2015pr086picA North East University is one of only two in the UK to have its computer forensic programmes accredited by the Professional Body, the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences.

The University of Sunderland’s BSc (Hons) Computer Forensics and the BSc (Hons) Computer Forensics (Sandwich) courses have both received the esteemed accreditation.

The areas of the course evaluated for the accreditation include interpretation; evaluation and presentation of evidence; computer network evidence recovery and analysis; digital evidence analysis, recovery and preservation.

Teaching staff at the University were commended in the letter of notification, ‘on their enthusiasm and commitment to their contribution to the programme’.

Professor Alastair Irons, from the Faculty of Applies Sciences at the University of Sunderland commented: “We are delighted that our computer forensics programmes have been given this national recognition – it is testimony to the hard work of the academic staff, the motivation of the students and the collaboration with employers.”

The panel was also impressed by the nature, scope and extended use of practical assessment on the course, and judged the skills obtained via this method ‘relevant to industry and potentially advantageous in the job market’; while inclusion of options on telecoms and cyber security were deemed as ‘forward looking and valuable to potential employers’.

Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Julie Mennell said: “This is a tremendous honour for the University of Sunderland and is testament to the cutting–edge teaching in this subject, as well as the hard work and commitment of the staff involved. The accreditation sets our University apart in the growing cyber-security area, which in turn will create additional opportunities for undergraduates through links with business and make them more attractive to employers once they graduate.”

The primary aim of the University’s computer forensic programmes is to provide education on the theory and practice of computing, with special emphasis on computer and digital forensics. The programme aims to produce highly skilled and professional graduates with abilities in resolving computer forensic problems and cases.

Students learn to preserve the integrity of evidence, develop and manage computing solutions, be knowledgeable of current and emergent technologies, understand legal, social, ethical and professional responsibilities of computer forensics practitioners and have a broad awareness of the computing industry.

BSc (Hons) Computer Forensics (Sandwich) Forensic undergraduate Charlotte Knill (22) commented: “I’m just about to start my final year after spending a year on placement with Northumbria Police, I knew that I wanted to work there and I made sure it happened!”

Charlotte was unsure what career she wanted to pursue until she did a BTEC in IT while in Sixth Form at St Roberts in Washington, Sunderland. But once decided there was no stopping her.

“It all started at St Roberts; I like to keep in touch with the news and current affairs, and I was seeing an increase in cases where police were examining devices to find evidence as part of their criminal investigations. I did more research and thought ‘this is what I want to do’; it was a quick decision.

“Once I’d made the decision everything quickly fell into place. I went from that decision to starting my degree at Sunderland, then going to work with Northumbria Police in their hi-tech crime unit.”

Charlotte looked at other Universities in the region offering a similar course but chose Sunderland for the impressive course content and because of the appealing environment; “I’m based at St Peter’s Campus and the riverside location really appealed to me when I visited, it felt bright and welcoming.”

Asked about what she did while at Northumbria Police Charlotte commented: “Forensic Computing is about finding things hidden on a device. Police will seize the devices of a suspect and examine the hard drive. In some cases the evidence will be easy to find, whereas other criminals will do whatever they can to hide what they’re doing and we have to go in and retrieve evidence that may have been deleted. It’s not just laptops that the team examine either, phones and tablets are searched too; in one case there may be eight devices.”

While on placement in Northumbria Police’s high-tech crime unit Charlotte began looking at simple things, such as retrieving a text that had been deleted, before moving on to hard drives. On a complex case she would learn by shadowing a forensic investigator, looking over their shoulder to learn how they retrieved the evidence.

Charlotte added: “Once you have found the data or images you know someone will be convicted so in finding them you know you are potentially preventing further victims of crime.”

Alastair Irons is one of Charlotte’s lecturers and provided academic supervision for her placement; she said of him: “Alastair is one of my main lecturers and is brilliant; he was so supportive in me getting my placement at Northumbria Police. He puts his heart and soul into the course and often brings people in from outside to share their real-world experience with students. Because he is an expert in the field he advises Northumbria Police on cyber forensics and in turn they have been in to talk to students.

“I’m really pleased to see the courses achieve Chartered Society for Forensic Science accreditation. It’s taken a lot of work and sets the course at Sunderland apart. This is the direction the world is going in and the fact that the University of Sunderland has this accreditation will help to differentiate graduates emerging from there and make them more employable.”

So what’s next for Charlotte? She commented: “After I graduate I hope to be accepted straight back into Northumbria Police, I’m staying in touch with the team I worked with. It was a great experience and certainly one of the most valuable years in my time at the University.

“I’ve learned that if you want to do something it’s up to you to find a way to make it happen, you have to put the work in and make sure you stand out – I’m proud of what I’ve achieved so far.”