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?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning:The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam