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What is computer forensics?

As legend has it, when a reporter asked Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, he replied, That’s where the money is.

The word ALERT in capital letters set in red against a computer screenToday, the money has been moved to the Internet, where a new generation of criminals is now wreaking havoc. There were more attacks in 2019 than in the five years prior, according to Accenture. Cyber thieves have been stealing credit card numbers, hacking into bank accounts and selling personal data in ever-greater numbers, with a 67% increase in 2019.

Cybersecurity is responsible for building digital walls to stop these breaches. But sometimes the hackers still break through, and that’s where computer forensics experts step in to find out what happened, how it happened, and who did it. These experts often start and launch their careers with computer science degrees.

“People often imagine most computer science graduates get jobs as programmers,” said John Hale, chair of The University of Tulsa’s Tandy School of Computer Science. “A lot of them do. But as technology pervades every aspect of our lives, criminals have followed – even gotten ahead in some cases. To stop them, law enforcement agencies need tech experts who understand the innermost workings of digital devices and computer networks.”

At TU, which offers a minor in cyber security, you’ll be thoroughly trained in coding, computer networks and advanced mathematics – the three disciplines that form the foundation of computer science. You’ll also be able to take courses covering topics such as network security, e-commerce and system administration.

If you want a career in computer forensics, you’ll need to understand how computers store data, in order to sift through terabytes of information to find evidence of wrongdoing. And you’ll also need to know how computer networks are built, so you can retrace hackers’ steps and see where they got in.

A decade or two ago, computer forensics was often limited to examining a suspect’s hard drive for documents. Today, with the rise of cloud computing and the proliferation of digital devices, investigators may find themselves needing to examine text messages on multiple phones, crack encrypted files on flash drives and gain access to data on remote servers. Identifying evidence online can be painstaking work, but TU-educated professionals come prepared with essential skills in computer science.

Before any investigation can start, analysts need to make sure the network is secure by purging any malware, most of which sends information back to hackers. Then, investigators sift through log files to find where a breach may have occurred. Often, hackers leave red herrings to cover their tracks — they may delete files as they go, insert code that appears to blame others or leave digital fingerprints that appear to originate thousands of miles from where they may really be located.

At the same time, computer forensics experts also need a thorough grounding in criminal justice techniques, such as how to collect evidence, maintain a chain of custody and testify in court.

These skills are hard to find, and it shows. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of jobs for information security analysts is expected to grow by 31% through 2029. That’s very fast. And the pay reflects the shortage: median salaries in the field are $103,590 a year.

Pursue a career in cybersecurity at The University of Tulsa

With a TU computer science degree or a minor in cyber security, you can launch a career in computer forensics. TU grads have gone on to work for institutions such as the National Security Agency, the FBI, Department of Defense, Department of Justice and Department of Energy.


Cybersecurity careers in 2021: Big threats, bigger opportunities

Curious what’s keeping business leaders awake at night? Google the phrase “cybersecurity threats” and you’ll get a good idea of the vulnerabilities they see lurking in 2021. 

Ransomware that targets home offices.  

Phishing scams that convince employees to turn over sensitive information, like passwords.  

Hackers who turn seemingly innocuous Internet of Things devices into vehicles for malware.  

computer system screen with yellow alert triangle and words System HackedAs the security risks grow, so do the job opportunities for graduates of cybersecurity programs. In the U.S. alone, there’s already a shortage of 500,000 cybersecurity pros — and the gap is only getting wider. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for information security analysts is expected to increase by 31% through 2029, a jump that dwarfs most other professions. And these are high-paying jobs: Median pay is $103,590 a year. 

But that pales next to what businesses stand to lose from weak security. In 2021, worldwide cybercrime losses are expected to amount to $1 trillion, according to a study released in December by McAfee. And the COVID-19 pandemic is only exacerbating the threat. The FBI has said that cybercrime attacks quadrupled last spring. 

As you look at the cybersecurity landscape and assess why this field will grow for years to come, consider these factors: 

Working from home reveals new threats. Businesses have enough trouble guarding their offices against cybersecurity attacks. But when COVID-19 shutdowns resulted in millions of employees suddenly working from home, the risk blossomed. Poorly configured remote networks make it that much easier for hackers to make their way into corporate systems. At the same time, while cloud computing has made it easier than ever for workers to access resources online, that also requires new defenses to protect the data stored there. 

Always connected = always at risk. By 2025, more than 30 billion Internet of Things devices are expected to be in use. And every one of those light switches, refrigerators, televisions and doorbells represents a possible vulnerability. Bots that commandeer devices to launch distributed denial of service attacks, pump out malware and tunnel their way into our home computers — exposing our most private information — are already a threat. 

Every industry is hiring, because no industry is immune. Quick, name an industry that doesn’t rely on technology. You can’t, which is why every industry needs cybersecurity professionals. As a graduate of a cybersecurity program, you’ll find opportunity almost everywhere you look.  

Hacking is an arms race. For every step forward taken by cybersecurity experts, hackers are already looking for another weakness. More and more, the enemy is backed by powerful interests: Governments are ramping up their support of cyber sleuthing and hacking to disrupt economies (and worse). Last year, in the notorious Solar Winds hack, Russian spies infiltrated thousands of government agencies and businesses by piggybacking malicious code onto a frequently used network management tool. And earlier this winter, hackers sponsored by the Chinese government targeted email software made by Microsoft.  

While the potential costs are enormous, businesses stand to lose something of even greater value when their cyber defenses fail: The public’s trust. If they sense companies aren’t good stewards of their private information, they’ll turn elsewhere. 

Minor in cybersecurity at The University of Tulsa 

The threats are real and TU students can get a head start on facing them down with a minor in cybersecurity. The minor, offered through the Tandy School of Computer Science, is open to students from other disciplines. This 12-credit minor includes courses in computer science, security, computer networks and more. You’ll also have the chance to participate with faculty on ongoing cybersecurity research projects that help protect wearable devices, critical infrastructure and more. 


Computer science: The best degree in tech

If you wrote an algorithm to find the best degree in tech, you’d need it to check a few big boxes.  

You’d want a degree that led to high job satisfaction. Opportunities pretty much everywhere you look. Top-of-the-charts pay. A degree with the chance to mix right-brain creativity with left-brain number-crunching and analytical skills. 

With those inputs, your program would likely say: “Get a computer science degree!” 

For years, the amount of computer science jobs have outnumbered eligible candidates. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, two-thirds of all new STEM jobs are in computing — but just 11% of STEM bachelor’s degrees are in computer science. 

close-up photo of a young man at a desk with two laptop computers and a pad of paper open in front of himCOVID-19 has only accelerated the need for skilled software programmers, web developers, network architects and other jobs you can pursue with a major in computer science. 

“Companies have accelerated the digitization of their customer and supply-chain interactions and of their internal operations by three to four years,” wrote the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. in a report published in October. “And the share of digital or digitally enabled products in their portfolios has accelerated by a shocking seven years.” 

Everything’s going digital, fast. And students with computer science degrees are in a prime position to benefit. 

Starting salaries for computer science grads are expected to rise this year by 7.1%, to $72,173. That’s the highest among all the majors surveyed, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.  

Nearly half of the employers surveyed in the study said they plan to hire newly minted computer science graduates this spring. And those jobs aren’t just in Silicon Valley. Organizations everywhere seek out the kind of skills computer science graduates bring to the table. 

“Computer science is an incredibly versatile degree,” said John Hale, chair of the Tandy School of Computer Science at The University of Tulsa. “Every business, every organization, relies on the skills that computer science graduates bring to the table. People tend to think of computer scientists simply as programmers, but it’s a much broader field than that.”  

In fact, you probably won’t find a lot of job postings for “computer scientist.” Instead, you’ll see job titles such as “data scientist” (average pay: $100,560), “network architect” (median pay: $112,690 a year), “information security analyst” (median pay: $99,730 a year), “network administrator” (median pay: $83,510 a year) and “web developer” (median pay: $73,760 a year).  

Here are just a few of the places where computer science skills are put to work: 

  • Data centers. Behind all the websites and apps we all rely on, big data centers power the Internet. How big, you ask? Amazon’s data operation, Amazon Web Services, pulled in more revenue last year than Coca-Cola. At The University of Tulsa, our expertise in web services, sensors, cloud computing and cybersecurity gives you a leg up in pursuing work on the Cloud of Things.  
  • Government. Cybersecurity is a growing threat — and to keep people safe, government agencies need more computer science experts than they can find. Some estimates hold that the U.S. needs to boost its workforce by more than 60% to fill available positions. 
  • Health care. Computers are reshaping medicine, from the laboratory to the patient bedside. Increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence help researchers turn piles of data into leads for new treatments. And as hospitals and other organizations put patient records online, skilled computer science experts are needed to not just build those networks but to also ensure they stay secure. 
  • Retail. Increasingly, “going shopping” means logging online. The National Retail Federation predicts that online sales will jump nearly 20% in 2021, accounting for a quarter of all retail revenue. But making sure customers can find what they want, when they want it, is a huge challenge. And it’s one that computer science grads can help solve, as they develop systems to predict demand and ensure the right products are in stock on store shelves and warehouses. 

Learn more about computer science at The University of Tulsa 

The Tandy School of Computer Science at TU has been preparing students for careers like these for many years. With majors and minors in computer science and computer simulation and gaming, as well as minors in bioinformatics, computational sciences, cybersecurity, data science and high-performance computing, you’ll build a foundation for any of these careers — and discover skills for ones that haven’t even been invented yet. In our advanced labs, specializing in Internet-connected consumer devices, critical infrastructure, network architecture and more, you have a chance to participate in meaningful research early on, even as an undergraduate. 

What can you do with a degree in computer science?

If you want to know what you can do with a computer science degree, just imagine what life would look like without computer science.  

Netflix wouldn’t give you any spot-on recommendations for your binge. Siri couldn’t tell you driving directions for your spring break road trip. Your Roomba would bounce off the walls. And good luck trying to lock down your data from prying eyes. 

By 2029, employers will likely add more than 530,000 jobs in computer and information technology, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — far higher than most fields. And those jobs are at the top of the heap when it comes to pay. According to Glassdoor, grads with computer science degrees often find entry-level positions starting at $70,000, the highest of all the majors it surveyed. 

young woman with glasses seated at a desk in front of a computerAs a graduate from The University of Tulsa’s computer science program, you’ll have the skills to land a job in one of the fastest-growing parts of the economy. 

At TU, computer science majors are equipped with the tools necessary to work with emerging technologies such as cloud computing, gaming and simulation, bioinformatics, computer security, robotics and more. At the same time you put your analytical skills to work through advanced math, programming and computer architecture, you’ll also tap your creative side — because solving thorny technical problems requires flexible thinking.  

In-demand skills

While many grads wind up with jobs in the tech industry, these days, just about every sector of the economy needs the type of programming and problem-solving skills that computer science grads bring to the table. You’ll have opportunities to pursue careers such as: 

  • Data scientist. Our always-on society produces torrents of information. Data scientists see through the static and put it to use. A credit card company, for instance, might use data science to find fraudulent charges. Climate researchers may use it to produce more accurate forecasting models. 
  • Enterprise architect. Ever have a hard time picking the right technology to fit your needs? Now imagine doing it for an entire organization — often spread across different cities, states or even countries. Enterprise architects assess an organization’s goals and develop tech solutions that fit the business. 
  • Software engineer. We’re surrounded by so much technology — and without software, a lot of it is useless. The apps on your smartphone, of course, rely on it. But so does your car, your TV, your kitchen appliances, maybe even your toothbrush. 
  • Web developer. Some web developers make websites easy to use. Others write the behind-the-scenes code that performs increasingly complex tasks. And some do a bit of both.  
  • Systems analyst. A basic rule of technology: The computer system an organization installs today is already out of date tomorrow. Systems analysts help design efficient computer systems that meet organizational needs. 

Major in computer science at The University of Tulsa 

As a student in the Tandy School of Computer Science, you’ll select from two computer science majors: Computer science or computer simulation and gaming. As a simulation and gaming major, you’ll choose either a design or development track. And a host of minors, including bioinformatics, computational science, cybersecurity, data science and high-performance computing let you specialize even more.  

No matter which path you choose, you’ll get a basic introduction to computer science in your first two years, such as programming skills, ethics and data structures. In years three and four, you’ll drill down into your program, learning more about topics such as databases, artificial intelligence, game programming, computer graphics and more. Throughout it all, you’ll have the opportunity to conduct research alongside faculty in our advanced computing facilities that help put your skills into practical applications.