Headline-making data breaches such as the recent Ashley Madison hack are drawing attention to the need for professionals who can stop cyber criminals in their tracks.
Professor of Information Technology Bryan Burkhardt at Des Moines Area Community College says a vast spectrum of computer-related crimes including identity theft, harassment and virtual terrorism are becoming increasingly common.
“As we continue to push more and more of our lives into a digital fashion, there are more and more opportunities for bad guys and bad gals to use digital devices to help commit crime,” he says. “So, therefore, that need is just going to escalate.”
He says there are opportunities for cyber-security professionals in both the public and private sectors. At the state and federal level, they help law enforcement agencies investigate computer criminals such as hackers or child predators. In the private sector, cyber-security experts can prevent and assess emerging threats.
Des Moines Area Community College offers a two-year program in criminal justice with an emphasis on electronic investigation. Burkhardt says students learn how digital data is stored, used and deleted, along with vital communication and problem-solving skills for cyber crime fighting.
“They also understand that the computer can only tell one component of it, or the digital device or mobile phone can only tell one component of it,” he says. “It’s ultimately also linking it with a human story.”
As technology evolves, Burkhardt notes there will be a lifetime of learning for computer crime experts. And he says a good candidate will also have an understanding of legal rights, as well as a curiosity to search for answers to questions that have never been asked.
“You merge the scientist, the respectful legal entity as well as the technology-strength person, and you’ve got yourself a very good digital investigator,” he says.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for cyber detectives and investigators was about $77,000 per year in July 2014.