Educating the effective digital forensics practitioner: academic, professional, graduate and student perspectives

PhD Thesis

Humphries, G. 2019. Educating the effective digital forensics practitioner: academic, professional, graduate and student perspectives. PhD Thesis Canterbury Christ Church University School of Engineering, Technology and Design
AuthorsHumphries, G.
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDcotor of Philosophy

Over the years, digital forensics has become an important and sought-after profession where the gateway of training and education has developed vastly over the past decade. Many UK higher education (HE) institutions now deliver courses that prepare students for careers in digital forensics and, in most recent advances, cyber security. Skills shortages and external influences attributed within the field of cyber security, and its relationship as a discipline with digital forensics, has shifted the dynamic of UK higher education provisions.

The implications of this now sees the route to becoming a digital forensic practitioner, be it in law enforcement or business, transform from on-the-job training to university educated, trained analysts. This thesis examined courses within HE and discovered that the delivery of these courses often overlooked areas such as mobile forensics, live data forensics, Linux and Mac knowledge. This research also considered current standards available across HE to understand whether educational programmes are delivering what is documented as relevant curriculum. Cyber security was found to be the central focus of these standards within inclusion of digital forensics, adding further to the debate and lack of distinctive nature of digital forensics as its own discipline. Few standards demonstrated how the topics, knowledge, skills and competences drawn were identified as relevant and effective for producing digital forensic

Additionally, this thesis analyses and discusses results from 201 participants across five stakeholder groups: graduates, professionals, academics, students and the public. These areas were selected due to being underdeveloped in existing literature and the crucial role they play in the cycle of producing effective practitioners. Analysis on stakeholder views, experiences and thoughts surrounding education and training offer unique insight, theoretical underpinnings and original contributions not seen in existing literature.

For example, challenges, costs and initial issues with introducing graduates to employment for the employers and/or supervising practitioners, the lack of awareness and contextualisation on behalf of students and graduates towards what knowledge and skills they have learned and acquired on a course and its practical application on-the-job which often lead to suggestions of a lack of fundamental knowledge and skills. This is evidenced throughout the thesis, but examples include graduates: for their reflections on education based on their new on-the-job experiences and practices; professionals: for their job experiences and requirements, academics: for their educational practices and challenges; students: their initial expectations and views; and, the public: for their general understanding. This research uniquely captures these perspectives, bolstering the development of digital forensics as an academic discipline, along with the importance these diverse views play in the overall approach to delivering skilled practitioners.

While the main contribution to knowledge within this thesis is its narrative focusing on the education of effective digital forensic practitioners and its major stakeholders, this thesis also makes additional contributions both academically and professionally; including the discussion, analysis and reflection of:
- improvements for education and digital forensics topics for research and curriculum development;
- where course offerings can be improved for institutions offering digital forensic degree programmes;
- the need for further collaboration between industry and academia to provide students and graduates with greater understanding of the real-life role of a digital forensic practitioner and the expectations in employment;
- continuous and unique challenges within both academia and the industry which digital forensics possess and the need for improved facilities and tool development to curate and share problem and scenario-based learning studies.

KeywordsDigital forensics; Professional perspective; Academic perspective; Student perspective
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Deposited16 Nov 2020
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