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A Student Perspective on JHU's Summer Digital Forensics Institute

Digital Forensics

Photo courtesy quapan. Flickr Creative Commons.

 by Jeffry Arevalo

Taking the Digital Forensics class at the Johns Hopkins Montgomery County Campus this past summer was a nice experience. I learned a lot of new information about computers and the role digital forensics plays in helping to solve crimes by uncovering data from virtually any digital storage device.

The first day (Monday) we studied computer parts, how they work and where they are located. This was a day in which I participated most, answering questions regarding the computer parts, because I already knew some of this. We took a hard drive apart to see how it’s designed, and other activities helped us better understand how computers work. We learned how to send and hide secret messages.

After that, we had two professors that taught the next three days. They were real Digital Forensics officers. They explained to us how they solve crimes by looking for information on hard drives. Basically what they do is make a copy of the hard drive that is kept as evidence for a crime, then start looking at all the information recorded on the drive until they find something that may help to solve a crime -- or until they discover there is nothing useful on the drive.

Something that I didn’t know is that the files we “delete” on our computers are not really deleted. They are still on the hard drive... along with the histories of websites visited, emails and searches on Google. Using special software, digital forensics experts are capable of seeing all of a user's patterns and habits. The officers told us that the most common cases involve cheating spouses, but they also work on murder cases, identify theft cases and numerous other crimes.

On Thursday, we took a trip to the Digital Forensics Department Building. We met a number of officers who spoke to us about their jobs and some of the projects they have worked on. We also took a tour of the building, digital forensics labs, and their museum, which includes a display of different digital storage devices such as Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, and flash drives.

On Friday, a new professor explained more about the field and the role digital forensics play in helping to solve crimes.

Before we left, we received a certification of completion. This was a good program. I learned things I wouldn’t have imagined.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The JHU Summer Digital Forensics Institute is a one-week program run by JHU's Carey Business School. The program is intended to introduce high school students to the world of computer forensics. Taught by professionals in the field, it overviews many parts of computer investigations: the overall forensics investigation process, media and desktop investigations, looking at networks and the legal side. Most class sessions include lectures and a hands-on experience. Email Campus Communications Manager Robin Ferrier if you would like to receive information about the 2011 Digital Forensics Institute when information is available.

CATEGORY: K-12 Outreach