- Cullman, Alabama

July 2, 2013

Cyber security a growing field of study in Wallace State’s criminal justice, computer science departments

WSCC Media Relations

— With every advance in technology, there are criminals lurking in the background waiting to pounce on any weakness to advance their own means. Today’s law enforcement agencies have to be ready to find those criminals and beat them at their own game. Individuals, businesses and industries must work harder to provide safeguards that their information and assets are safe.

Wallace State Community College’s Criminal Justice program is working toward providing qualified and trained investigators with its Cyber Security/Computer Forensic Technology degree. Combining computer science and criminal justice courses, the program’s aim is to provide students with the knowledge needed to track down criminals who use the Internet as their hunting ground.

“Internet theft, identity theft and cybercrime are among the fastest growing crime in America,” said Bob Howell, chair of the Criminal Justice department. “A lot of it occurs from other countries because there’s no border on the Internet. Bank and insurance companies and major manufacturers have people trying to hack in to get either trade secrets or information. A cyber security degree allows you to go into the system for the company you work for and backtrack to see what it is and how they gained access. You also build firewalls to keep them from getting access.”

That’s the business side of cyber security. The law enforcement side can deal with catching child pornographers, identity thieves and other criminals who have tried to delete or hide their Internet-based crimes.

“You’re basically following an evidence trail that they think they’ve hidden,” Howell said.

The demand for cyber security specialists is increasing, Howell said. “The FBI, about a year ago, said in the next 10 years they were going to try to hire 5,000 special agents with expertise in cyber crimes,” he said.

While the FBI’s focus on cyber crimes is international in scope, other law enforcement agencies have a narrower range. For the Secret Service, a branch of the U.S. Treasury Department, credit card fraud is a focus of their cybercrime investigations on the domestic front.

The role of WSCC’s criminal justice instructors, Howell said, is to teach students how to legally access the electronic equipment used by criminals. The computer science instructors teach students how to access the information on those devices.

“You can understand how to get it off the computer, but if you haven’t legally obtained that computer, the evidence is not admissible in court,” Howell said.

Howell said while there are usually still more students enrolled in the law enforcement and forensic investigation options, the cyber security options has gained interest in the five to six years it’s been offered at Wallace State.

“It’s an interesting field,” he said, “because you have the best of both fields. You get into the computer technology and you investigate crimes follow it to the resolution. They may not want to carry a gun and get out in the field, but they want to be able to solve the puzzle that puts a criminal behind bars.”

The Cyber Security/Computer Forensics program takes about five semesters to complete the associate in applied science degree. Classes are offered through the Criminal Justice and Computer Science Departments. See the Wallace State catalog online at for details. For more information, call Howell at 256.352.8175.