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Cyber Security Degrees and Careers

The rapid growth of technology has created many exciting developments in various industries, but it is also responsible for untold new ways of committing crimes. In turn, the need for security specialists has expanded, and many companies do not have the network security they need. If you are technologically savvy and interested in the field of criminal justice, a cyber security degree could put you in a position to start a new and exciting career.

Cyber security is not only important for individual companies, it is a huge priority for national and international government agencies. The Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity aims to find a balance between strengthening cyber security for agencies and continuing to ensure that individuals maintain their privacy.

If you go to school for cyber security, you can learn about how to protect networks, computer programs, individual computers, and sensitive data from unauthorized access or attacks. As a result, you may be able to prevent and respond to data hacks or breaches.

Cyber Security Job Description

Cyber security experts spend their days making sure online computers, networks, databases, and programs remain secure. Whether working in public, private, or governmental settings, cyber security professionals monitor computer systems and regularly check for any breaches. It can seem that large data breaches make the news on a weekly or monthly basis these days, with companies such as Yahoo!, Equifax, Facebook, and eBay all experiencing embarrassing, costly, and dangerous hacks in recent years.

The Equifax breach alone exposed personal data belonging to more than 147 million Americans. After a lengthy investigation, the Federal Trade Commission announced a global settlement of up to $425 million to assist those affected by identity theft. Organizations looking to keep company and user data secure hire trained cyber security experts who follow best practices and stay abreast of the latest trends in both safety and hacking.

While each company sets unique job requirements based on individual needs and levels of responsibility, standard tasks include installing firewalls and data-encryption tools, monitoring systems for any questionable activities, keeping all security systems up to date, and responding swiftly to any problems. If they do find inconsistencies or issues, cyber security analysts create reports detailing their findings and communicating to upper-level managers any potential breaches or damage. These individuals may also create security protocols and train staff on how to work safely with sensitive information.

When working to improve existing systems, cyber security professionals may hire ethical hackers to conduct testing and identify any weaknesses in current security systems. These professionals then make recommendations on how to strengthen and improve existing security measures. Based on the ethical hacker’s report, the cyber security expert may develop a plan of action and suggest areas of enhancement or improvement within the current system.

Types of Cyber Security Jobs

The field of cyber security offers a variety of jobs that may interest you. The biggest distinctions can be seen when looking at private jobs versus governmental ones. We spotlight some of the most common jobs in this section to give you a sense of what to expect.

Private Cyber Security Jobs

  • Information security analyst: Typically working for a single organization rather than in a freelance role, an IS analyst is tasked with protecting a company’s online networks and systems. These professionals install new safety systems, train staff, report on breaches, and stay up to date on security trends.
  • Cyber security engineer: With a focus on identifying future security threats, cyber security engineers work to develop new technologies and security systems that rebuff hacker attempts. They may also develop technologies that continue protecting sensitive information in the face of natural disasters and/or terrorist attacks.
  • Ethical hacker: These professionals get in the minds of malicious hackers and look for any cracks in existing security systems. Companies often hire ethical hackers in consultative roles to try and penetrate firewalls and data-encryption software. They report their findings and offer suggestions on areas of improvement.

Governmental Cyber Security Jobs

  • Cyber security specialist: Working on a team of other cyber security experts, these specialists analyze, develop, implement, and utilize cyber security protocols and control systems. They offer guidance on new security policies and work alongside others to develop strategies for protecting existing and future data.
  • Cyber threat analyst: These professionals focus on the threat of breaches and hacks by malicious foreign entities looking to gather data related to sensitive U.S. interests. They solve arising cyber security issues, report to the National Security Council, and create reports about ongoing intelligence problems and solutions.
  • Information security specialist: IS specialists often work in branches of the military to help protect sensitive data that foreign agents would try to gain access to. They advise superiors on cyberspace and network security measures, create offensive policies to detract from breaches, and increase network and system capabilities in secure ways as needed.

Whether you aspire to work in a private or governmental role, lots of jobs exist. Aside from checking hiring sites such as LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter, and Indeed for current postings, use USAJobs to seek out positions in the federal government.

Cyber Security Salary and Career Outlook

With a bachelor’s or master’s degree, you could work as an information security analyst. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for an information security analyst in 2018 was $98,350 annually, with job openings projected to increase by 32% between 2018 and 2028. If you want to work directly with cyber crimes, you could work as a criminal investigator. The job outlook for criminal investigators is stable, growing between 2 and 3% from 2018 to 2028. The median salary for a criminal investigator in 2018 was $81,920 per year.

If you’re considering a job in the governmental sector, prepare to earn similar salaries. Federal jobs follow the General Schedule for salaries as outlined by the Office of Personnel Management. Cyber security specialists, for example, are in the NQ 03 pay scale and grade, meaning they earn between $99,172 and $152,352 per year. Cyber threat analysts possess less experience and fall between GS 8 and GS 12, or between $54,308 and $94,939. Those working as IT specialists qualify for GS 13 and earn between $76,687 and $99,691. All of these salaries depend upon level of experience, education, and time spent working in the government.

As more companies hire cyber security professionals, you could be part of industrywide change. Companies like Cisco, an extremely large corporation, have started to use cyber security as a way to improve productivity and secure sales. Other firms such as Lockheed Martin, FireEye, and Amazon offer cyber security services as well.

How to Become a Cyber Security Specialist

  1. Pursue a bachelor’s degree: As the world of IT continues to formalize, almost all cyber security positions now require a bachelor’s degree at minimum. Computer science remains the most common degree at this level, with some schools offering specializations in areas of cyber security and information security.
  2. Gain work experience: If looking to work as an information security analyst, for example, most employers require applicants to possess at least two years of relevant IT and/or cyber security experience to receive real consideration. Experience could come from in-house, freelance, or consultative roles but should be relevant to the job at hand.
  3. Pursue a master’s degree: While it’s not always required, many companies now prefer candidates who possess graduate degrees in cyber security or MBAs in information systems. Some employers may accept experience in place of an advanced degree, but this is not always the case.
  4. Apply for certification: Because cyber security is such a broad and ever-evolving field, many certification programs exist to ensure candidates possess a nuanced understanding of specialized areas of cyber security. EC-Council offers the Certified Ethical Hacker credential, while (ISC)² provides the Certified Information Systems Security Professional Research certification options based on your interests and employer requirements.
  5. Pass security clearance requirements: If hoping to work in the government, you must pass a series of requirements related to security clearance. Components of this may include drug screening, random drug testing after hiring, financial disclosures, and interviews with current and former classmates, colleagues, supervisors, and neighbors.
  6. Participate in continuing education: Cyber security is a constantly changing field, with cybercriminals always looking for new ways to breach and exploit secure systems. Because of this, professionals in this field must participate in continuing education programs and stay up to date on new technologies and methods.

Cyber Security Education

Pursuing a cyber security degree qualifies you for myriad professional roles while also instilling the knowledge and competencies needed to thrive in this quickly growing field. Whether just starting your academic journey and pursuing a bachelor’s degree or looking for ways to boost your career with an advanced credential, the following sections provide necessary information to take this next important step.

Bachelor’s Degree in Cyber Security

As the field of cyber security has grown and become more formalized over the last decade, a small number of colleges and universities have begun offering online cyber security degrees at the bachelor’s level. These programs still aren’t all that common, so you’ll need to do your research to find one that meets your goals. Check out our list of the best cyber security schools at the end of this page to learn about some of the top programs.

When applying to a bachelor’s program in cyber security, you’ll need to meet several entrance mandates. Each school sets unique admissions requirements, but all typically revolve around minimum high school GPAs, acceptable SAT/ACT scores, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, and personal statements outlining why you want to pursue this degree and what you hope to gain while enrolled.

Cyber security curricula at this level build foundational skills that help graduates qualify for entry-level positions. Some common topics explored include:

  • Computer and network security: Typically taken in the first semester, this introductory course looks at come of the common techniques and methods used in securing computers and networks. You’ll consider topics such as malicious software, viruses, encryption services, file maintenance, firewalls, and authentication protocols.
  • Computer forensics: After familiarizing yourself with common types of computer crimes, this class teaches you how to perform systematic investigations of suspected cyber security breaches. Specific emphasis is given to on-site and live network data retrieval and tools used within this realm.
  • Cyber security policies: This course emphasizes the importance of developing, implementing, and enforcing smart security policies. Students learn about creating access controls, conducting risk analyses, responding to incidents, and training staffs in appropriate security behaviors.

To graduate with a bachelor’s degree in cyber security, most programs require you to complete approximately 120 credits and participate in a semester-long internship.

Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science

A bachelor’s degree in computer science remains the most common option for learners looking to enter cyber security careers, as they provide a solid base for these types of roles. If you want to ensure you gain the knowledge required for government analyst positions, consider minoring in criminal justice.

Much like cyber security degrees, computer science admissions panels require similar information from applicants. Be prepared to supply official high school transcripts, ACT/SAT scores, answers to essay questions, and letters of recommendation along with your completed application and fee.

Computer science curricula cover topics related to both cyber security and the larger world of information technology, making it a great all-around major for working in this industry. Some common topics include:

  • Intro to computer architecture: This foundational course familiarizes you with how computers, networks, and digital systems are structured and built. Common topics include studies in machine organization, instruction sets, assembly language, memory allocation, and control and data paths.
  • Software engineering: Learners who take this class gain a basic understanding of how software is conceived, developed, and executed. They study process models, design methodologies, design tools, debugging models, modern programming languages, performance analyses, and verification tools.
  • Programming languages: Taking this class gives you the baseline knowledge needed to understand various computer programming languages and when to use each. You’ll study Java, C++, Python, JavaScript, Ruby, and other common languages before launching into discussions about procedures, data types, run-time environments, and distributed processing.

In addition to completing approximately 120 credits in general education and computer science studies, most departments require students to participate in a semester-long internship at an approved facility and reflect on their experiences with weekly writing assignments.

Master’s Degree in Cyber Security

Completing a bachelor’s in cyber security helps graduates pursue many entry- and mid-level roles, but those aspiring to work in senior-level positions often need master’s degrees to qualify. These programs build upon existing knowledge and instill within learners the advanced understanding of cyber security methodologies and theories needed to move up the career ladder. These programs also appeal to career changers who may possess unrelated baccalaureate qualifications but want to transfer into this industry.

Entrance requirements vary by school but usually include a completed application and fee, official transcripts from any schools previously attended, GRE scores, a statement of purpose, and letters of recommendation. Particularly competitive programs may also call for a virtual or in-person interview to help them differentiate candidates.

If you want to get an exact sense of what you’ll study, check with individual schools, but here is some typical course subject matter for these programs:

  • Public and private sector information security: This course exposes you to common topics associated with computer systems and information security and helps boost your awareness of confidentiality and integrity within information systems. Common areas of study include INFOSEC, NSTISS, and OPSEC overviews, hardware and software safety, and network security.
  • Cyber security systems engineering: Taking this class provides you with an understanding of common topics, techniques, problems, and emerging trends within cyber security engineering. Prepare to cover system security risk, penetration testing, software assurance, cryptology, and cyber forensics.
  • International security: A great elective if you hope to work in a governmental position, this course looks at some of the historical, contemporary, and future issues associated with cyber security within the international community. Topics given close analysis include public policy, military strategy and force, terrorism, and peacekeeping.

Most master’s in cyber security degree programs are comprised of 30 to 36 credits and require between 18 and 24 months to complete. As part of graduation requirements, students usually develop comprehensive culminating projects or research and write thesis papers.

Online Cyber Security Degrees

Aside from deciding the topic you want to study and the school you want to attend, it’s also important to consider the learning format that suits you best. Traditional degree paths require learners to attend classes multiple times per week at brick-and-mortar campuses, while online programs allow you to study from any location with a secure internet connection. Hybrid programs meet in the middle, allowing you to complete classes both online and in person.

Before determining which option best suits your personal, professional, and financial needs, it’s important to consider some of the pros and cons of earning an online cyber security degree.

Pros Cons
You can study from anywhere, at any time, making it a great fit for those with personal and/or professional responsibilities. You miss out on face-to-face interactions that come from sitting in a classroom with your peers and professors.
You avoid paying additional expenses for gas, transportation, campus-based housing and meal plans, and campus-based fees. You may sometimes feel isolated from your cohort or that you are missing out on the traditional college experience.
You can attend a top-rated cyber security program without needing to move. Opportunities to network with your teachers, classmates, and recruiters may feel limited.
Some public schools allow online learners to pay in-state tuition rates, regardless of where they live. Some scholarships are only available to learners who enroll at physical campuses.

Related Careers

If the jobs highlighted above somewhat fit your interests but not exactly, check out a few more related careers to find your perfect match.

  • FBI Agent: Rather than working exclusively online from a single office, these professionals work in any number of spaces to plan for, mitigate, and respond to disasters of all types. Some may focus their energies on natural disasters while others may work in areas of domestic and/or foreign terrorism or cybercrimes.
  • Forensic science technician: Forensic science professionals use their laboratory skills to aid in the processing and understanding of criminal evidence. They collect specimens from crime sites, record findings, perform analyses on fingerprints and fluids, and look for evidence that can help connect the crime to a criminal.
  • Computer network architect: CNAs work on the preventative side of cyber security, designing and developing networks, intranets, and databases able to withstand malicious attacks. Aside from understanding individual company needs regarding their networks, CNAs must also understand cybercrime prevention best practices.
  • Cyber security professor: After working in professional arenas for a while, some cyber security experts decide they want to use their skills to educate the next generation. Given the rapid rise of the discipline, colleges and universities are looking for experienced and qualified professionals to lead classrooms.

Resources

  • Information Systems Security Association International: ISSA supports members by publishing an academic journal and providing fellowships, job listings, continuing education programs, local and national chapters, an executive forum, international summits, and web conferences.
  • Women in CyberSecurity: As the leading association dedicated to championing women in the field, WiCyS offers a member forum, speaker bureau, student chapters, affiliate organizations, professional resources, an annual conference, and a career support center.
  • The SANS Institute: SANS exists as the largest information security training source in the world, offering in-person and online training and continuing education, certification, industry research, national events, research studies, awards, webcasts, and blogs.
  • Center for Internet Security: Joining CIS allows you to take advantage of leadership opportunities, job postings, regional and national events, online communities, industry benchmark studies, consulting services, blogs, case studies, webinars, and white papers.
  • Interview with a Cybersecurity Consultant: The Bureau of Labor Statistics shares this fascinating chat with Candy Alexander, a freelance cyber security professional. She discusses her career path, educational options, important skills, available specialties, and difficulties of the job to help you make an informed decision.

Best Cyber Security Schools

After reviewing the details of this page, you may want to read more about specific programs and what they have to offer. The cyber security colleges in this list represent some of the best programs available to help you begin your search.

Southern New Hampshire University

SNHU provides a B.S. in cyber security with specializations in data analytics or project management and an M.S. in cyber security with a specialization in IT management. The former takes four years to complete and costs $960 per credit while the latter takes 18 months and costs $1,881 per credit.

University of Arizona

The M.S. in cyber security at UA is delivered 100% online and helps working professionals who want to take the next step in their careers. The curriculum includes 33 interdisciplinary credits, which take 18 months to complete. Each three-credit course is charged at $3,996, meaning the whole program costs $43,956 plus fees.

University of Maryland

The Maryland Cybersecurity Center at UMD offers bachelor’s degrees in computer science and computer engineering with specializations in cyber security, and it offers a Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) in cyber security and a dual master’s/doctoral degree (an M.S./Ph.D.) in computer science/electrical and computer engineering, which addresses cyber security among other subject matter. The baccalaureate program requires four years of study while the M.Eng. take 12 to 18 months. The M.S./Ph.D. dual degree requires five to seven years. Undergraduates pay $360 to $1,387 per credit depending on residency status. Graduate students pay $1,028 per credit.

Syracuse University

This New York-based institution provides an online Bachelor of Professional Studies in cyber security administration for adult learners seeking flexibility. The 120 required credits take four years to complete and costs $695 per credit.

Grand Canyon University

GCU offers online and in-person bachelor’s and master’s degrees in cyber security that cater to a variety of academic needs. The bachelor’s program takes three to four years to complete and costs $449 per credit. The master’s degree takes 12 months if following an accelerated schedule and costs $520 per credit.

Kennesaw State University

The Cyber Institute at KSU offers an online B.S. in cyber security designed for both first-time and returning adult learners. Because the institution recently created this degree, students currently pay a discounted tuition rate of just $199 per each of the 120 required credit hours.

Western Governors University

Operating as an online-only institution, WGU provides both a B.S. and an M.S. in cyber security and information assurance. Rather than charging a per-credit rate, WGU charges undergraduates $3,550 per six-month term, regardless of how many credits they take. Grad students pay $3,895 during the same timeframe.

Wilmington University

From its home base in Delaware, Wilmington University offers a B.S. in computer and network security. First-time learners need four years to graduate, while those who transfer credits can finish their requirements in just two years. Each course costs $1,143.

Walden University

Walden University offers a B.S. in information technology with a concentration in cyber security and forensics, as well as an M.S. in cyber security. The undergraduate option takes between two and four years to complete, depending on transfer credits, involves 181 quarter credit hours to complete, and costs $325 per quarter credit hour. The graduate degree takes 30 total semester credit hours and costs $865 per semester hour.

Maryville University

The bachelor’s in cyber security at this Tennessee institution is taught on campus, with all new students receiving iPads to aid in their studies. You can select from an offensive track, defensive track, or general track, with all requiring 128 credits and four years of full-time study. Tuition is $781 per credit hour.

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