Cyber sleuths are in demand as digital crime rises

In his mid-fifties, at an age when many people start to consider early retirement, Rob Harriman has returned to university. After 30 years in computing, the data-storage consultant is pursuing a new interest: technology and crime detection.

It's a risk for someone of his age, but Harriman hopes his grey hairs will lend him authority as an expert witness once he graduates in forensic computing from De Montfort University.

The subject is one of the biggest growth areas in higher education: three years ago, only four UK institutions offered undergraduate degrees in it; now there are 23.

"The opportunities for criminals to abuse digital electronics are countless, from mobile phones to the internet, from identity theft to child pornography. Forensic-computing scientists help prevent such crime and track down perpetrators," says Tim Watson, the course tutor and principal lecturer in computing at De Montfort in Leicester. Big firms are increasingly employing experts in computer forensics and, after the Enron scandal, anyone dealing with a US firm is expected to have in place a "forensic incidence response" procedure.

Computers are also involved in traditional crimes. "Police might seize a jewellery thief's computer and find he had been planning the route on Google Maps," says Watson. "Sometimes universities can get carried away with a new area when there aren't jobs for their graduates, but it looks as if there will be more demand than supply in forensics for some time to come."

As part of the four-year course, students spend a year on paid placements within industry and law enforcement, but mature students such as Harriman can opt out of the sandwich element. He investigated courses at several universities before deciding on De Montfort. Some of the courses at other universities, he felt, were not sufficiently attuned to what employers would need in terms of up-to-date computing and legal expertise. "I was looking for a course where forensics wasn't just a badge on a straightforward computing degree but the main focus," he says.

Ibby Nevill, 35, turned to the course at De Montfort when she felt her career in mainframe programming was reaching a dead end. She is paying her way through the course – her first degree was in maths at University of Nottingham – and hopes to work for the security services. "I got interested in crime-scene forensics while working as a special constable and I've got the clearances through being in the Territorial Army," she says.

Ronnie Smyth dropped out of education before taking his A-levels and worked in IT for two years before going back to college to complete his exams and applying to university. "There are a lot of people doing computing courses – having a specialism makes it easier to find a good job," he says.

The popularity of forensics courses has boosted computer departments, which have suffered a 45 per cent reduction in applications between 2003 and 2006, according to e-skills UK, the sector's skills council. "These courses are helping universities respond to the demand of employers," says Karen Price, its chief executive. "Cyber crime is growing and the demand for experts is growing with it. Young people will also get useful, transferable skills."

The longest-running courses are at the Royal Military College of Science at Cranfield University, which has offered part-time postgraduate qualifications for 10 years under Professor Tony Sams and Professor Brian Jenkinson, who have appeared for the police and security services in many high-profile cases. The courses cost from £4,800 for a one-year postgraduate certificate to £8,500 for a three-year MSc.

Students must be trained not only how to detect evidence but to collect it and present it within the legal system in a way acceptable to the courts, says Marc Kirby of Cranfield's Centre for Forensic Computing.

The subject is hard work and demanding but the jobs are out there, he says. "There are positions advertised on appointments sites offering £45,000 for senior specialists in computer forensics and up to £85,000 for managers."

With specialists in high demand and able to command large salaries, the challenge for universities as more courses become available will be to recruit and retain their lecturers.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

PPA Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Primary Teaching Jobs Available NOW-Southport

£80 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Due to an increase in dema...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...

Year 3 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: KS2 TeacherWould you like ...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London