STEM and Computer Forensics

The overall field of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is defined by the National Science Foundation to include a wide variety of industries. These include but are not limited to biology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, information science and all computer-related disciplines, physics, astronomy and space-related work, robotics and automation, and medicine. The industries that are a part of STEM are important to every facet of society, from farming to law enforcement and the military. Because of this, the United States has various local and national programs dedicated to educating and training people for STEM-related work. From the Boy Scouts of America's NOVA awards to the Federal-level America COMPETES Act of 2007, there are a wide variety of initiatives designed to encourage and fund participation in STEM-related training.

One of the important STEM-based fields in the law enforcement community is computer forensics. Computer forensics is part of the forensics science wing of law enforcement, which involves gathering evidence from computing devices and digital data storage systems. A lot of modern crimes such as assaults and murders are committed with the help of computers, and other crimes are committed entirely on computers, one example being software piracy. The ability to commit criminal acts using computers makes it necessary for law enforcement agencies to employ people who are experts in this field. The systems that they need to investigate vary widely, from cell phones and tablet computers to gaming consoles, as well as desktop computers, servers, and mainframes. Furthermore, civil cases also use computer forensics to gather evidence for lawsuits and other legal actions. Criminal trials have been using evidence gathered off computers since the 1980s.

Computer forensics experts work by extracting data off of computer systems and storage media. The job of a computer forensics worker starts with acquiring the computer or media in question and securing it from unauthorized access. Then they must discover all of the data that is available on the storage media, including restoring deleted data, unscrambling encrypted data, and finding information that is hidden by various means. The next step involves analysis of the acquired data for relevant evidence. A forensics expert must document every step that they take in order for their data acquisition and analysis to be considered admissible in a court of law. Finally, they will have to testify in court about what they have found.

One highly important aspect of computer forensics is preserving the integrity of the data that's acquired. In order to do so, experts must follow certain guidelines in order to make sure that the data they gather to serve as evidence is not tainted. This includes extracting data without allowing anything to modify it while they are transferring or storing the information. Any alterations to the data would make it inadmissible in court due to laws concerning evidence tampering.

Investigators have a wide variety of hardware and software based computer forensics tools available for investigative purposes. Some physical tools, such as cables, are designed to help them connect to a computer or storage device in order to acquire data without tainting the information. Software tools exist to perform a number of tasks, including network traffic analysis, data extraction and also decryption. Forensics experts can choose from tools to analyze mobile devices or even data stored in volatile or non-permanent RAM.

For more information about computer forensics and the STEM industry, please visit these following links.

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