Earning a Master’s in Computer Forensics Online

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Computer forensics professionals analyze digital records and computer systems, looking for evidence of criminal activity. As technological developments continue to advance each day, more criminals use technology to commit crimes, increasing the demand for highly skilled computer forensics specialists.

Working professionals looking to advance their careers and undergraduate degree holders who want to pursue high-level work in the computer forensics field can benefit from earning an online computer forensics master's degree. This guide includes information about what it takes to earn a computer forensics master's, salary and job growth potential for graduates, and how to fund your master's degree. It concludes with a collection of professional organizations and resources for computer forensics students and graduates.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Computer Forensics?

Students pursuing an online computer forensics master's degree come from a variety of backgrounds. This includes bachelor's-level computer forensics students who want to advance their careers by earning a graduate degree and students interested in pursuing a specialization that requires a master's. Working professionals who want to improve their career prospects and salary potential can also enroll in online master's in computer forensics programs. Some computer forensics students begin taking classes while deciding between a professional certification or a master's degree.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Computer Forensics?

Pursuing Specialization

Working professionals may choose to pursue a master's in computer forensics in order to branch out or work in niche areas of this field. For example, someone already working in criminal justice could become a cyber security analyst for a police department, or an accountant could become a forensic accountant.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Students currently working in the field may pursue a master's degree in computer forensics online to qualify for promotion opportunities. These types of promotions typically bring more responsibility and higher pay. They might also bring about opportunities to pursue leadership roles, including managing other computer forensics professionals.

Online Learning Technology

Another reason individuals might pursue an online master's degree in computer forensics includes learning how to use the latest communication technology. The experience of earning a graduate degree online requires students to hone their digital communication skills. Professionals in the computer forensics industry need to constantly stay up to date on the latest changes in computer technology, and earning a degree online can help them refresh their technology skills.

Prerequisites for Online Computer Forensics Programs

Many online computer forensics master's programs require prospective students to meet a list of prerequisites in order to qualify for admission.

    • Work Experience: Most online digital forensics master's programs do not require prospective students to hold work experience, and applicants may enter the program after completing their undergraduate degree. However, in competitive programs, applicants with work experience relevant to the computer forensics field may gain a competitive advantage.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Most online computer forensics master's programs do not require students to take exams to qualify for admission. However, some may ask students to submit GRE or GMAT test scores. They generally do not specify a minimum test score. GRE and GMAT test scores typically remain valid for five years, and some schools accept GMAT test scores up to ten years old.
    • Coursework: Most master's in computer forensics online programs require prospective students to hold a minimum GPA between 2.5 and 3.5. Most programs expect students to have a background in computer science or digital forensics, demonstrated by an undergraduate degree in a related discipline or work experience. Individuals who do not possess this knowledge may need to complete prerequisite courses.
    • Recommendations: Most online digital forensics master's programs require applicants to submit letters of recommendation. Former professors who can speak about the student's academic strengths are typically good references. Another potential source for letters of recommendation includes former supervisors who know the applicant well.
    • Essays: Many online computer forensics master's programs require prospective students to submit an essay as part of the application process. Each program includes its own essay prompts that students must answer. Usually, students must explain why they want to pursue a computer forensics degree.
    • Interviews: Most programs do not require students to complete interviews. In some cases, if an applicant does not meet all of the other academic requirements but the program still wants to consider offering them a spot, they may request an in-person or phone interview to help make their decision.
    • International Students: International students whose first language is not English usually need to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). The TOEFL ensures that nonnative English speakers understand the language well enough to succeed at English-speaking universities.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Computer Forensics?

Individuals who hold a master's degree in computer forensics can make a competitive living. The median salary for careers in this field is $57,850, which is $20,000 more than the median annual wage for all workers. Salaries in the computer forensics field increase with experience. Earning a master's degree in the field gives individuals a broader, immediate set of technical and advanced skills. Keep in mind that the industry, geographic location, and job setting all affect earning potential for computer forensics specialists.

Traditional Careers for Computer Forensics Master’s Graduates

Career Stats Description

Forensic Computer Analyst

Entry-Level Salary: $58,000

Late-Career Salary: $110,000

Forensic computer analysts process large amounts of data and analyze computers and digital information for evidence of criminal activity. They usually work in offices, and their hours can vary by project.

Ideal for: Team players who work well without supervision and possess strong problem-solving and communication skills.

Information Security Analyst

Entry-Level Salary: $63,000

Late-Career Salary: $91,000

Information security analysts develop security solutions for the organizations they work for. Job duties include conducting research, maximizing productivity, and collecting data. They know how to find security threats and mitigate them.

Ideal for: Multi-tasking customer service experts with excellent problem-solving capabilities.

Cybersecurity Analyst

Entry-Level Salary: $67,000

Late-Career Salary: $100,000

Cyber security analysts determine the security of computer systems and electronics by analyzing data. They respond to cyber threats and other security issues and help create solutions. They also relay security information to other analysts.

Ideal for: Problem-solving, communicative individuals with excellent technical skills.

Forensic DNA Analyst

Entry-Level Salary: $45,000

Late-Career Salary: $53,000

Forensic DNA analysts participate in criminal investigations by analyzing genetic and chemical samples and completing genetic profiles. They must write about their findings in reports and sometimes testify in trials.

Ideal for: Detail-oriented individuals with a strong background in the sciences.

Additional Career for Computer Forensics Master’s Graduates

Career Stats Description

Postsecondary Teacher

Median Pay: $76,000

Job Growth: 15%

Postsecondary teachers provide instruction to students beyond the highschool level, including at colleges and universities. They create lesson plans, teach in the classroom, grade assignments, conduct research in their field, and publish their findings.

Ideal for: Curious individuals skilled in speaking, writing, critical thinking, and working with other people.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master's in Computer Forensics

Prospective computer forensics students need to think about how to pay for their master's degree. A variety of factors affect the cost of a master's in computer forensics. Programs offer differing tuition rates that make some degrees much more affordable than others. To save money, look for programs with accelerated paths and efficient study timelines. Many online programs offer a discounted rate to out-of-state students. Financial aid, grants, and scholarships can also help support individuals studying for their master's in computer forensics.

Tuition Timelines

The amount of time it takes to graduate from a master's in computer forensics online program depends on if the student enrolls part time, full time, or at an accelerated rate.

Part-Time Path

Part-time students take longer to graduate and sometimes pay more for their degrees. However, earning a master's in computer forensics part time makes sense for many working professionals who lack the time to enroll full time.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: University of Maryland
Total Credits Required: 36
Summary: Part-time students can finish this degree in 12 semesters, or three years. Rising tuition rates in the future could make this extended education timeline more costly.

Full-Time Path

Full-time students typically can graduate more quickly and for less money than part-time learners.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Champlain College Online
Total Credits Required: 30
Summary: The online MS in digital forensics at Champlain takes one year and four months (five semesters) to complete. Because most schools experience rising tuition rates each year, extending your education timeline could prove more costly. Students must take a minimum of three credits per semester.

Accelerated Path

Students who choose accelerated programs can finish their degree more quickly than regular part-time or full-time learners by taking more classes in a shorter period of time.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Stratford University
Total Credits Required: 54
Summary: Students can complete their degree in as little as one year and three months. Rising tuition rates could make this degree more costly.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

Master's in computer forensics students can find a variety of financial aid opportunities to help fund their educations. The list below provides some examples.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Computer Forensics Program

Most online master's in computer forensics programs take about two years to complete if students attend classes full time. The curriculum and graduation requirements vary depending on the school and program students choose. Most programs offer classes asynchronously, meaning that students can complete coursework at their own pace. We describe some typical milestones below.

Major Milestones

  1. Select a program adviser: First semester

    Students choose a professor to serve as their academic adviser when they enter a program. This faculty member can answer questions about the program and provide mentorship upon graduation.

  2. Create your plan of study: Beginning of the second semester

    In the first semester, students typically take required core courses. After that, many programs give students the freedom to design their own plan of study based on their academic interests and career goals.

  3. Sign up for an internship: End of the second semester

    Many master's in computer forensics online programs give learners the chance to gain real-world experience by completing a computer forensics internship in their local community.

  4. Capstone research project: Last semester

    Students conclude their coursework with a research-intensive capstone project, which lets them integrate the knowledge gained over the course of the program into one work-based project.

  5. Licensure exam preparation: Last semester

    Most computer forensics programs do not include licensure exam preparation in their curriculum, but students can start studying for any licenses or certifications they plan to pursue.

  6. Intent to graduate/completion confirmation: Second to last semester

    Students usually must fill out several forms declaring their intent to graduate. This signifies they have met, or will meet in the coming semester, all program requirements. Most schools require students to get signatures from their adviser and program director.

Coursework

Specific courses available vary by school and program, but many master's in computer forensics online programs offer courses similar to the ones listed below.

Digital Forensic Science

This course provides a foundational overview of the field of digital forensic science. Using an accelerated format, the class looks at topics like computer crime laws, storage device architecture, best practices, the rules of evidence, and file system forensics.

Malware Analysis

Learners explore different techniques used in malware analysis, including their strengths and weaknesses. They learn about issues like infection vectors, artifacts, and persistence mechanisms and discover a variety of types of malware, including bots and Trojans.

Scripting for Digital Forensics

Students explore how to use and understand scripting languages, such as Python, for forensic analysis. The class explores using scripting languages in conjunction with other forensic analysis tools.

Incident Response and Network Forensics

Students learn how to collect and interpret data from network devices, network traffic, operating systems, and servers. The course covers both procedural and technical approaches to information technology security incidents.

Mobile Device Analysis

This course helps students learn to analyze and preserve data on mobile electronic devices, such as tablets, mobile phones, GPS systems, and eBook readers. They learn to evaluate data preservation methods, including downloading data from forensic software.

Requirements to Practice

Computer forensics specialists do not generally need a specialized license or certification to pursue a career in this field. They also do not need to complete a certain amount of work experience or pass any additional exams to enter the field. However, some states require computer forensics professionals to hold a private investigator license. Additionally, obtaining voluntary certifications can demonstrate an employee's competencies and open the door to additional job opportunities.

    • Certified Advanced Windows Forensic Examiner: The International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists administers the CAWFE certification. Applicants must pass a written exam and a practical assessment. The entire test lasts six hours. The CAWFE certification prepares individuals to work as forensic examiners or specialists.
    • EnCase Certified Examiner: OpenText offers the EnCE certification to professionals in the public and private spheres. It demonstrates knowledge of computer investigation methodology and an understanding of how to use EnCase software for computer examinations. This certification is useful for computer forensics specialists.
    • GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst: The GCFA demonstrates that individuals hold the knowledge, ability, and skills to take part in formal incident investigations. It is suitable for people working in computer forensics, information security, and incident response fields. Applicants take one three-hour exam to receive the certification.
    • Certified Forensics Computer Examiner: The International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists administers the CFCE certification. It demonstrates proficiency in digital and computer forensics. Applicants must pass two phases: a peer review and written exam and a practical exercise.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Master's in computer forensics students and recent graduates can benefit from joining professional organizations in the field. Becoming a member in a computer forensics group offers one of the best ways to meet and network with colleagues. Students can use these connections to find out about job openings, get information about potential employers, and find mentors. Members often receive a variety of benefits, such as professional development opportunities, discounted rates on events, and free subscriptions to publications. Many organizations offer students and early career professionals discounted membership rates, if cost poses a barrier.

  • Digital Forensics Association: This nonprofit organization promotes education, networking, and research related to the digital forensics field. It offers forensic tools, information about current research, and evidence files.
  • American Society of Digital Forensics & eDiscovery: A group for digital evidence experts, the ASDFED welcomes lawyers, compliance professionals, and digital forensics examiners. They also provide technical bulletins and whitepapers to keep members up to date with the latest educational resources.
  • International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists: The IACIS trains and certifies digital forensics professionals. The nonprofit also provides services to members, including training and professional development opportunities.
  • International Association of Computer Science and Information Technology: An international association of computer science and information technology professionals, the IACSIT promotes new developments in information technology and computer science. It also fosters collaboration and interdisciplinary research.
  • High Technology Crime Investigation Association: The HTCIA promotes collaboration among researchers working in cyber law and computer forensics science. It hosts a conference and maintains a career resource center on its website.
  • Forensic Focus: Forensic Focus provides information through a web portal to ediscovery and digital forensics professionals. The site promotes information sharing and discussion about best practices in digital forensics.
  • Computer Forensics World: This membership-based website features a variety of forums for computer forensics professionals. More than 29,000 people participate in the forums. The site also includes a blog about computer forensics issues.
  • SANS: SANS provides information about security certification and information security training. It also hosts the largest collection in the world of documents dealing with information security.
  • Ride the Lightning: This frequently updated blog explores issues related to digital forensics, information technology, and information security. Sensei Enterprises Inc., a digital forensics and cybersecurity firm in Virginia, maintains and writes the blog entries.