knowledge and skills as those enrolled in the campus-based program, including training in digital evidence analysis; mobile forensics; information security and assurance; and network forensics, intrusion detection, and response. Online learners also receive the same level of student support services in terms of academic and career advisers, wellness counselors, financial aid assistance, and 24-hour technological help.
The BS degree at RMU requires 123 credits. Students complete 39 credits in core education courses that provide a strong academic foundation in communication, economics, humanities, history and the natural and social sciences. The remaining credits consist of courses in the major, a concentration in cyber forensics and information security, complementary areas of interest approved by the Computer and Information Systems Department. This degree is accredited by the Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.
Students play a flat per-credit tuition rate for online programs. RMU provides several discounted tuition options for military members and for corporate and community partners throughout the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. It also offers a monthly payment plan and a semester deferment payment option.
Southern New Hampshire University
|Manchester, NH||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 49%||
Southern New Hampshire University serves a student body of 4,000 at its home campus in Manchester, New Hampshire, and over 90,000 students online. Designed for those interested in combating the threat of domestic and international terrorism, SNHU's bachelor of science in criminal justice offers a concentration in homeland security and counterterrorism. Graduates of this program acquire the analytical and policy skills to enter or advance in intelligence and criminal justice careers.
Students who enroll in SNHU's computer forensics degree online must earn 120 credits through coursework in criminal justice and legal foundations; and specialized applications in terrorism and counterterrorism, threat assessment, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. All undergraduate degree seekers must complete general education requirements that develop writing, communication, analytical, and problem-solving skills, along with an understanding of the social sciences. This fully online degree offers all courses asynchronously, allowing distance learners to move through the program at their own pace, over six eight-week terms.
SNHU offers a streamlined admission procedure. Its open-enrollment policy requires only a high school diploma or GED for admission. SNHU retrieves and evaluates transcripts from previously attended schools on behalf of applicants and does not charge an application fee. Students may transfer up to 90 eligible credits toward the degree. Candidates who have completed basic police and corrections academy training may receive up to 12 credits. Military service members and spouses of those on active duty may qualify for a 30% tuition discount.
Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale
|Fort Lauderdale, FL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 59%||
Established in 1977, Keiser University serves a student body of 20,000 in over 100 programs from the associate to graduate levels. A career-focused institution with campuses throughout Florida, Keiser's Fort Lauderdale campus administers several online programs, including a bachelor of science in cyber forensics and information security. This BS produces career-ready professionals who possess the technical expertise and investigative training necessary to detect and thwart cyberthreats and to collect and analyze digital forensic evidence. Graduates also acquire an understanding of the legal and ethical conditions affecting the investigation and prosecution of cybercrimes.
Designed for holders of associate of science degrees in computer-related fields, this degree completion program requires students to finish 60 credits in upper-division courses (51 credits in the major). Core coursework builds technological competencies in areas such as systems analysis, database management, and criminal evidence and procedures. Major requirements also cover security policies and disaster preparedness, digital media forensics, and network forensics and defense. The remaining courses expose students to research and statistical applications and help them develop writing and critical-thinking skills.
This fully online degree, delivered through Keiser's Blackboard platform, allows distance learners to move through program requirements at their own pace. Online students may begin their studies on any of the monthly start dates. Admission to the program requires a high school diploma, GED, or international equivalent. Applicants must take Keiser's entrance examination, in person on campus, or provide scores from the SAT or ACT or from the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery examination.
What Else Can I Expect From an Online Bachelor's in Computer Forensics Program?
While curriculum details differ by program, all computer forensics programs offer a strong foundation in cybersecurity and teach students how to respond to threats. Students earning a computer forensics degree online may also need to complete an internship or practicum that gives them hands-on experience applying the skills they learn in the classroom.
Curriculum for an Online Bachelor's in Computer Forensics
Core courses and electives normally differ between programs. Whereas one program may include a course on white-collar crime, another may offer an elective on incident response management. Most programs tend to cover criminal law and procedure. Below is a sample curriculum students are likely to encounter when earning a computer forensics degree online.
- Malware Forensics: This course addresses the threat of malicious software and the task of the forensic expert to identify the source. Students learn detection techniques and how to use analysis tools, such as reverse engineering, to understand what malware does and how it works. Topics covered include infection vectors, timeline construction, and volatile memory.
- Cyber Criminology: This course examines illegal activity in cyberspace and the individuals behind it, as well as the role of computers. Both social and behavioral sciences are applied to understand criminal motivations. Students study traditional and contemporary digital crimes, including system hacking, insider threats, cyber terrorism, ransomware, and white-collar crimes such as embezzlement and Ponzi schemes.
- Introduction to Cybercrime: This class presents concepts for conducting investigations in digital crime, particularly how to identify and preserve digital evidence. Topics cover how to provide testimony and how to detect criminal cyber activity such as fraud and identity theft, use of the hexadecimal, and hashing.
How Long Does it Take to get an Online Bachelor's in Computer Forensics?
A computer forensics degree online program typically requires the completion of 120 credits, which full-time students can complete in four years.
Depending on the program and school, it is possible to transfer up to three-fourths of the required credits, reducing the program length to just a year of full-time study. Other factors that affect the length of a program include credit for prior learning, when classes are offered, and term length.
Some programs allow you to complete the coursework at your own pace, while others place groups of students into a cohort. Cohort learning provides continuous peer support, but may take longer for some students since cohorts progress through courses as a group.
Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Computer Forensics Degrees
When choosing a college or university, it is important to confirm its accreditation. For a school to gain accreditation, an accrediting body evaluated the school and found it met or exceeded quality standards. For prospective students, accreditation is assurance. The two types of accreditation in the U.S. are regional and national.
Due to its history, as well as the types of schools that earn it, regional accreditation is regarded as the more prestigious institutional accreditation. Nationally accredited schools are often career-focused, for-profit schools with less demanding admissions requirements.
Many regionally accredited institutions only accept transfer credits earned at another regionally accredited college or university, so transfer students should determine the accreditation status of their university before applying to another program.
The U.S. Department of Education maintains a database of all accredited postsecondary institutions, and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation database includes over 7,600 learning institutions accredited by recognized U.S. accrediting agencies.
Employment Outlook for Bachelor's in Computer Forensics Graduates
According to the BLS, starting salaries for information security professionals are comparatively high for this in-demand field, and experts who also bring industry experience will have the best prospects.
The table below features data from PayScale regarding expected salaries for computer forensics graduates at different stages of their careers. Note that bonuses range from $1,000 to $15,000, and profit-sharing may also affect bonus amounts.
|Job Title||Overall Median Salary||Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years)||Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years)||Median Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ years)|
|Computer Forensics Analyst||$68,730||$60,390||$86,211||$98,661|
|Information Security Engineer||$91,920||$76,790||$95,205||$110,040|
|IT Security Architect||$120,181||$87,753||$113,332||$133,496|
Bachelor's in Computer Forensics Careers
Upon completion of a computer forensics degree online program, new graduates can pursue various career paths in information security, including as cybersecurity consultants and computer network architects. The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team notes that anyone who manages or administers information systems should possess a basic understanding of computer forensics.
A computer forensics degree online program provides graduates with valuable analytical, computer science, and communication skills. Computer forensics and information security specialists can also earn certified information security systems professional (CISSP) certification. Below are a few careers you could pursue with a bachelor's in computer forensics.
- Information Security Analyst
Information security analysts help organizations protect sensitive data from outside attack by devising and implementing security measures such as data encryption, firewalls, and simulating attacks to expose vulnerabilities.
Median Annual Salary: $92,600
Projected Growth Rate: 28%
- Computer and Information Research Scientist
Computer and information research scientists help organizations solve complex computing problems, including improved information security. This level of expertise generally requires a master's degree in computer science or a related field.
Median Annual Salary: $111,840
Projected Growth Rate: 19%
- Computer System Analyst
Also known as systems architects, a computer system analyst helps organizations run more efficiently through the redesign of current computer systems and operations. Systems architects work with IT to understand how changes to an organization affect security. Tests such as data modeling determine the best course of action.
Median Annual Salary: $87,220
Projected Growth Rate: 9%
- Computer Network Architect
Computer network architects design and build data communication networks capable of next-generation networking, with an eye toward security concerns in the cloud.
Median Annual Salary: $101,210
Projected Growth Rate: 6%
- Network and Computer Systems Administrator
Network and computer systems administrators maintain the day-to-day operations of an organization's networks, including any changes made by systems architects or new protocols requested by information security analysts.
Median Annual Salary: $79,700
Projected Growth Rate: 6%
Financing Your Online Bachelor's in Computer Forensics Program
As cybercrime grows, so too does the demand for professionals skilled in computer forensics. Students majoring in this new field find themselves in select company upon graduation. Remember that all scholarships have deadlines for application, so it is imperative that you get all information in on time. Students should also submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to establish eligibility for federal grants, loans, and work-study funds.
Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.
Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.
Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn't always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.
Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We've compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.
Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.