Technology plays such a major part in our everyday lives that it’s impossible to think of a world without it. Networks, cloud computing, and Wi-Fi are ingrained in our everyday lives and connect us nationally and globally. Our data is shared and used on hundreds of different platforms, but this connectivity has a price, explains the World Economic Forum. Hackers, data breaches, malware – all these once-unknown concepts are now household words, especially after a decade of cyber attacks. Probably, you’ve either had a credit card hacked or you know someone who has. In a cybersecurity degree program, you learn now to detect these kinds of data breaches. Additionally, you learn how to protect the hardware, software and data of computer systems.
A cybersecurity degree means you study computer network security and make a career as a professional in fields like forensic network analysis, security analysis, or any of the other options in this industry. The program provides the coursework necessary to identify and investigate cyber-intrusion events, not only for regular corporations and nonprofit organizations but even to help provide homeland security for large government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security. Cybersecurity professionals learn how to provide security on all size networks. Courses include the prevention of cyberattacks through the development and maintenance of security protocols.
Career Options for Cyber Security Majors
When looking for employment, cybersecurity professionals have multiple options. Since jobs exist in almost every sector in the field of cybersecurity, you’ll have a variety of choices when you enter the job market with a cybersecurity degree or certification. Having a clear idea of the type of work you want to do helps determine the best path to pursue. For example, if you’re interested in a career that involves investigating security problems and finding solutions, consider becoming a cybersecurity forensics analyst. If you’ve always dreamed of working for the NSA, defending United States government IT systems from malicious cyberactivity, you may be able to land your dream job as a security analyst or computer science professional with this organization.
A few prominent roles in the cybersecurity field include:
Also called information security analysts, these professionals work in an entry-level position in the field of cybersecurity. In this role, you evaluate data and networks to determine if the current security defenses are adequate to prevent cyberattacks. A security analyst analyzes risks and threats to intelligence, and he or she often works with a team to develop actionable solutions.
It’s usually the job of the information security analyst to plan and develop the security measures that protect an organization’s networking and systems. They install and maintain the company firewall and data encryption security program. They must stay current with the latest in information technology trends and create their company’s disaster recovery plans. However, as cyberattacks increase globally, their responsibilities are expected to evolve and expand.
A cryptographer creates security-based algorithms and ciphers to encrypt sensitive data. This job requires expert knowledge of computer science, engineering, and applied mathematics. A cryptographer may work closely with cryptanalysts, professionals who decrypt hidden information. Together, the team protects financial and personal data, national security information, and other details often sought by hackers or cyberterrorists.
A penetration tester thinks like a hacker to look for ways to crack a network – only it’s the company’s own network. They have one job, to hack their company’s own system to detect any weaknesses in security. A penetration tester introduces tools, methodologies, and techniques to analyze and identify vulnerabilities in both stand-alone and network applications. These professionals often find work as freelancers with a cybersecurity company or as professionals with large corporate security programs or software developers.
Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)
As the name suggests, the chief information security officer is part of an executive management program. This professional is responsible for heading a team of cybersecurity experts who handle all aspects of cybersecurity, including the development and maintenance of strategy, protocols, information assets, and technology across a network. These individuals also must respond to any intrusion events that occur and create policies to avoid future cyberattacks.
Software Security Engineer
A software security engineer creates advanced techniques to develop software based on technical architecture. In addition, they perform regular security testing checks on software. While a security analyst works specifically with networks, the software security engineer focuses on software, such as the operating systems or software that provides vital services for a company such as its financial programs. This job involves resolving security issues that arise in the network software system.
A security architect is responsible for security in a computer system infrastructure. They review the system and then find and fix any weak points that make it vulnerable. They work on hardware, software, and upgrades to ensure their security and implement employee protocols to maintain system integrity. A security architect might work as an independent contractor or as a senior member of an organization such as a corporation or government agency. As a manager, you will also be responsible for conducting interviews for new hires and firing staff when necessary, reports Cybersecurity Education. This type of position typically requires a master’s degree.
IT Security Consultant
An IT security consultant is essentially a “data cop.” He or she is a third-party individual who performs consultations with organizations to help find ways to defend them against cyberattacks. As Elka Torpey discovered in a 2018 interview with a security consultant, recorded in a post for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Businesses don’t understand what they don’t know.” So, to help corporations identify their needs, a security consultant might work on a company’s networks, computer systems, or databases. They are fluent in the latest cyberattack weapons, such as Trojan horses and denial of service attacks. They find potential weak points or intruders before an attack and investigate if an attack happens.
Cybersecurity Forensic Analyst (CSFA)
A cybersecurity forensic analyst creates security measures to ensure the confidentiality of data. The analyst explores the computer network and determines its security needs based on the organization and helps implement a risk management strategy. This kind of analyst typically protects an enterprise-level network system and real-time security processes by establishing systems that continuously monitor the network.
Security administrators are advanced-level professionals who typically hold at least a master’s degree. They handle a variety of security manager and advisor responsibilities. Their specific duties vary based on the security needs of the company or organization, but they typically serve as the first point of contact for everything related to cybersecurity. For example, they may perform vulnerability and risk assessments, complete employee security education, and develop system audits to help define threats. The security administrator usually also heads the security program that implements disaster recovery protocols and privacy policies.
Benefits of a Cyber Security Degree
Is a degree or certification in cybersecurity beneficial? A quick glance at some of the data reveals, not only the opportunity for career advancement, but for a high salary, multiple employment options, and other, more intangible benefits. As cybersecurity consultant Candy Alexander told Elka Torpey in January 2018, many people are drawn to the “morality of the work,” because, as a cybersecurity expert, you have the opportunity to contribute to society and “do the right thing.” Making a difference in the world while earning a top salary is an attractive concept.
A High-Demand Field
Obtaining a cybersecurity degree such as a bachelor’s or master’s degree provides the knowledge base necessary to become a professional in a high-demand field. From 2005 to mid-2019, the Identity Theft Center recorded a stunning 10,000 reported data breaches in the United States. In fact, according to Northeastern University, many businesses think that “the question is not whether they’ll be hacked, but when.” But it’s not just on the local or national level that cyberattacks are critical threats. The Center for Strategic and International Studies reports an astonishing $600 billion is lost to cybercrime each year worldwide, or almost 1 percent of the global gross domestic product, or GDP.
Almost every week, a news report appears about the latest attack. In recent years, huge corporations, including T-Mobile, Google, and Marriott International, have all been victims of a major security breach. Hackers seeking sensitive patient information have penetrated the secure systems of health care companies and hospitals and disrupted patient care. Cybercrime, reports McAfee, the noted virus protection firm, costs an “estimated $445 to $608 billion worldwide each year.”
To combat this type of cybertheft, modern-day “Robin Hood”-type jobs in cybersecurity are more valuable and in demand than ever. Individuals in this field have many job opportunities; in fact, they typically have their choice of locations throughout the world. According to Paulette Perhach, writing for The New York Times, by the year 2021, an “estimated 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs will be available but unfilled” around the world.
The degree puts you on a career path that provides the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. To keep up with the constantly evolving challenges in cybersecurity, you will continually learn and grow in your job. The field offers opportunities for growth in your career as well. With no experience to two years of experience, you can expect to find 16,615 available jobs, which more than doubles after you have three to five years’ experience to increase to up to almost 50,000 available jobs.
The FBI, which leads the federal investigation of cyberattacks, reports that “billions of dollars are lost every year…” as cyber-intrusions take down “vital systems… disabling the work of hospitals, banks, and 911 services” nationwide.
In January 2020, the FBI issued a warning that Iranian hackers might begin targeting both government and nongovernment agencies as well as defense contractors and academic institutions, an example of only one of the hundreds – even thousands – of security threats that occur worldwide. The World Economic Forum predicts that security experts in the 2020s will face major challenges, not only in these East vs. West-type “cold war” conflicts, but in threats to cloud computing and the rise of artificial intelligence (AI). And, they say that the implementation of global 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) means more opportunities for cyberattacks than ever before.
Technical and Theoretical Expertise
Security program students turn theory into practice. Coursework covers specific areas of technology, including the study of privacy laws, medicine, governance, intelligence, incident response, and management. Students obtain the necessary theoretical skills to pursue advanced degrees in the field.
Leadership, Managerial, and Business Skills
To move ahead in the field of cybersecurity, you must possess specific qualities, including a certain sense of business acumen. Often, graduates move on to leadership or management positions that make them responsible for teams of cybersecurity experts. They eventually can work in a C-suite-level position in charge of the security for an entire corporation.
High Salary Potential
In 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that average salaries for security professionals in a variety of cybersecurity occupations ranged from approximately $98,000 to a high of more than $130,000, which is, according to the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies, “three times the national average.”
Often, cybersecurity requires an intimate knowledge of a company or organization’s network, database, industry, and business affairs. It takes time to accrue this depth of knowledge, so cybersecurity specialists usually have good job security.
Courses for a Cyber Security Degree
In a cybersecurity study program, students learn how to design, manage, and secure computer networks. In addition, they learn how to prevent unauthorized access and criminal use and how to ensure the “integrity and availability of information.”
In this program, students learn how to think like cybercriminals to outwit them. When taking these types of courses, students are taught how to answer critical questions, including:
- The vulnerabilities in an infrastructure and what an attacker seeks in general and in specific industries and systems.
- The type of information or system that most attracts hackers.
- What attackers do with the information they steal, which varies by industry and data type. For example, someone who hacks a credit card system is looking for data different from that of the criminal who breaks into a national security system.
- How to notice an attack and ensure others see it as well.
- The most effective ways to fix vulnerabilities based on the system and size of the company.
Through hacker training, students learn how to stop someone else from doing it.
Today’s companies and organizations employ a vast network of complex systems composed of servers, applications, programs, storage, mobile devices, WAD-protection mechanisms, cloud technology, and DDOS. Students learn the fundamentals necessary to find vulnerabilities in the entire network infrastructure.
While studying penetration testing, students learn how to probe potential targets and how they can be compromised. Penetration testers explore the basics of firewalls, computers, mobile devices, and services to create risk assessments and develop solutions.
Computer Network Forensics
Computer network forensics coursework teaches attack prevention, detection, response planning, and investigation. Advanced computer network forensic courses might cover:
- Forensic modeling and principles: The relationship between data and infrastructure such as a cloud database.
- Forensic duplication: The professional creation of a file with all its information to learn how to restore a file with a simple backup.
- Forensic analytics: Investigations involving databases and data as part of a criminal investigation or an internal audit.
- File carving: Reassembling computer files from fragments when file-system data is missing.
- Mobile device forensics for laptops, tablets, and mobile phones.
- Cyber-forensic tools and testing.
- Network surveillance and accountability: The art of monitoring computer activity in a network, tracking it, and assigning accountability.
- Network attack traceback and attribution: Methods to identify where an attack originated, how it began, and which computer started it.
- Multicast fingerprinting: Techniques used to trace someone who illegally sends out decrypted content to unauthorized individuals.
- Multimedia forensics: Investigations into various types of media: video, audio, images, animations, and interactive content.
A computer network forensics program may also delve into complex programming topics like bitcoin and cryptocurrency. Forensics is closely associated with the law, so the program likely covers cyber laws, privacy policies, and ethical scenarios, along with court testimony and report writing.
Cyberattacks & Cyber-Incident Response
Cyberattacks and cyber-incident response covers the detection of cyberthreats and response. Students learn how to investigate alerts and flags, determine which present risks, and how to dismiss irrelevant activity.
Secure Systems Architecture
This is the study of the techniques for identifying system security goals and objectives and how to assign boundaries. With a focus on creating functional specifications based on the complexity of the system, students learn about system organization and its components, their relation to each other, and how each element relates to the environment.
Secure Software Design and Development
The coursework teaches students best practices for developing software without introducing security vulnerabilities in a variety of networks, including:
Expect the course to comprise a combination of lectures and hands-on experience.
Cybersecurity Risk Management and Vulnerability Detection
This program teaches students to apply real-world risk management concepts to the cyberworld. They learn to identify risk areas and create comprehensive solutions. They develop ways to develop a cybersecurity risk management system and improve critical infrastructure.
Additional Courses and Areas of Focus
No two security programs are the same, but they typically include these foundation subjects:
- Computer Science: Computer science is the study of processes or programs that interact with data. Students learn to create algorithms to manipulate digital information.
- Discrete Mathematics: This refers to mathematical structures such as integers, graphs, and statements of logic with distinct values.
- Foundations of Cybersecurity: Here, students learn the basics of cybersecurity, such as mitigating risk, identifying threats, and creating risk management, disaster recovery, and business continuity plans.
- Object-Oriented Programming: An object-oriented programming course that covers a programming paradigm that features objects, some of which may contain data. For example, C++, Java, and Python programming languages support this concept.
- Computer and Network Security: Covers basic cybersecurity concepts: how to analyze networked systems, principles of cryptography, how hacking works, and the concept behind firewalls and IDS.
- Operating Systems Security: The heart of any computer network. Covers basic security features in mainstream operating systems and how to protect computers, mobile devices, and networks.
- Information Assurance: Refers to the management of information, data, and knowledge. Class focus is on authentication, integrity, and confidentiality of information systems, including restoring information systems after a breach.
- Database and Distributed Systems Security: Encompasses the consistency, integrity, privacy, and reliability of systems, with perhaps a dive into specialty concepts: mobile ad hoc networks, cloud computing, and peer-to-peer networking.
- System Vulnerability Assessments: Here, students learn the basics of vulnerability assessments within an in-depth framework using detailed analysis and threat intelligence.
- Cybercrime Investigations and Forensics: Study of the legal aspects of cybersecurity and digital forensics.
- Managing Cybersecurity Operations: Teaches students how to oversee the security of an information system or network.
- Information System Threats, Attacks, and Defenses: How to monitor ongoing threats and determine the potential effect on a specific network.
- National Cybersecurity Policy and Law: This class introduces students to the legal side of this industry and how laws and policies are changing in response to threats.
- Global Cyber-Capabilities and Trends: Examines the global side of cybersecurity and the latest developments.
- Cyberwarfare: The study of how this type of warfare interferes with the infrastructure of another government or organization to gain a tactical or strategical advantage.
- Applied Cryptography: Studies the basic foundation of cybersecurity, including key management, asymmetric and symmetric crypto.
- Ethical Hacking and Systems Defense: Students learn to examine the current threat landscape and explore methodologies behind the hacking.
Continuing education courses cover cybercrime and cyberterrorism, in which students learn how to detect intruders on various types of businesses’ computer systems. Other high-level courses focus on threat assessment and planning for active network defense.
Learning Outcomes for a Cyber Security Degree
After completing your university-level cybersecurity program, graduates can:
- Assess and determine computer information security needs.
- Understand and develop cybersecurity risk management policies to provide protection for an organization’s critical data and assets.
- Measure the performance of security systems within an enterprise-level information system.
- Troubleshoot, maintain, and update an enterprise-level information security system.
- Implement continuous network monitoring and provide real-time security solutions.
- Formulate, update, and communicate short- and long-term organizational cybersecurity strategies and policies.
Top Cyber Security Degree Programs
Graduating from one of the top security education programs in the world means you can work for some of the largest companies and choose where you want to live. E-commerce and digital communication technology are becoming more innovative, as are the cybercriminals who break into these systems. Companies in all sectors need information security analysts.
Components of a Top Cyber Security Program
If you’re sure that a cybersecurity education is for you, you should pursue a degree program that aligns with your career goals. Cybersecurity jobs, says the official website of the Department of Homeland Security, the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, are not just for those with advanced degrees. You can acquire your education at a community college, through military service, or online. You can work in an entry-level position with just an associate’s degree while you earn your bachelor’s or master’s degree. With your education, you can find work in healthcare, manufacturing, financial services, and retail, or with a national security agency. Begin your college search by analyzing a few key indicators of a quality program.
Cybersecurity is a complex field, so a strong academic program is essential in any school you consider. As noted, you can acquire your education online or in more traditional university settings. Online security programs provide the flexibility to follow your own schedule for classes and certification testing.
When investigating security learning opportunities, consider whether the institution offers an online study program or only at a brick-and-mortar classroom. A university may offer a hybrid program that offers both online and classroom education. Find the option that best suits your lifestyle.
Ideally, a top school offers some hands-on learning opportunities. That could occur via an on-campus lab education or through internships or externships with local pros.
Also examine the composition of the faculty and student body. Cybersecurity is an emerging field, so having knowledgeable and certified educators for every class is critical. Determine the type of technology the school has available as well. You need access to real-time hardware and software to build your practical expertise.
Tuition and Cost of Attendance
Tuition and other expenses such as lab or externship fees vary from university to university. Keep in mind that high tuition costs may mean it’s a prestigious school, but other lower-cost options like online programs or a local state university may be available. Consider the school’s financial aid assistance program as well. Financial aid can comprise grants, scholarships, or student loans. Maintaining a specific minimum GPA often leads to additional opportunities for scholarships.
Since cyber attacks pose a threat to national security, the Department of Homeland Security, along with the National Security Agency, maintains a list of approved associate’s degree and bachelor degree programs that provide a “robust” program that are “validated by cybersecurity experts.” In addition, the National Science Foundation helps provide scholarships at certain universities and colleges.
When calculating attendance costs, include incidentals like books, fees, and transportation. Consider room and board for on-campus or off-campus living. Some areas have a higher cost of living. For example, rent and living expenses in New York City are much more costly than a college in Iowa or Nebraska. Enrolling in an online program and living with friends or family while you study helps save money.
Cybersecurity is a global industry, so attending school abroad is also a possibility. Factor in any additional financial concerns if you attend school in another country. Make sure to check exchange rates for schools in other countries to get a complete picture of the cost.
Academic Staff & Student-to-Staff Ratio
The school’s faculty tells you a lot about what to expect from a cybersecurity degree program, starting with the teacher-to-student ratio. Smaller class size means more personal attention from your professor and a greater chance of learning by doing.
Since it’s an expanding field, you want experienced faculty as well. Cybersecurity professionals work in an area that changes almost on a daily basis. You need faculty members who keep up with the latest changes in technology, security techniques, and current threats.
The school’s reputation is one of the most critical criteria. Do your research to ensure the university you are considering is well-respected in the field of cybersecurity. Make sure they are competitive in pricing, courses, top talent, and student benefits.
Although cybersecurity is a growing field, it’s also competitive. Choose a school that helps you find employment after you graduate. The right job can also provide more opportunities along your chosen career path. For instance, if you plan to go into computer network forensics or law enforcement, your university placement office can find you a job with a company or agency in that specific area of expertise.
Most Affordable Cyber Security Degree Programs
The cost of a university education grows with each passing year. From 2008 to 2020, the average cost of tuition has risen by 63 percent. Cybersecurity is one of the fastest-growing industries, but education in this field is not cheap. According to CNN Business, college graduates earn around $30,000 more a year than those who do not earn a degree.
The average cost of tuition at a private college per year is $41,426. By contrast, state residents who attend a public college pay an average of $11,260. An out-of-state student at the same public college can expect to pay $27,120, according to a U.S. News & World Report annual survey. Those earning a two-year degree will spend, on average, $7,345 for tuition and fees per school year, explains the U.S. Department of Education.
To be considered an affordable school, the program must:
- Meet set net price standards
- Keep the estimated yearly costs down to less than $30,000 per year
- Have a proven history of placing graduates into jobs in their chosen field
- Offer degree programs that allow graduation with practical knowledge
It may take research to locate an affordable university. Make a list of the critical criteria and compare the schools that meet your requirements to see the pros and cons of each program.