Saturday, September 4, 2010

Take Vienna

Napoleon once said that if you start to take Vienna – take Vienna.  This is the same advice that I give people who are interested in obtaining an academic degree in digital forensics. If you start to study digital forensics – then study digital forensics.  If you are passionate about digital forensics and you want to break into the field by obtaining a digital forensics degree then do it properly.

With the increasing popularity of digital forensics, we are seeing an explosion of academic programs that claim to prepare students for a career in the field. Some of these programs are well suited for this task and others appear to be a great waste of time and money. 

For example, I have observed quite a few programs that label themselves as computer forensics programs, but offer very little in the way of a proper computer forensic education.  Many of these programs are nothing more than classic computer science programs that offer a handful of computer forensic classes by instructors whose CVs don’t indicate a mastery of the field.

It’s not that students won’t benefit from academic programs that teach foundational  information technology skills such as networking, programming and databases as they prepare for a career in digital forensics.  Some of our greatest digital forensic gurus studied disciplines like electrical engineering (Harlan Carvey), computer science (Jesse Kornblum) and mechanical engineering (Eoghan Casey).  However, we live in a time where those who are passionate about the field have many opportunities at the academic level to build a strong foundation in digital forensics early in their careers. 

If you are going to get a degree in digital forensics then get  a proper degree in digital forensics.  The digital forensics program at Champlain is a good example of what appears to be solid program. I have heard very good things about this program from at least one of my trusted peers who has hired their graduates.  Champlain offers a bachelor’s level degree in Computer and Digital Forensics.  Instead of a handful of token computer forensic classes layered on top of a traditional computer science curriculum, this degree program appears to be specifically designed to prepare students for a career in digital forensics. It is also offered online and at the Champlain campus.

If you look over the curriculum, you will see that they offer nine specifically branded forensics courses including an internship.  These courses include content specifically geared towards digital forensics such a pair of foundational computer forensics courses, but also courses in areas such as anti-forensics and network forensics.  A nice bonus is that students can get some training in areas such as white collar crime, forensic accounting, criminal law and criminal procedure.  This program also provides students with the opportunity to obtain grounding in general information technology skills such as networking.

A critical consideration when making the decision on what degree program enroll in is not only the strength of the material, but who is teaching you that material.  I like to review the CVs of professors who teach computer forensic courses to get a feel whether these are people who actually have experience in the field or if it’s just a side thing for them.  A lot of the people I see teaching digital forensic classes are people who appear to have very strong backgrounds in computer science, but look very weak when it comes to digital forensics. It’s a bad idea to get a computer guy, even a highly skilled one, to act as an expert witness in a legal case instead of an actual digital forensics expert. It strikes me as an equally bad idea to have that same computer guy teach people digital forensics.

With a program like Champlain, you get an instructor like Jonathan Rajewski teaching some of your classes.  Jonathan might not have a PhD, but he has real live experience in the field and has worked as a full time digital forensics practitioner before he became a professor at Champlain.  In fact, according to his biography, he continues to work in the field as part of the Vermont ICAC Task Force.

The rub with a program like this is that it comes at high price.  The online program costs $540 dollars a credit hour.  The campus based program is going to cost you over $27,000 a year.  Student loans can be a horrible burden if you borrow more money than your degree is ultimately worth.

Another interesting looking program that I don’t have much familiarity with is the Bachelors of Science Program in Technology Forensics at the University of Advancing Technology.  If you look at their online course content, it has a similarly strong focus in actual digital forensics just like the Champlain program does.

Network Security 2010

SANS Network Security 2010 in Las Vegas is mere weeks away.  Get your seats if you haven’t done so already.  The seats at these events can sell out before the event.  For example, Jonathan Ham’s FOR558 Network Forensics class already has a waiting list.

I’ll be acting as Rob Lee’s Teacher’s Assistant for FOR408 Computer Forensics Fundamentals. This class has been expanded to a sixth day because of all of the new forensic goodness that has been added.  I can’t wait to meet all of the students and help Rob turn them into lethal forensicators.