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Published: Tuesday, 4/21/2009

Defiance College

From identity theft to financial fraud to child pornography, high-tech crime is on the rise. In addition, conventional crimes, such as drug deals and robberies, frequently involve cellphones or other personal electronic devices. With the variety and sophistication of technology continually growing, the ways of committing and hiding criminal activity are increasing, but so is the richness of the digital trails that are unwittingly left behind.

To address the need to fight cyber crime, Defiance College created a bachelor s degree program in digital forensic science. Now in its third year, the program recently graduated its first class of students. It is one of only a handful of such four-year programs in the country.

Digital forensics is the science of preserving, acquiring, and analyzing digital evidence. According to Dr. Gregg Gunsch, associate professor of digital forensic science at Defiance College, The problem isn t going to go away. This isn t a fad discipline. We re serving a very important niche by providing these well-trained students.

Gunsch says that digital evidence collection is a highly-disciplined process where repeatability and accuracy are crucial for evidence to be admissible in court. Students learn how to preserve the integrity of digital evidence; extract live, static, and deleted data from various media; and thoroughly document and present their findings.

A career in digital forensics may appeal to individuals who enjoy solving problems, are curious about how something works, do well with details, are comfortable with computers, and have an interest in crime-fighting.

Students take a series of criminal justice, computer and information technology fundamentals which feed into a core program consisting of computer-based forensics and network-based forensics at beginner and advanced levels. Then, they must take part in an internship in law enforcement or a business setting, and complete hands-on lab work and service learning projects.

Students graduate with two certifications: a CompTIA A+ certification as an IT technician and a nationally-recognized certification in digital forensics.

The Defiance College program grew out of an interest by local law enforcement to address the need for trained professionals in high-tech crime investigation. Domestic abuse, child pornography and stalking are some of the crimes currently on the rise because of the availability and anonymity of the Internet. It seems to harbor people who wouldn t normally risk these behaviors, says Gunsch. Nonetheless, they do leave a trail of electronic evidence on computers and cellphones even when people do a pretty good job of hiding it.

Gunsch, a retired Air Force officer, began teaching information system security in 1995 and was instrumental in establishing the Air Force Institute of Technology as a national Center of Academic Excellence in Information System Security Education. Digital forensics became an increasingly large component of that program.

He says that while the CSI effect has fueled interest in forensic science and digital forensic science in recent years, the suspenseful television portrayals are far from reality. This is hard work. It s often boring, he says. When he asked his first crop of college students why they took the risk on a new, uncharted major, many said they liked the idea of going after criminals. But mostly, he adds, they ve said it s giving back, it s technological, it s cool, and it s cutting edge.

Defiance College faculty will conduct a summer camp to give high school students a taste of crime investigation and forensics. Students will investigate a mock crime scene and learn how to search for and collect physical and digital evidence. The Detectives of Defiance: Got Clue? will be June 27 and 28. For information, persons may contact Gunsch at ggunsch@defiance.edu or Dr. Don Knueve at dknueve@defiance.edu.



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