New Track Delves into Forensics


Chris May

Fans of 24 know that Jack Bauer's heroic ability to protect national security is only possible with the help of Chloe, his most trusted IT guru and networking genius. Cyber sleuthing is not just a part of Hollywood espionage and crime stories. Real-life investigations depend on this highly valued but all too rare technical expertise.

In Fall 2009, the INI will launch the Forensics Track to educate top talent in the cyber security field on how to conduct forensically sound digital investigations. It will be an option for students in Pittsburgh who are enrolled in either the Master of Science in Information Networking program or the Master of Science in Information Security Technology Management program. The INI offers the track in partnership with Carnegie Mellon's Software Engineering Institute (SEI), whose CERT® Program has long been at the side of government and law enforcement agencies when it comes to cyber forensics.

The SEI has been a federally funded research and development center since 1984. As recently as September 2008, officials credited SEI for its assistance in cracking the largest identity theft case in history. From the CERT® Program at SEI, a computer forensics team gave training and tools to help uncover electronic evidence during the U.S. Secret Service's investigation of a group who had stolen over 40 million credit and debit card numbers from shoppers at major retail stores.

Students who choose the Forensics Track as part of their master's program will obtain the skills and knowledge required to perform the investigations on computers and systems for which CERT® has earned its reputation. Students will devote a security elective (12 units) and their curriculum option (36 units) to developing the special skills.

CERT® faculty, using state-of-the-art software, will teach each of the courses in the track and will include projects that give students hands-on experience. Upon completion, students will earn a certificate sanctioned by CERT®, in addition to a master's degree in their program of choice.

The Forensics Track is the latest incentive offered at the INI to attract students who are interested in the field of information security. Another program, Scholarship for Service, provides a full scholarship to students who are U.S. citizens and willing to work for the government after graduation. The INI in partnership with Alta Associates also offers the Executive Women's Forum Fellowship, a full scholarship offered to an American minority student who will study information security.

With programs such as the Forensics Track, the INI is addressing the growing need for talent in information security. Between 2002 and 2012, the U.S. Department of Education estimates that 1,500,000 jobs related to computer and information technology will be added to the nation's workforce, while U.S. universities will graduate enough qualified candidates to fulfill only 50 percent of these jobs. The INI expects that organizations will be eager to seek out graduates who obtain the CERT® certificate in Forensics for their competency to perform forensically sound digital investigations.