One of my most popular posts on this site to date is my first year review of the Digital Forensics & Cybersecurity program at John Jay College. Well, now I have been there another semester I thought it was time for an update.
I took three courses:
- FCM 710 – Architecture of Secure Operating Systems.
- FCM 740 – Data Communications and Forensics Security.
- FCM 760 – Forensic Management of Digital Evidence.
My thoughts? It was very time-consuming, difficult and I am glad that the semester has finished. So what did I get out of the semester? A little and a lot.
Let’s start with the positives first … Forensic Management of Digital Evidence. This course was very much a case of you get out what you put in. The professor gave you the materials and the necessary information that you needed. He taught you but he gave you the hands on experience each week as well, assigning different tasks and learning another new program that might be useful if you go down this route. There was a lot of information to learn but you were then given the opportunity to go apply it and personally that is how I learn best. It really puts things into perspective when you can see first hand what is going on.
Learning data acquisition methods is fun (if you are a geek, like me!). We learnt about FTK Imager, which is free, to forensically acquire an image. We also got a brief introduction into Volatility and some of the things it is able to do. I cannot emphasis the power of Volatility with the numerous plugins that it has to offer you! Whilst we only just touched on it, it’s something I would urge everyone to at least try out if you are interested in coming into this field.
We were also taught about the different files systems on different operating systems and what that means and later went on to look at EnCase. That in itself is the beast and will take a lot of time to get your head around everything. Thankfully that is offered as another course later on which will be useful but we got a good taster.
This course is jam-packed with cool stuff and it was a pleasure to be a part of it. I definitely recommend it!
The not quite so good…
Before the start of the semester I had been hearing how difficult ‘Architecture of Secure Operating Systems’ was – and it was true to the spoken word of students! The problem was, it might well have been for different reasons.
The normal professor that takes this course wasn’t available and so somebody else had to come in and cover. The person did the best they could, but I just don’t believe it was delivered the same. In fairness, the feedback that was offered by the students through the course was taken on board to some extent and I believe that the course was adapted to address some of those concerns but it was frustrating.
This course is supposed to be a very technical course, you need to put in the time and effort and you need to work hard. It involves a lot (more than I expected) of C programming and you will be using Assembly so look it up before taking this course. I don’t believe that there was the support that many students needed in order to get through it in a satisfactory manner. In fact, I would say that I spent so much time trying to get the work done that I’m not sure how much of it sank in. I don’t think I learnt anywhere near as much as I should because I didn’t have the time. I was focused on getting the tasks completed. There is an argument to be had that is not the fault of the course but of myself and it might be partly true but the other side of the argument is that I wanted to achieve a good grade and one had to suffer.
We didn’t get the feedback that was needed for the course. Our homework’s were not returned until the last week of class so it was difficult to understand what we had done right and where we needed to improve before the practical exam. The exam certainly made you think. I don’t think I have been so happy to have finished a class as that one.
The final class..
This now brings me onto the Data Communications and Forensics Security course. Due to circumstances, a lot was offered and unfortunately not a great deal was delivered. The issue was something that plagues the program – do you have practitioners come in and teach or do you rely on academic professors?? On this occasion we had a practitioner and I think its safe to say work commitments got in the way.
We did have some special guests come in to talk about their experiences, both from the public and private sector. That was very useful to see both sides, especially when you are fairly close to graduating and want to gauge the differences. It also gave a good insight of what happens in the “real world” and I was glad we were given that opportunity.
We had to do a research paper and present on it at the end. The class picked some really interesting topics and that alone was a useful learning experience. I learnt a lot from their presentations but I believe that the class will be restructured for future semesters.
It was a contrast. I had the good and the bad. I got some really good connections and was able to build my professional network along with learning many new things but I also thought there were many missed opportunities.
It’s very frustrating to see the program at present. The program has the potential to be great but right now I personally think there is an issue with staff – there isn’t enough of them! When you are in such a technical and specialized program you need those technical specialized teachers in order to learn properly, otherwise it’s no use and you might as well teach yourself. I am glad and hopeful though that the school will continue to attract professors who are also practitioners. Ok one of my courses didn’t work because of the struggles of balancing but the other one worked great!
Let’s see what this semester (Spring 2014) brings… Network Security, you’re up!
Hope you enjoyed. Feel free to comment and reach out to me with any questions!