Philip Anderson, Northumbria University

Philip, can you tell us something about your background and why you decided to teach digital forensics?

I graduated from Northumbria University with a BSc (Hons) in Business Information Technology in 1997 and gained an MSc in Distance Education with Athabasca University, Canada by distance learning in 2008.

After I graduated I started working at Northumbria University in a number of different IT Support/Developer roles for different departments within Northumbria University before becoming a Lecturer in 2001. I started teaching programming and also web design and development modules. It was in 2004 and 2005 alongside colleagues that we developed the undergraduate Computer Forensic degree. Once validated and in its first year I naturally changed to teach computer forensic modules (and more) as the degree progressed.I have over seven years’ extensive teaching experience involving Guidance Software (i.e. EnCase) in taught computer forensic modules. I have also successfully worked in the field, on a number of different forensic examinations of digital media for external clients, involving examination, analysis and production of extensive reports.

I was appointed a European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) expert in 2010 for two years for identifying emerging and future ICT risks in the area of Information Security Risk Assessment and Management. I also served as a Special Constable with Durham Constabulary for over 14 years.

For me, the reason I chose and enjoy teaching digital forensics is my computing background and the application of that knowledge in conjunction with strong investigative skills.

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What digital forensic courses are currently offered by Northumbria University?

We have a BSc (Hons) Computer Forensics and I am currently looking at developing an innovative MSc Digital Forensics course for 2013.

Tell us more about course structure and content. What core knowledge and key skills should students gain by the end of their studies?

The degree balances theory and practice, examining the principles and techniques of computer forensics and allowing you to develop the skills required for employment in this exciting and challenging field, or the many fields related to it. The degree is informed by continuous research and engagement with industry, which ensures that students develop the very latest skills and knowledge. We were the first institution in the UK to offer students the opportunity to study on the EnCase® Academic Program, giving students more hands-on experience with EnCase® Forensics via the Guidance Software EnCase® Centre of Excellence Program.

In the first year of the programme students study programming, databases, internet technologies and PC and network technologies as well as the principles and practices of computer forensics, along with an overview of the criminal justice system. In the second year half of the programme is spent on digital forensics modules covering digital forensics principles and theories, as well as a hands-on approach to the development of digital forensics skills and techniques. In the final year the majority of the programme focuses on digital forensics with you undertaking a significant individual project, advanced computer forensics, corporate investigations, mobile computing, communications and security and a module on legal and evidentiary aspects.

Please describe the facilities available to digital forensics students at Northumbria University.

We have a dedicated specialist computer forensics and security lab that can host up to 36 students, with the latest hardware and software for digital forensics analysis being used to support the practical workshops and also research. In addition, students benefit from award-winning general IT provision, including 24/7 access to computing facilities and the library during term-time.

What is the most challenging aspect of teaching digital forensics?

With the constant advancement of technology (particularly mobile) and constant updates to software I find the most challenging aspect of teaching digital forensics is keeping myself up to date and then passing that on to the students. I have found that there is simply not enough room in a degree or time to teach them everything in sufficient depth, which is why I am hoping to launch an MSc in Digital Forensics.

The graduate employment market continues to be highly competitive. What advice would you give to final year digital forensics students to help them stand out from the crowd?

Don’t just focus on the degree. Students need to engage more in the subject of digital forensics, which could mean getting involved in reading and writing in industry-related publications, online forums or blogs. Look at other things to improve yourself alongside your degree, such as relevant work experience in the field, internships, year-in-industry placements, part-time or voluntary placements.

When you're not teaching, how do you relax and unwind?

I try to relax and unwind with my children but I also watch a broad selection of TV programmes and I try to enjoy golf, cycling and I am also an avid reader of World War II History books.

Philip is a Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader of the BSc (Hons) Computer Forensics degree at Northumbria University. Philip can be contacted through the university website here.

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