cyber security - College of Engineering & Computer Science

cyber security

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.


TU alumni John and Crystal Lister battle cyber threats

As University of Tulsa alumni, John and Crystal Lister are exploring the exciting career possibilities that a degree from the TU Tandy School of Computer Science provides. The husband and wife are members of the senior leadership team at Global Professional Services Group (GPSG) in Reston, Virginia. Although GPSG is primarily a recruiting company, John and Crystal implement their cyber capabilities to grow the enterprise and flex their cyber muscles in the digital security sector. They trace the expertise and skillset required to accomplish such a task back to Tulsa and their experience with cybersecurity projects at TU.

Learn more about a graduate degree in cybersecurity or computer science at TU.

Finding the TU Cyber Corps program

listerThe Listers first met while taking courses at Tulsa Community College and later married as undergraduate students at the University of Oklahoma. John was recruited to the TU Cyber Corps program, turning down a job in Australia, to begin his master’s degree. Crystal’s background in business and finance initially led her to a job at Boeing Co., where she also became interested in Cyber Corps.

“I started reflecting on how I could give back to my country — I was in the eighth grade at the time of the 1995 Oklahoma City Murrah Building bombing, and I was an undergrad during 9/11,” Crystal said.

Both Crystal and John taught computer classes at Moore Norman Technology Center to support themselves as undergraduates at OU. Their patriotism combined with a natural passion for understanding the intersection of the human element and technology led them to TU. They completed master of science degrees in computer science and fulfilled the Cyber Corps professional segment with federal service.

“It was a fantastic opportunity to use the brand-new skills TU had just developed to help the government safeguard assets for the American people and to strengthen operations to better defend the country,” John said about his federal service as a cyber officer.

For more than 10 years, Crystal also served in cyber threats and counterintelligence, informing senior policymakers about technical risks to infrastructure and operations.

“I was able to use a lot of the background from OU and TU blended together to provide insights on technical threats,” Crystal said. “My time here at TU instantly equipped me to hit the ground running and start making that contribution to our country.”

Careers at GPSG

The couple leverages their computer science and business backgrounds in the private sector today. John, vice president of cyber capabilities, and Crystal, senior director, insider and cyber threats, are instrumental in helping GPSG clients understand cybersecurity vulnerabilities and develop custom security programs.

lister“We’ll help a company transition to the Cloud or find encryption or data protection solutions to protect them against nonstate hackers and more stealthy, persistent adversaries,” John said.

Crystal oversees GPSG’s internal insider threat risk management program and engages with executive clients on cybersecurity consulting, developing methodologies to help clients move securely to Cloud solutions, protect data and set up insider risk programs. Her team has created an interactive scenarios training curriculum on prevention, detection and response of insider threats for clients.

TU the foundation of their success

listerCrystal says TU courses such as digital forensics prepared her for the career she’s built today. “I loved everything about it,” she said. “It helped me become a leader later, managing targeting, technical digital media exploitation teams and looking for key insights to support our policymakers.”

John said their student experience in Cyber Corps involved incredibly unique partnerships with public service organizations such as the Tulsa Police Department and federal units. They contributed to solving criminal cases, analyzing cell phone forensics and other critical operations. Those hands-on components laid the groundwork for successful ventures later in their careers.

“The opportunities we had here at TU to collaborate with the technical community helped us become leaders in the cyber industry,” he said.