Computer Crime Research Center


Cybercrime: college courses in digital forensics

Date: June 06, 2006
Source: USA Today
By: Jon Swartz

One of the hottest new courses on U.S. college campuses is a direct result of cybercrime.

Classes in digital forensics — the collection, examination and presentation of digitally stored evidence in criminal and civil investigations — are cropping up as fast as the hackers and viruses that spawn them.

About 100 colleges and universities offer undergraduate and graduate courses in digital forensics, with a few offering majors. There are programs at Purdue University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Tulsa, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Central Florida. Five years ago, there were only a handful.

"I teach students to be like (TV supersleuth) MacGyver," says Sujeet Shenoi, a computer science professor at the University of Tulsa.

Traditional students, police officers, government employees and aspiring security consultants are taking the courses as more crooks stash ill-gotten data and goods on PCs, PDAs, cellphones, network servers, iPods and even Xboxes.

Students learn where to find digital evidence and handle it without contaminating it. Once preserved, students are shown how to examine evidence and present it clearly during court testimony. "If you revert to geek speak, you can lose a judge, jury and prosecutor," says Mark Pollitt, a digital forensics professor at Johns Hopkins University who retired in 2003 after 20 years as an FBI agent.

Digital forensics is considered a crucial weapon in law enforcement's escalating war against computer-related crimes. The science is used in criminal investigations; civil cases such as employment lawsuits where personnel records and e-mail correspondence are sought; and by companies faced with cyberattacks. Plus, there are evolving state and federal laws that define how evidence is handled in civil cases.
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