Online Degrees

Full Program Lists

Criminal Justice Careers

Follow Us

5 Things Criminal Justice Majors Should Know About Digital Forensics

By Ryan Lerminiaux

From computers to cell phones and MP3 players, technology truly is everywhere these days. As technology continues to grow, so will the careers associated with it. In criminal justice, that career is digital forensics from computer investigation to e-discovery and computer security. Below are the five digital forensics tips, each aspiring criminal justice professional should keep in mind.

1. Intel Is Your Friend

When you begin a new case, do not be afraid to ask your client a lot of questions. The more information you have at your disposal, the easier your job as an investigator becomes. What type of programs does your client use on a regular basis? Do they make a habit of encrypting their files? Does your client have an email server on site, or do they used web-based email? Try to gather enough information to make a rough infrastructure map in your head. These details will allow you to make informed decisions throughout the case and to help your client in the most efficient manner possible.

2. Hit A Dead End? Think Again

As with any type of investigation, sometimes a lead turns out to be a dead end, and the same is true in the digital forensics field. A good digital investigator will always have several methods to approach and investigate a dataset. For example, if you are trying to reconstruct an email message and one of your tools isn't handling the email properly, don't be afraid to try another tool.

3. Know Your Tools

There are hundreds of computer forensic products available to a digital investigator. A good digital investigator knows the strengths and weakness of the tools and software at his or her disposal. Some tools excel at processing and handling email, while others are mainly used for recovering deleted information from a hard drive. Think about it: you wouldn't use a wrench to drive a nail into a wall.

4. The Scientific Method Is Your Friend

While there are many sources of good information about computer forensic software available on the internet, it never hurts to do some independent research and testing of your own. You can do this by creating a control dataset and testing the different variables in the software. You may be required to prove your findings to a client or jury, and you will be much more confident in them if you know how your tools and software work. Always test your tools and software to ensure they are working the way you intend and that you are getting accurate results.

5. You Can't Win 'Em All

Sometimes the "smoking gun" or crucial piece of evidence that a client would like you to find simply does not exist. In fact, this happens more often than not. As a digital investigator, this is your reality, and you will have to learn to manage your client's expectations accordingly.

Mr. Lerminiaux holds a B.A. in Criminal Justice from Michigan State University. For the last three years he has been an Associate at Jones Dykstra & Associates, Inc., a Maryland-based computer forensics and e-discovery company. He has participated in over 200 computer forensic and e-discovery investigations.