What Is Computer Forensics?

Computer forensics is a method of extracting and preserving data from a computer so that it can be used in a criminal proceeding as evidence. Read on to find out more about data preservation and practical applications of computer forensics. Schools offering Computer Forensics degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Computer Forensics Overview

Most people can pick up someone's computer and do a quick search to find out the types of files they have saved and the sites they've visited online. Computer forensics does that and more. This field generally involves recovering data (either lost or deleted) from media, operating systems, peripherals, or disc drives. Files that are hidden from the average person are uncovered through an in-depth search of the computer system. This search can recover or reveal deleted, hidden, encrypted, and protected files. An employer, the IRS, government agencies, and other applicable institutions can use this information to discover fraudulent or criminal activity.

Computer forensics is also a tool for tracking down people who commit identity theft. Even if a criminal uses a different computer system and deletes all incriminating evidence, the information may still reside on the computer and be useful in tracking down the perpetrator. Computer forensics methods have the ability to analyze data left on the system and determine its use, origin, and destination.

Important Facts About Computer Forensics

Median Salary (2014)$79,870 for all detectives and criminal investigators
Entry-Level EducationBachelor's degree in computer science or criminal justice
Job Outlook (2012-2022)11% for all detectives and investigators
Similar OccupationsComputer forensic investigator, digital forensics analyst, forensic computer analyst, forensic computer examiner

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Data Preservation

Just like with any type of criminal case, there are rules that must be followed in computer forensics. Evidence has to be kept as close to its original format as possible and stay relatively untouched, similar to crime scene preservation. Correctly analyzing the evidence is also important as is following the letter of the law, and respecting the privacy and rights of individuals. Standard rules of evidence and legal processes are adhered to in cases of computer crime, whether the computer being examined was hacked into or used for a crime.

Practical Applications

Computer forensics is used in many different situations by a wide number of professionals. It is applicable in civil and criminal proceedings, by both the defense the prosecution. Cases could include:

  • Divorce
  • Financial or insurance fraud
  • Identity theft
  • Sexual harassment or child pornography
  • Arson
  • Age discrimination

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