Is this course right for me?

Our two 50-hour Computer Forensics Examiner live online courses are designed to meet the needs of most computer professionals, both in the United States (US) and abroad. To address increased interest abroad, alternative class hours have been expanded. Online university enrollment and major credit card payment is available through links on this site's Home page. Classes are interactive and laboratory intensive. Some lectures lend themselves well to cell phone, and particularly smart phone, participation. Training materials, including scripted laboratory exercises, are included in the price of tuition. Hardware and software requirements are modest for a laboratory course and are detailed in the course syllabus (see button at top).

    While computer forensics skills tend to be more marketable than many other traditional computer specialties, even computer forensics has been adversely affected by the prolonged economic downturn. I recommend that you be skeptical of anyone promising job placement, as illustrated in television news investigative reporting; see American Education under FAQ (PC) (current frame) and Learning Ctr. (above) for news videos. Nor does a computer forensics degree program necessarily guarantee much more than a heavy student loan debt; our budget minded 12 and 3 week courses contain more computer forensics specific instruction than at least some college degree programs.

    Concomitantly, computer forensics is not right for everyone. It is more than just recovering data for use in personnel actions or civil/criminal court proceedings. It also requires well developed verbal skills, including, but not limited to, writing illustrated technical reports and making multimedia presentations in court. While our course provides computer professionals with the technical training needed to begin performing computer forensics on Microsoft Windows and Mac  computers, some US states additionally require private investigator licensing and/or field experience. Those who elect to do private contracting, which has been billed at 2-300 dollars an hour in larger cities, will also have to be a good sales person; as the old saying goes, a good salesman has to sell himself before he can sell his product. Ultimately, some may not be interested in the technical and legal aspects of the specialty. Viewing YouTube videos on the Learning Center should give students a taste of computer forensics. You're also invited to telephone or email the primary instructor, who has over two decades of experience in the field.


Certificates Vs. Commercial Peer Certifications

Upon successful completion of a realistic case based comprehensive exercise and required minimal attendance at live on-line university classes, students having demonstrated a mastery of concepts and procedures are awarded a state university certificate signed by a dean or higher official. I believe most of the universities and colleges that have offered our training over the last decade are a century or more old and readily recognized throughout the civilized world as credible institutions of higher learning. This is in stark contrast to relatively small commercial companies formed in recent years trading in one of a dozen or so 'Johnny come lately' peer certifications. In my opinion as someone who has been in this field for decades, at least some peer certifications are both controversial and little more than a means of marketing inadequate length courses often taught by instructors with little formal education and/or real experience at heightened enrollment fees.

That is not to say that all peer certifications are necessarily questionable. I would personally recommend that students avoid those that effectively require that you to take a short expensive course that they teach in order to pass their certifying examination. Other peer certifications, in my opinion, tend to be less controversial. ITT is among a few non-regionally accredited universities that offer what I would surmise from their syllabus to be credible extended length computer forensics training leading to their own degree and certification. They are certainly not alone in that distinction among non-traditional schools. Conversely, I believe that a 4-year degree in computer forensics, or computer science with a minor in computer forensics, from a regionally accredited university or college is ultimately your most credible course if you have the time and resources. You should not assume that a school having a web address with an 'edu' suffix is necessarily a regionally accredited university or college. One practical indicator of regional accreditation is the ability to transfer credits to a state university without substantial depreciation. In recent years, computer forensics has been increasingly viewed as a professional endeavor comparable to legal, medical and accounting disciplines that currently require state administered board examinations following a prescribed university/college course of study.

While I know of no state requiring a peer certification to practice computer forensics, a growing number of states require a government license. Failure to obtain said license prior to practice for hire can result in imprisonment and/or heavy fines. Our university based training, in my experience, satisfies the training component of known state licensing regimen. Texas is among the growing number of states requiring a government license to practice computer forensics for hire. Our 110-hour 11 Continuing Education Unit (CEU) course, combined with our follow-on 15-hour 1.5 CEU computer forensics legal issues course, renders our training among the longest non-degree programs in the United States. Concomitantly, our courses are modeled on Government training provided federal agents and exclusively taught by retired supervisory federal agents with decades in federal law enforcement and considerable courtroom experience. On occasion, CompuForensics courses have been approved as an acceptable substitute for more lengthy Government administered training.

Students can register through any of the following regionally accredited institutions of higher learning: University of Texas at Arlington; University of Tennessee at Knoxville; Georgia College & State University; Kent State University (Ohio); or Roane State College (Tennessee). Our courses have qualified for veteran and other federal/state tuition assistance programs. On-line course registration links and university/college contact numbers are located on the index page of this site. A syllabus (see button at top of page) is provided for your use in verifying whether our course meets the training component of your state's licensing requirements.

College Level Instruction and Certification

Computer forensics is a relatively new field and is as yet not regulated by any credible centralized certification authority. Should such certification become available in the next few years, it will most likely be a state government responsibility following completion of a degree program at an accredited university or college. CompuForensics training is only available through regionally accredited state universities. The instructor possesses a masters degree as well as decades of experience in the computer forensics field. Certificates signed by a college dean or comparable are issued upon successful completion by the hosting university.

The course developer and supervising instructor is an internationally recognized computer forensics authority and agency contributor for a major federal law enforcement agency to the Federal Guidelines on Searching and Seizing Computers. Compare this with commercial and government courses using lesser trained and relatively inexperienced instructors. He has trained well over a thousand federal, state and local law enforcement investigators and retired with over a quarter century of federal law enforcement experience, culminating in the management of a national computer forensics program for a major federal law enforcement agency.

CompuForensics courses are designed to meet or exceed local requirements for college credit and government agency certification. Designed as a short version of the 5-7 week Seized Computer Evidence Recovery Specialist (SCERS) course given at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and restricted to law enforcement personnel, it is more than equal to the shorter forensics training available to local law enforcement.

Tailored to Meet Emerging State Standards

Two decades ago, computer forensics examiners were relatively few. To the best of my memory, we were mostly federal agents. Many of us were initially trained as electronic counter measures (ECM) specialists at the Central Intelligence Agency. Those who weren't electrical engineers, like myself, attended several months of private tutoring in analog and digital electronics. Once we completed the lengthy ECM training, a few of us stayed on additional weeks to receive training in computer specific investigations. The theory at the time was that a competent examiner understood how the hardware and operating system worked. Concomitantly, the Government funded my attendance at numerous university based programming and computer analysis courses. All in all, the Government claimed to have spent in excess of $100,000 over a little less than two years, not counting my salary. While the extent of my training was probably greater than that of most other federal agent examiners, most everyone then received a fair amount of training. Unfortunately, beginning in the early 1990s, governments began to cut back on computer forensics training expenses. Still, most examiners were criminal investigators, if not federal agents. During the last decade or so, the number of folks calling themselves computer forensics examiners exploded. Some local law enforcement officers received little more than a two or three day course in how to operate an automated analysis program, thereafter claiming to be 'certified' [automated program] examiners. Worse yet, marginally computer literate civilians, lacking any credible background in criminal law, rules of evidence or courtroom procedures, took a week long course from non-law enforcement trained instructors and loosed themselves on the unsuspecting public. What ensued was the 'wild west' era of computer forensics; in the old west, you were likely as not to have your life threatening wound treated by a barber as a college trained medial doctor.

Although it has taken a while, an increasing number of states are attempting to, so to speak, weed out the barbers. Most minimally require that examiners be private investigators. At least one state required two years of full-time law enforcement experience or a four year college degree in criminal justice. Nevertheless, in more states than not, standards for those calling themselves computer forensics examiners are non-existent.

Some would argue that peer certification is the answer to the standard free mess we find ourselves in. If this is your solution, be prepared to do a fair amount of research into the qualifications of those granting and holding the certification. A boat load of certifications, many claiming to be the one you really need, presently exist with more being introduced every few months. In fact, for a while, almost every course outside of the government or university seemed to offer some sort of certification. Some peer certifications impress me as little more than marketing ploys; a way to get you to take 'their' course so you can pass 'their' test. Others appear to have some merit. I've even been solicited to endorse numerous such approaches over the years, although I never found one that I felt comfortable endorsing. The primary reason for my lack of enthusiasm for peer certification is that I've met what I believed to be competent and incompetent 'examiners' who held the same certification. I am tempted to conclude that if someone is competent before they become "certified", they continue to be competent. Conversely, the reverse also appears to be in evidence. This apparent problem may explain why no federal or state government to my knowledge recognizes any peer certification as a licensing requirement.

So far as the future is concerned, my guess is that state licensing will be the norm within a few years. In the interim, when asked about the recommended criteria for a contract examiner, I fall back on my own experience of what I know works. A federal agent with several months of federal agency computer forensics training, coupled with at least five years of routinely working computer forensics intensive cases destined for criminal court, is a reasonably safe choice. Since federal agents tend to meet the same education and background standards required of military commissioned officers, they are more likely than most to at least appear professional. Advanced college degrees never hurt when the background of the examiner is being reviewed before the jury. If the degree is in computer science from a well known regionally accredited university, so much the better. While computer forensics degree programs tend, in my experience, to fall short of said federal agent forensics training and experience, they are probably not a bad fall back position. The bottom line is that you're likely to pay the same hourly rate whether the examiner is highly qualified or not; so why not get what you're paying for. At least, that's what I think.

Training Unequalled Outside of the Federal Government

CompuForensics courses are modeled on computer forensics examiner training provided US federal agents. There existed no higher standard. Like federal law enforcement restricted examiner training, examiners are taught to approach each case as a criminal investigation, which normally exceeds coverage for civil court and personnel action remedies; this approach is particularly prudent where civil court or personnel actions are subsequently elevated to criminal prosecution. Other courses routinely fail to provide needed instruction in legal issues and evidence handling procedures set forth as minimum standards by emerging state licensing requirements for private examiners. Unlike abbreviated 3-5 day commercial courses, our examiner instruction is:

  (1) taught by a retired supervisory federal agent, who is a recognized national authorities in computer forensics as well as holder of advanced university degrees;

  (2) comparable in length and content to federal instruction;

  (3) real world comprehensive forensic exercise, technical report and exhibit preparation, and courtroom examination;

  (4) 'live' on-line courses designed for working computer professionals; and

  (5) exclusively available through state universities and colleges, widely assumed to hold higher academic standards than commercial training centers and/or for profit schools.

CompuForensicsRevised April 10, 2016