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What is digital forensics?
Computers, like humans, have memories. But computers’ memories can be methodically searched for evidence to help solve crimes.
Digital forensics is the investigation and analysis of devices that store digital data. Both private and public organizations depend on digital forensics experts to help them identify the culprits of all types of crimes, including cybercrimes like data breaches and cyberattacks.Footnote 1
A science in its own right, digital forensics relies on evidence-based reasoning and objective analysis. To determine the facts of any given case, experts perform structured investigations that follow systematic procedures, such as analyzing devices in sterile environments and maintaining documented chains of evidence. That evidence can then be presented in criminal and civil courts of law.Footnote 2
Digital forensics isn’t only used to solve crimes. Experts can also apply investigative methods to recover data from a crashed server or any device that has stopped working.
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Digital forensics course curriculum
Digital forensics classes may introduce learners to operating systems, computer network and storage devices, computer systems analysis, and digital forensics and evidence. A digital forensics course can also explore topics such as how to retrieve and analyze data, conduct digital investigations, and assemble timelines and recreate situations to help solve crimes and pinpoint the causes of data breaches and system failures.Footnote 3
Because digital forensics is a niche discipline of computer science, many courses presume that learners have some computer science skills and have taken classes in the core subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math. If you feel out of step with these subject areas, it’s worth brushing up on your foundational skills before pursuing more advanced courses in this specific field.
edX offers a variety of online educational opportunities for learners, including individual courses and specialized boot camps, as well as full bachelor’s degree and master’s degree programs in many fields.
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Not only do law enforcement agencies turn to digital forensics to help them fight and solve crimes, but businesses and organizations with sensitive data hire digital forensics experts to help them protect their information, infrastructure, and resources.
A data breach can cost an organization millions of dollars.Footnote 4 Because so many organizations want to protect their data and personnel, digital forensics jobs can be highly valuable to a company. These experts are needed in industries ranging from national security to finance to healthcare.Footnote 5 Whether you’re interested in pursuing a digital forensics career in the public or private sector, your role will be an essential part of preserving the integrity of your organization.
Potential job titles for professionals who use digital forensics skills include:Footnote 6
Computer investigative forensic analyst
Digital forensics analyst
Digital forensics investigator
Digital forensics specialist
Information technology specialist
While having an advanced degree is not absolutely necessary to work in digital forensics, some employers may prefer applicants with a degree in computer science, or a related discipline. For learners interested in taking digital forensics classes to boost their skills quickly, online cybersecurity boot camps are another educational pathway to consider.
How to become a digital forensics expert
To become a digital forensics expert who collects and analyzes digital evidence, you must first have a solid foundation in how computers and operating systems work. Computer science courses — most of which teach software engineering and computer systems, the basics of programming and coding, and processes for thinking objectively and logically — are essential for those wanting to excel in cybersecurity and digital forensics.Footnote 7
And, while knowledge of computer science and other core STEM subjects is crucial to success as a digital forensics expert, it's arguably as important to be skilled in humanities disciplines like writing and rhetoric, ethics, and psychology. Verbal and written communication skills and the ability to make a sound and persuasive argument help digital forensics experts share their ideas and findings with colleagues, employers, clients, and the public. Moreover, digital forensics experts with a background in human psychology may be able to better pinpoint what motivates criminals.