Postgrad Lives: 'Mobile phones are involved in pretty much any crime'

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The Independent Online

Stewart Higham, 22, recently completed an MSc in digital forensics at the University of Teesside.

So what did the course involve?

Any time you mention forensics, people tend to assume you're talking about the police drama CSI. But digital forensics relates specifically to the involvement of digital media – from computers to mobile phones – in a criminal investigation. People who carry mobile phones will play some sort of role in pretty much any crime, so digital evidence is hugely important.

Why did you choose this course?

I've always had an interest in computers, but when I was at school I didn't do too well in one of the exams, which prevented me from doing it at university. I was eventually able to do crime scene science at BSc level, and at the end of that I heard about this course focusing on the digital side, which seemed a natural choice.

How is the course taught?

It's broken down into blocks of study, so you have a week of lectures followed by a series of assignments, an investigation or a small exam. There were six modules, the final one being a research project.

What did you choose as your research area?

I was looking into online corporate identity fraud. I discovered there had been very little research done in this area, and into "phishing" scams involving emails that ask for your details. The reason they work is because the scammer is able to pass themselves off as a legitimate corporation, so I looked at how they were able to do that and how companies could minimise it, which would save them a lot of money in the long run.

What do you like best about the course you took?

I really enjoyed working with computers, especially the investigative side of learning how to extract information from them. It was fascinating to learn how to trace where an email has originally come from, even if it appears to have come from somewhere else.

And what is the most difficult thing about it?

Some people on the course hadn't come from a computing background, so they had a bit of difficulty getting their head around how the technical details of it worked. Fortunately, thanks to my interest in computers, I didn't find it hard.

Will the course set you up well for the future?

The university has good links with quite a few employers and I've pretty much been guaranteed a job already. There are a lot of positions available because there's a lot of demand for these kinds of services and there aren't a lot of people doing these degrees at university. The vast majority of work is for private companies, who are then contracted by the police or other organisations to conduct investigations. Before working, I'm intending to do a PhD, which will expand upon the research I did for my thesis.

How much did it cost?

The one-year MSc was £3,850.