Cyber Security Master’s Degree
As more and more information amasses in electronic databases, so too do cyber criminals find more sophisticated and hard to detect ways to exploit that information. There is a lot of money and power in data, sometimes on an international scale, as world current events show us.
Online and traditional schools have heard the call and have created degree programs that specialize in information security.
As the field grows, so does the competition. One way to stand out from other cyber security experts graduating from associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs is to earn a master’s degree. You’ll be prepared to not only specialize and become an expert, but to lead teams of professionals. Or, if academia is your calling, you can teach others to thwart cyber crime.
Why get a master’s degree?
Put the increase in money that earning a master’s degree usually includes aside for now. Once you’ve earned a master’s degree you’ll enjoy the prestige and flexibility the degree offers.
Here are some of the perks of a master’s degree:
- You’ll have the opportunity to change careers. A master’s degree provides an advanced education in a specific topic in a relatively short period of time. In the fast-changing and evolving world of technology, this is a big plus.
- You may find you’ll have more job opportunities. Not only more, but different sorts of opportunities, in a field that you’re genuinely interested in. In some cases, you may actually need a master’s degree to qualify, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- You’ll gain respect. Saying you have a master’s sounds better than saying you have a bachelor’s, right?
- Now we can talk about money. The BLS estimates you’ll earn between 18 and 26 percent more a year on average with a master’s degree. To look at actual numbers, an information security analyst with a bachelor’s degree earned a median annual wage of $85,000 while an information security analyst with a master’s degree earned $100,000 annually.
Cyber Security Master’s Degree Specialties
A master’s degree in cyber security will give you more focused skills and abilities than your undergraduate degree. A cyber security master’s will teach you to bolster security for your company or to investigate cyber crimes for a state-funded body such as the Department of Homeland Security. Students entering these programs will need to have a significant background in computer science, mathematics, and even ethics and philosophy. Cyber security professionals have a broad base of knowledge on top of their technical skills and abilities.
When you begin a master’s program in cyber security, you may need to declare your area of specialty. After all, at the master’s level, you need to be keenly focused on a particular discipline. You will likely be entering the program with a wealth of experience on top of your educational background. It may even be that you will have a specific focus in mind before applying for grad school.
Some of the activities and areas of technology you might consider (or are already working in) include the following:
This concentration focuses on security as it applies to enterprise-scale and web-based systems.
This covers topics such as firewalls, private networks, intrusion detection and prevention, as well as overall security engineering.
Governance, Risk Management and Compliance:
This concentration comprises a bigger-picture approach to enterprise-scale IT audit, and regulatory compliance. A graduate with this specialty will know how to implement disaster recovery plans, maintain business in the event of a security breach, and analyze business systems and their security.
Some programs focus solely on how to conduct an audit. This is a great choice for someone with a background in accounting.
To be even more specific, here are some of the most common master’s degrees available in the arena of cyber and network security:
Master’s in Information Assurance and Security
What you’ll study: Information Security Risk Management, Security Policy and Management, Computer Networks, Secure Software Systems, Cryptography
What you can do: Once you complete the program you’ll be ready to either pursue a doctorate or work as an expert to manage the increasingly complex world of securing data, networks and systems.
Master’s in Digital and Computer Forensics
What you’ll study: Information Assurance, Network Forensics, Cyber Forensics and Incidence Response
What you’ll do: Expertly assess risk, and perform digital forensic investigations with a complete understanding of digital evidence, analytic and investigative forensic tools.
Master’s in Cyber Security
What you’ll study: Cyber Crime, Cyber Warfare, E-Government, Technology Infrastructure, Intellectual Property and Espionage
What you’ll do: Make informed and critical decisions for your organization when under attack, and secure complex data and networks in a variety of industries.
Master’s in Cyber Security Operations and Leadership
What you’ll study: Risk Management, Communications, Leadership, Principles of Cyber Security, Business Basics, Network and Internet Security, Information Assurance, Cyber Security Management, Project Management
What you’ll do: Provide expert management skills and the complex technical competencies needed to lead IT and cyber security professionals in a variety of organizations.
Master’s in Information Systems Security
What you’ll study: Cryptography and Information Systems Security, Risk Analysis, Digital Forensics, Penetration Testing, Secure Software Design, Enterprise Computing
What you’ll do: Become a leader or manager in a technology or information-based workplace, where your team will assess the needs of information and network systems and recommend, implement and maintain high-end security solutions.
Master’s in Network Security
What you’ll study: Security, Policy & Ethics, Information Assurance, the Secure Development Life Cycle, Incident Response, Network and Internet Security, Vulnerability Detection
What you’ll do: Lead teams in maintaining cyber systems, and make decisions about security trade-offs and changes necessary to keep networks safe. The three areas in which you’ll focus are protection of systems, detection of potential attacks, and correction of any invasive threats.
Research a Program
Once you have a strong grasp on the broad field of cyber security, it will be necessary to research the program you wish to attend. There are many schools that offer a master’s degree in this field, and more are following suit. With your focus in mind, discover which schools cater to your specific needs. Look at the overall programs and how well they focus on the relevant topics you wish to specialize in. From there, assess whether you need an online or brick-and-mortar classroom.
Online or Brick and Mortar?
An online education offers one great advantage—you are not tied to any particular place or set start time for your program. You can be in California and take classes in Illinois. If you are in the military, you can be deployed or transferred and still keep up with your studies. This is all the more important if you are already in a career-track job that you wish to continue. It also makes life easier for those with families or existing jobs to manage.
Make sure, however, that your online program does meet your needs. Some programs and courses will require that you log-in at specific times in the day for discussions or lectures that are streaming. Look for programs that are asynchronous, particularly if the program is in a different time zone. An asynchronous program will allow you to retrieve class materials at any time of the day or night, and you will be able to submit homework or other assignments with a midnight deadline.
Brick and mortar programs will naturally be more structured and for that you will likely need to work out an agreement with your employer so that you can be sure to leave work in time for class, or that you can take extra time off for studying. Brick and mortar programs have the distinct advantage of offering face-to-face interaction with both professors and students. From those interactions, you might be able to gain extra insights and networking opportunities may result, though more and more, online courses are offering the same interpersonal face time through different software programs.
Job Outlook for Cyber Security Careers
Once you graduate, your job prospects look great. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth for cyber security professionals to expand by 18 percent through 2024 and salaries are expected to be as high as $140,000 per year, though numbers vary according to location and years of experience.
If you’d like to specialize in forensics and investigations, the Department of Homeland Security offers internships, entry-level programs and even opportunities especially created for veterans. In the private sector, you might lead a team specializing in network security, as manage an IT department, or work as an independent consultant to public and private companies who need your skill set to help them protect sensitive data and fend off threats from cyber attacks.
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