Professionals looking at forensics data on a monitor

What's the Difference Between Cybersecurity and Computer Forensics?

If you're looking to start out your career in a high-growth field, or are interested in making a career change after years in the workforce, a technology-oriented field is a great place to start. Many people have heard that jobs in the information security industry are poised for significant growth over the next decade, come with high median salaries, and offer job security due to the demand for well-trained professionals in the field. However, when they begin researching their career options, they realize that the industry is much larger than they might have anticipated, with many different paths available.

Two of today's most in-demand professions in the information security sector are cybersecurity and computer forensics - fields that, on the surface, might seem like they do the same work. However, while both share some significant commonalities, they're quite different in the scope and duties required of each.

If you know that information security is the industry for you but are having difficulty deciding between cybersecurity and computer forensics, read on to understand the differences between the two fields.


Cybersecurity vs. Computer Forensics

Let's start by what cybersecurity and computer forensics have in common: both focus on the protection of digital assets and intelligence. Individuals in both fields are employed in virtually all industries and sectors, from non-profit organizations to government entities to private corporations and enterprises - as more and more businesses recognize the importance of securing their systems and technologies, both cybersecurity and computer forensics professionals are finding their skills in high demand.

However, the two professions are not synonymous. In fact, it's helpful to think of cybersecurity and computer forensics as two essential sides of the same coin - the work they do is very similar, but differs in a few key ways.

To put it simply, cybersecurity is about prevention, while computer forensics is about response. Or, in other words: the cybersecurity team works to implement and maintain a robust information security system, with the intention of defending an organization from cyber attacks; in the event that their efforts fail, and a breach is made, the computer forensics team works to identify the hack, understand the source, and recover compromised data. The two fields are highly reliant on one another to maintain ongoing network security for organizations across numerous industries and sectors.

What Does a Cybersecurity Degree Entail?

As mentioned above, cybersecurity is all about prevention. As a result, a cybersecurity degree will give students hands-on experience in applying security measures to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data. Students will leave a cybersecurity degree program with the ability to evaluate a computer network and the information security needs of an organization, and to assess and implement cybersecurity risk management policies. They'll learn how to measure the performance of, troubleshoot, maintain, and update, enterprise-level information security systems, and provide real-time security solutions through continuous network monitoring. Communication, especially as it relates to short- and long-term organizational cybersecurity strategies and policies, is particularly emphasized. Courses will include everything from network fundamentals to an introduction to operating system to ethical hacking to web page development, ensuring graduates have a well-rounded set of technology skills.

What Does a Computer Forensics Degree Entail?

On the flip side, a computer forensics degree will give students experience in identifying and responding to cybersecurity breaches and network hacks that have already happened. They'll learn to do this work across a variety of technologies, from computers to mobile devices. Graduates of a B.S. in computer forensics degree program will have a deep knowledge of (and ability to interpret and apply) laws and procedures associated with identifying, acquiring, examining, and presenting digital evidence. They'll learn to conduct efficient, high-quality digital forensics investigations, through fundamental computer theory, industry trends and best practices, an understanding of white-collar crime methods, and cutting-edge digital forensics tools. Courses will have a dual focus on both law and technology, with classes in criminal law and procedure, criminal investigation, and white-collar crime complementing in-depth, computer-focused classes focusing on forensics of mobile technology, files, malware, and operating systems, and much more.

Cybersecurity and Computer Forensics Career Paths

Now that we've examined the differences between the two fields, it's important to get a sense of where each degree can lead you, as the career paths can be quite different.

A cybersecurity degree will qualify you for a number of different of jobs in cyber incidence response, cyber risk and strategic analysis, vulnerability detection and assessment, and more. These jobs are widely available in all sectors, and are especially in-demand in the federal government, where cybersecurity is designated as a mission-critical function.

A computer forensics degree prepares you to work as a specialist in organizations that are particularly susceptible to, or concerned about, network breaches. These include mid- to large-sized corporations, crime laboratories, large municipalities or state and national law enforcement agencies.  

Deciding Between a Cybersecurity Degree and a Computer Forensics Degree

Ultimately, the decision between these two degrees comes down to which program contains coursework that's most interesting to you, and which one will lead you to a career that you can see yourself in. Do you think you'll enjoy the challenge of creating a robust, secure system that can't be breached? Or does the thought of tracing the steps of a cybercrime interest you more?

As noted above, the fields of cybersecurity and computer forensics have much in common, and this overlap can present an additional challenge for students to decide between the two programs. However, these commonalities should be seen as a positive thing: it means that strong programs will give students insight into both fields, to help them understand the big picture of information security. In other words, a good cybersecurity degree program will give students the opportunity to learn about computer forensics, and vice versa. This gives students the opportunity to broaden their skillsets, and helps them understand how to work better with professionals in either field.


About the Author

Sonya Krakoff

Senior Content Marketing Specialist

Sonya Krakoff is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist at Champlain College Online, where she is the voice behind the CCO blog and helps tell the school's story across multiple digital platforms. Sonya has extensive experience in writing, content marketing, and editing for mission-driven businesses and non-profit organizations, and holds a bachelor's degree in English (with a focus on creative writing) from St. Lawrence University.

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