Digital forensics taking hold as students work with existing, emerging media

Topics: College of Sciences and Humanities, Immersive Learning, Emerging Media

October 8, 2009

"CSI" has nothing on Ball State University, where students are learning to use the latest computer hardware and software programs to recover potential evidence from digital devices.

A growing need for police departments, federal agencies and private companies across the nation to employ highly educated professionals to search digital devices for evidence led to the creation of a minor in digital forensics as well as the development of the Digital Forensics Lab, said Michael Brown, a criminal justice professor who was part of a multidepartment team that oversaw the initiative.

"In today's information centered world, investigators must be able to access information on a variety of cell phones, MP3 players, laptop computers, PDAs and any emerging media coming onto the scene," Brown said. "We know that about 90 percent of information is transferred and stored on digital devices.

"After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, people in criminal justice fields quickly realized the need to have professionals ready to work in digital forensics. We firmly believe it has been one of the keys to providing security to this country over the last several years."

Valuable to investigators

The Digital Forensics Lab is an environment where students learn advanced skills to complete forensic captures of hard drives, mobile devices and learn about emerging technologies in the field.

Starting at Ball State this fall, the minor in digital forensics is offered by the departments of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Computer Science and Geography. With this minor, a student may pursue the career path of a computer forensic examiner, an electronic discovery specialist or a legal career specializing in criminal and civil law related to computers. The minor does not require a background in computer programming.

James Hendricks, chair of the criminal justice department, points out that the use of the lab and the newly created minor underscores the importance of Ball State's Emerging Media Initiative (EMI), a $17.7 million investment focusing the university's historic strengths in this area, accelerating benefits to the state of Indiana with media-savvy human capital.

"Right now there are few people possessing these skills," he said. "To have digital forensic experience will give any person a leg up in the job market."

Owen LaChat, a former Muncie Police Department detective who now serves as the information systems security auditor for Ball State and assists with the lab, said the minor will allow students to keep up with the advances in the field of digital forensics.

"It will be extremely valuable for students to work with a forensic toolkit," he said. "The number of qualified job candidates with experience with these tools is very small. Employers realize this and are willing to pay for that experience." 

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