What Is the Difference Between Computer Forensics and Cyber Security?

At first glance, computer forensics and cyber security may seem similar, but there are key differences between the two professions. Computer forensics focuses on uncovering and preserving encrypted or lost data, while cyber security is about preventing data loss or cybercrimes from occurring. In short, one is reactionary while the other is preventative.

Of course, the differences don’t stop there. In this article you'll learn about the differences between computer forensics and cyber security as we define each practice through the following sections:

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What is Cyber Security?

Cyber security is a professional discipline that is about creating defensive measures to protect against cyberattacks. People working in this industry may have a wide range of information technology (IT) skills including programming, operating systems and networking. The primary goal of any cyber security professional is to create a network or system that is impossible to breach, thereby protecting the information within the network.

One important note about cyber security is that it is almost entirely about prevention. Even more niche positions, like an ethical hacker, only use their offensive skills in order to test networks and improve them.

Cyber security encompasses many protocols that are used in the real world. Things like setting user permissions, establishing file transfer protocols (FTP) and requiring secure, frequently changing passwords are all vital elements of cyber security. It's not just up to one individual, everyone in an organization needs to practice safe computer usage in order for security to be maintained.

What is Computer Forensics?

Computer forensics is the practice of recovering data from a device, often for the purpose of uncovering evidence of criminal activity. The practice itself is reactionary, meaning that it only takes place after an incident has occurred and is not concerned with preventing the incident itself.

Computer forensics jobs typically serve one of two purposes. They either assist with an investigation or help people and companies recover data that has been lost. In the first instance, a computer forensics specialist will be given access to a suspect's personal device, such as a laptop, desktop or smartphone. Once they have the device, they begin using a variety of skills, such as programming, hardware knowledge and software knowledge, to locate valuable data. In a law enforcement case, they will ideally uncover data that is of value to the prosecution and can be presented in a court of law. In order to do this, the data must be recovered in a very particular manner that does not violate the suspect's rights.

Sometimes, computer forensics specialists are called in to help a company recover lost data. While the purpose of the assignment differs greatly from uncovering evidence of criminal activities, the processes used to recover the lost data are very similar. The main difference in the execution of these tasks is that the particular processes required to create court-admissible evidence do not need to be followed in this case. In some cases, if the data loss was a result of cybercrime, the computer forensics expert may be tasked with recovering the data and identifying the perpetrator of the crime.

Cyber Security vs. Computer Forensics

In short, cyber security is focused on prevention while computer forensics is about recovery and reaction. Despite their differences, both are meant to protect data, programs, networks and other digital assets. Cyber security helps to prevent cybercrimes from happening, while computer forensics helps recover data when an attack does occur and also helps identify the culprit behind the crime.

It helps to think of cyber security professionals as a security company, and to think of computer forensics experts as investigators. If you’re considering either of these two disciplines as a career choice, ask yourself which path better suits your interests and career goals.

What Specializations are Available in Cyber Security and Computer Forensics?

Cyber security and computer forensics both have a few specializations that focus on specific areas of the practice. Cyber security has far more specializations, such as systems architecture, software security, access management, ethical hacking and vulnerability assessment.

Computer forensics specializations tend to be related to the reason why the data is being recovered. The main specializations are criminal investigations, in which the expert is tasked with uncovering data that is relevant to a crime, and data recovery.

Data recovery specialists are mostly concerned with getting data back in the hands of its rightful owner, though they may also perform an audit to find evidence of a data breach if the data was stolen rather than lost through a technical issue.

Which Field is Right for Me?

Determining which field is right for you depends on your goals and interests. Cyber security may be a more interesting field to those who wish to protect other people's data from cybercrimes. Computer forensics is likely to appeal to people who are interested in technology and detective work because of its investigative nature.

The good news is that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics1, Information Security Analyst positions are expected to grow by 33% on a national level between 2020-2030, though a bachelor’s degree and experience in the field are required for many positions in either the cyber security or computer forensics industries.

DeVry University can help you start on the path toward a new career. We offer a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Information Systems with specializations in both Cyber Security Programming and Computer Forensics.

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1https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/information-security-analysts.htm Growth projected on a national level. Local growth will vary Local growth will vary by location.