Here are the questions you asked our panel of people who work in cybersecurity and computer forensics in Ireland.
James O’Gorman (Microsoft): The answer to this depends entirely on your chosen career; courses that specifically target areas such as computer forensics or penetration testing are designed to equip you with the skills for very specific roles such as forensic investigators and ethical hackers.
Whilst these are very good disciplines you need to be mindful that potential employers will question your motivation if you then apply for more generic cybersecurity roles so ensure that you’re making the right choice.
For those students who are interested in more generic cybersecurity roles or have not settled on a specific path I would recommend an undergraduate course in a strong science based undergraduate degree such as Computer Science, Mathematics, Electronic Engineering, etc.
Science and engineering based degrees such as these are highly sought after by employers and are also a good discipline for postgraduate degrees in reverse engineering, forensics etc when you are clearer about your chosen career path.
As a general rule of thumb, courses that have titles containing “software”, “application” and “development” will tend to focus on software whereas courses that have titles containing “electronic” or “engineering” tend to be focussed more on hardware. Computer Science or Mathematics will be more generic and will act as a good foundation for postgraduate courses.
However, I would suggest giving serious consideration to those courses which are well-established, have a good graduation and employment record (this can often be found from speaking directly to the university/college or from league tables) and those institutions which already have a strong performance in more traditional Computer Science subjects and courses.
Additionally it is worth looking at courses where there is some form of affiliation with a governing body, institution or external accreditation (for example the Masters in Forensic Computer Science course in UCD is strongly affiliated with both An Garda Siochana and Interpol), or combines the course with an accreditation, for example Certified Information Security Systems Professional (CISSP) or Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH).
I would also look at courses which have a strong “traditional” IT systems/networking component. Companies tend to look at people with a strong IT infrastructure or software grounding.
James O’Gorman: Internal competition for specialist security roles within An Garda Siochana is high, so having the right degree or experience behind you will certainly help you when applying for such roles.
My understanding is that once you complete your degree you will still need to go through the training college and complete your obligatory regular service before you proceed to more specialist cybersecurity type roles. In addition to this route it may also be possible to work for a private security consultancy firm in collaboration with An Garda Siochana.
A riskier option would be to apply for An Garda Siochana and hope that training is provided to work in specialist roles such as cybersecurity at a later date. However, there are no guarantees that the opportunities or funding would be available. You may find yourself being overlooked in favour of someone who has either a related degree, previous work experience in cybersecurity or both.
Tom Leonard: UCD currently offers an MSc in Digital Forensic Investigation and Cybercrime which has a strong affiliation with law enforcement bodies such as the Gardai and Interpol.
It looks into incident response, threat management and analysis, fraud, cybercrime response and prevention and more general aspects of IT security. It is aimed at graduates but entry is assessed on a case-by-case basis.
A possibly more appropriate level would be the Diploma in Cybercrime and Forensics from institutions such as Dorset College. This would cover subjects ranging from online fraud, denial-of-service attacks, hacking, phishing, viruses and general approaches to cybercrime and cybercrime investigations.
Keyun Ruan (UCD and EADS): I recommend you take a look at the UCD Centre for Cybersecurity and Cybercrime Investigation for their offerings of education and training course on digital investigation.
For non-law enforcement, the MSc in Digital Investigation and Forensic Computing suits better.