Best online master's in computer forensics 2021: Top picks – ZDNet

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Help organizations protect their computer systems and investigate cyberattacks with one of the best available online master’s in computer forensics.
Contributing Writer
To meet the demand of the growing cybersecurity industry, many top schools have introduced programs like the master’s in computer forensics. Global Market Insights projects the cybersecurity market will exceed $400 billion by 2027, more than double the size of the 2020 market. 
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 33% growth in information security analyst positions 2020-30, making it one of the fastest-growing fields in the country. Graduating with a master’s degree can further boost your prospects.
Here, we explore the master’s degree in computer forensics in more detail, outlining what students can expect from it and highlighting some of the best programs available.
To create a list of the best online master’s in computer forensics, we leverage publicly available information and expert insight. ZDNet’s ranking methodology pulls from national datasets and details provided by schools and programs. While the programs below are listed alphabetically and not ranked, they represent some of the best options out there. 
Unless otherwise indicated, data is drawn from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, College Scorecard, and each program’s website.
About the program: Champlain’s online master’s in digital forensic science features 30-36 credits in courses like the practice of digital investigations, operating system analysis, and incident response and network forensics. Champlain is recognized as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education
Accreditation: Champlain College is regionally accredited by the New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE).
About the program: Stevenson’s online cybersecurity and digital forensics master’s program provides training in incident response and evidence collection, Windows forensic examinations, and file systems forensic analysis.
Accreditation: Stevenson University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
About the program: UMGC’s 36-credit online master’s in digital forensics and cyber investigation offers training in advanced forensics and digital forensic response and analysis. UMGC is designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education.
Accreditation: The University of Maryland Global Campus is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
The curriculum for a master’s in computer forensics differs depending on program focus. In general, these programs explore the roles and responsibilities of computer forensics professionals. Some emphasize the legal side of the field, while others explore the organizational side. 
Typically, students learn to identify, investigate, and report various cyberattacks. They may specialize in working with computer networks or operating systems, mastering security and analysis methods for those specific technologies.
These programs often feature extensive practical training, including internships and capstone projects. Online students benefit from schedule flexibility, but they may need more initiative and independence than on-campus learners.
Computer forensics courses at this level usually build on the foundations built in an undergraduate program. Students often develop advanced cybersecurity and cyberthreat detection skills, along with the ability to work with diverse systems and technologies. 
In programs with a legal focus, learners may pick up ethics and law training. They learn the proper investigation and reporting practices and protocols. Though curricula vary, the following courses are among the most common.
Forensic investigations
This course teaches students how to use forensic tools to investigate and collect evidence from cyberattacks. Students may study forms of cybercrime, exploring the types of evidence left behind and how to recover lost information. 
Incident reporting
In this course, students learn the proper procedures for reporting cybercrime incidents. They master the investigative processes, including what information to collect and how. 
Incident response and analysis 
Students in this course learn the appropriate steps and techniques for handling cybercrime incidents. They examine the processes and technologies that assist with threat and attack detection and investigation.
This course provides training in the different cybersecurity technologies. Students learn to protect systems and software using various frameworks and security measures.
While students can pursue computer forensics training at every degree level, they should choose the most appropriate pathway based on their career and educational interests. Here, we look at what each degree level offers students and graduates. 
Length: 1-12 months
Cost: Varies
Post-grad careers: Computer support specialist, web developer, and computer programmer
Non-degree certificates may provide introductory or advanced training in computer forensics. These accelerated and focused programs may replace degrees for some entry-level positions. They may also offer graduate-level training for information technology professionals looking to specialize. 
These programs often focus on practical learning to ensure students get the most relevant training possible.
Length: One to two years
Cost: $11,389/year in 2018-19
Post-grad careers: Computer support specialist, computer programmer, and computer systems administrator
Students build a general education and information technology foundation in a computer forensics associate program. They also study the basics of the cybersecurity and computer forensics fields. They may learn to detect, protect against, and investigate the most common attacks. 
Graduates typically pursue entry-level careers in cybersecurity or other computer science jobs. They may also transfer credits toward a bachelor’s degree.
Length: Three to four years
Cost: $28,123/year in 2018-19
Post-grad careers: Information security analyst, computer systems analyst, and database architect
A comprehensive computer forensics degree at the bachelor’s level covers general education training, the principles of information technology, and specialized courses in computer forensics. Students learn how to protect systems against threats and thoroughly investigate afterward.  
Bachelor’s programs often provide practical training, including internships and hands-on projects. Graduates can qualify for most cybersecurity-related careers and many other computer occupations.
Length: One to two years
Cost: $19,792/year in 2019-20
Post-grad careers: Computer and information research scientist, computer and information systems manager, and computer network architect
Computer forensics training at the master’s level takes a more specialized approach than undergraduate programs. In addition to developing advanced cybersecurity skills, learners acquire an in-depth understanding of the digital forensics process. They learn to analyze systems to prepare and respond to attacks expertly. 
Master’s programs include both research and practical training. Graduates qualify for most computer occupations, including management and analyst roles. 
Length: Three to six years
Cost: $19,792/year in 2019-20
Post-grad careers: Postsecondary teacher, computer and information research scientist, and computer and information systems manager
Doctoral programs in computer forensics challenge students to innovate in the field. Students may research new technologies and investigative methods for forensics professionals or aim to change policy or legal procedures. 
These programs feature research and practical assignments over lectures. Students choose a specialization and complete a thesis at the end of their studies. Graduates often pursue teaching roles in colleges and universities, though managerial and research and development roles are also available. 
The online master’s in computer forensics prepares graduates for high-demand cybersecurity and information technology positions. 
The schools on this list offer some of the best programs in this exciting field. For more information, contact the specific schools and academic departments directly. 
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