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Federal agencies and corporations are struggling to find enough computer security specialists to help them defend the nation's databases from cyber criminals. Meanwhile, those criminals are becoming braver and braver. For that reason, more and more professionals are seeking out computer security certifications to enhance their resumes and take advantage of the great rewards this field has to offer.


If you decide to pursue computer security, additional education will help facilitate your job search. However, you might not want to spend the two years it takes to complete a masters program as a full-time student. Rather, you might consider a certificate program that takes less time and which can be focused on the specific aspects of cyber security that are of the most interest you. For instance, if you are already a network engineer, you might want to focus on network security.

Certificate vs Certification

  • Certificate: A certificate is awarded by an educational institution, and signifies that a student has satisfactorily completed a given curriculum. Certificate programs can help students prepare for certification exams.
  • Certification: A certification is generally awarded by a trade group after an individual has met certain professional requirements (e.g. earned a specific degree, worked professionally in a given field for a set amount of time, etc.) and passed a certification exam.

In short, a certificate is evidence that someone has completed an educational program, while a certification denotes that someone has met a certain set of professional criteria and/or passed an exam.

Not all programs offered are designed to meet state educator licensing or advancement requirements; however, it may assist candidates in gaining these approvals in their state of residence depending on those requirements. Contact the state board of education in the applicable state(s) for requirements.


Some programs offer certificates with specific lines of study. The certificate programs are designed with a set curriculum to give you the tools you need to be a cyber security generalist, or to be specifically trained to handle real-world scenarios where criminals or terrorists are actively deploying their attacks. Other programs have a more open structure and allow you to select courses you desire. These open-ended certificate programs might require a core course or two, but then will allow you to select the remainder of your courses.

No matter what, coursework in a graduate certificate program will be focused on the profession and will assume that you already have a robust educational and professional background in computer science and/or IT. Some of the courses you might encounter as a student are:

  • Network Vulnerability Analysis
  • Information Assurance
  • Computer Forensics
  • Incident Response and Recovery
  • Cyber Vulnerability Analysis
  • Mobile Device Security
  • Open Source Digital Forensics
  • Big Data Analytics
  • Malware Analysis

Once you have a computer security certificate your job options are likely to expand. The federal government is actively recruiting professionals and the private sector needs protection from cyber criminals as well. You might choose a path that is more like a detective and investigate cyber crimes, employing forensic methods to amass and assess evidence of crimes. Your career will be based on building effective prosecution of suspected criminals. While this is an exciting prospect for some, other might choose a different path.

For example, you might choose to help defend against future attacks by implementing technologies on mainframes, network servers and individual computers. The best computer security certificate programs will teach you how to manage teams of IT professionals and lead them in the most effective security protocols. You will be trying to anticipate what criminals might try next rather than reacting once a crime has been committed. While both have their advantages, you might wish to specialize in one general approach for your certificate.


Taking the certificate route before going for a graduate degree is advantageous for the working professional because it offers flexibility on top of career advancement. You can complete a focused graduate certificate in about a year and be able to add that credential to your resume while continuing to work. Then, if you decide that you need a graduate degree to advance your career further, often your certificate courses will count towards your master's degree. When you begin researching certificate programs, make sure that your credits will count later if you decide you may want to return for a post-graduate degree.


If you plan to do your certificate work in a real-time classroom make sure you can finish your degree online if you choose. You never know when your career might take you out of town, or even out of state, but you still have coursework to complete. You might also be so busy as a cyber security professional that you don't have time to rush around town to make it to class on time. When you determine these things in advance, you can proceed with your coursework without any lingering doubts.

When you consider an online computer security certificate, make sure that the courses are managed in such a way that allows you the freedom you need as a working professional. Some universities have created online opportunities for learning that include scheduled chat-room discussions or lectures. These will require you to log in at specific times so make sure they don't interfere with your workday. If that is the case, discuss the issue with your supervisor. It could be that your organization is eager for you to learn more about security matters and can make allowances for you.

On the other hand, some certificate programs are asynchronous and will allow you to take class or turn in assignments at your leisure. If you are in an asynchronous program, try to make an effort to connect with your instructor. Send extra emails with questions about the material or classroom procedures. Try to connect with other students as well as you never know who will later become a colleague in your battle against computer crime—or who may become a good networking partner.

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Cyber Security Certifications