State News

February 23, 2014

College opens digital forensics lab

Last year, Middle Georgia State College digital forensics students toured the GBI forensics laboratory in Atlanta. And now the college has opened a state-of-the-art laboratory of its own.

The college is planning to launch a concentration in digital forensics for its information technology students who are interested in a career recovering and analyzing electronic data for law enforcement or corporate investigations.

“I could really see myself being like a GBI forensics investigator or doing something of that sort because it’s fascinating,” said Misty Kiernan, an information technology student.

The job of a digital forensic investigator involves working with seized electronic devices, acquiring data without making changes, analyzing the data, then filing a report for a corporate boss or the court system.

Johnathan Yerby, a lecturer at Middle Georgia State College’s school of Information Technology, went over each step with Kiernan and other students taking his online digital forensics class last year.

“Forensics is a bit of an art and a bit of a science because you are looking for evidence,” Yerby said. “You’re looking for human behavior.”

The lab, located on Middle Georgia State College’s Macon campus, is funded by a National Science Foundation grant the college received last year to expand digital forensics education.

The new laboratory is equipped with powerful computers loaded with the same software used by the GBI, he said.

Another piece of equipment in the new laboratory, a write blocker, allows investigators to make an image of a computer’s hard drive without making any changes. This is important so investigators can’t be accused of tampering with evidence.

Students also will have access to a machine called a Ditto that allows investigators to make copies of hard drives in the field.

The idea is to give students a hands-on learning experience, Yerby said.

Regina Pangelinan, a former nursing student who became an information technology major, said she’s sad that she won’t get to take full advantage of the specialized concentration. She will be graduating in December, she said, and would have specialized in digital forensics if it had been made available sooner.

“This field is growing,” Yerby said. “Lots of people will get their start in the public side working for law enforcement. Those jobs don’t pay as much, but it’s a great place to get a huge amount of training.”

Digital forensics in the private sector, on the other hand, is just starting to take off, Yerby said, with companies beginning to hire in-house investigators.

Corporate investigators collect evidence of people making changes on private computer networks or moving files. They can find evidence of data that has been deleted, Yerby said.

He said investigators have several ways of finding what they need, even when users are actively trying to hide their tracks.

“It’s not gone,” Yerby said, referring to deleted data. “It’s still there.”

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