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The Role of Maths in Computer Forensics  

Junior Member

I have just started a degree in Computer Forensics at Glamorgan. Basically I just want to ask how big a role does maths play in a computer forensics career? We have to do Mathematics & Statistics for Computing in the first year in which we cover things such as sets, functions, Pascal's Triangle amongst other things.
So i'm sitting here now struggling to answer a question to do with expanding brackets thinking 'do i actually need this?'

Posted : 14/11/2007 11:00 pm
Senior Member

I've found the ability to do basic and complex math has benefited me in many ways, professionally and otherwise, throughout my life. Simple things like calculating an accurate tip to understanding how the Fibonacci sequence appears in music and art and even literature.

Professionally, you'll be using math quite often in computer forensics, directly and indirectly.

- What is a statistically significant number of appearances of a search string in your results?
- What is an MD5 hash and how is it calculated?
- What is the hex representation of a string and what is its significant?
- What happens when you use OR in a search term rather than use AND?
- Regular expressions are all about sets and logical operators.

Etc, etc etc.

Learn your math, it'll stand you in good stead.


Posted : 14/11/2007 11:30 pm


Your question is an interesting one. How much of *any* subject we learn in school do we routinely use in our professional life? (Note to physicians *You* had better be using ALL of what you learn and MORE!)

That being said, keep in mind that "computers" are computing machines. All of the fancy graphics, blinking lights, spinning disks (soon to be obsolete) and printouts are the result of an electronic device manipulating numbers. To top it off, these contraptions only "know" two numbers zero and one. To their credit, though, these glorified adding machines can count from zero to one v-e-r-y quickly!

So, let's see, where's the math in computer technology? Hmmm… binary math… hexadecimal math (zero and one counted in 16 places, so to speak)… cryptography… statistics… error-checking and correcting… I'm sure forum members will chime in with additional examples.

You may never be called upon to derive a cryptographic algorithm, but a basic knowledge of mathematics will help you develop an inner sense of what "feels" right or wrong when numbers are bandied about. You'll develop your own "intelligence test" such that when you see, for example, a summary report you'll be able to say "Hey, these numbers don't make sense" or, conversely, "Hey, these results are in the range I expected."

Learn the math well, grasshopper; you'll use it in many ways.

(And I see kovar is on the same wavelength* as me; he just hit "Send" sooner.)

*"Wavelength"… that reminds me converting analog wave-forms into digital format Digital Signal Processing… more math! 😉

Posted : 14/11/2007 11:43 pm
Junior Member

I don't mind the hex and binary stuff but as I have always been weak at maths I sometimes wonder whether i'll survive the maths components of the course!

Posted : 15/11/2007 2:10 am

I don't mind the hex and binary stuff but as I have always been weak at maths I sometimes wonder whether i'll survive the maths components of the course!

Do you have the syllabus available? Does it detail which math concepts you'll be studying? I shouldn't think the math for a computer-technology course will be too daunting. You probably won't be learning how to derive error functions in calculus or perform matrix algebra.

I always hated English grammar and could never quite grasp the concepts… until I started learning other languages. You may find that you'll develop a new appreciation for math when you see it in real-world application.

Make this an enjoyable course. Computer forensics is a fascinating field requiring a multi-disciplinary approach.

Now go study! )

Posted : 15/11/2007 5:21 am
Active Member

Let's compare this to sports. How often do you see your favorite team do pushups or wind sprints during a game? I suspect never. Do they do them in practice? Most likely. How many boxers have skipped rope in a match? Not many. Do they in practice? Most likely.

It may not be the math that your use (although I suspect you will), it is the development of diciplined ways of thinking that will benefit you the most.

All that said, one of my biggest regrets at this point in life was not getting a major in math along with my computer science.

Posted : 15/11/2007 5:58 am
Senior Member

I did very badly at Maths in my first degree, and I mean _very_ badly, because I couldn't grasp some of the statistical and pure concepts that were being asked of me. Particularly the "Big O" "Little O" computational complexity stuff …

As an IT professional more than a Forensic professional, I have used none of the more difficult concepts that were presented, but I do use all of the basics almost daily - I can also see where, if I had actually understood what they were talking about, that many of the more detailed concepts would allow me to do some things that I have to use brute force to derive.

In my Forensics studies now, I find that statistics are very useful, that (obviously) binary, octal and hexidecimal maths are invaluable, sets and functions are important, and, at least a passing knowledge of computational complexity is good … It at least gives you an idea of how long you have to wait …

( BTW … It might help if you think of the set theory as relating to a search space, and the unions/intersects etc. as search results of different search constructions with AND/OR etc. )

Sometimes at Uni you wonder what the heck they are on about - there are two things to consider

(1) This is a computing course, so they are teaching first years who are likely to go on to do advanced graphics visualisation about vectors as much as they are teaching forensic guys how to convert a binary string - they are wondering as much as you are when on earth they are going to use binary in writing a 3d game … They are teaching you the skills to program a mathematical machine, it's a good thing, honestly 😉

(2) This is a First Year course - it is a good foundation for more complex stuff later on. Kind of like learning your times tables at school - at the time you may well of wondered how often in life you really needed to know that 12*12 = 144 … If you get the grounding, and a good grounding in computing in general, you will be a more rounded, and dare I say it, more employable person in future !

Stick with it and good luck - but if you are struggling, don't feel that it means you aren't cut out for the job - just that you aren't so hot at maths 😉

Posted : 28/11/2007 4:03 pm
Community Legend

Can't see you needing it.

About as helpful as quantitative analysis.

Posted : 29/11/2007 3:57 am
Active Member

Computer Forensics requires a whole range of skills. Obviously, some practitioners are stronger in some areas than others.

One way of looking at it is, how concerned employers are with Maths ability when recruiting new staff. I must admit that it would be way down on my priorities compared to field experience, technical ability, qualifications, communication skills etc. I don't think I have ever considered this area when recruiting new team members.

Posted : 29/11/2007 3:06 pm