DEGREE OVERVIEW: MASTER'S IN CYBER SECURITY
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.
Cyber crime doesn't care about privacy, personal rights or ownership—just information for gain and profit. In response to this criminal activity, there is a rapidly growing demand for specialized cyber security professionals who hold a master's degree.
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 cyber associate's and bachelor's degree programs in cyber security is to go the extra mile and 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 cybercrime.
WHY GET A MASTER'S IN CYBER SECURITY?
If you already have your undergraduate degree in computer science, computer engineering, or information technology, you may wish to consider a graduate program in cybersecurity. This is a growing field that is experiencing high demand from both the government as well as the private sector.
Put the increase in money that earning a master's degree usually includes aside for now. There are simply too many cybercriminals prowling around all over the world who seek to do harm to the United States and its digital assets to ignore. Once you've earned the degree you'll enjoy the prestige and flexibility that comes with the accomplishment.
Here are some of the perks of a cyber security master's program:
- You'll have the opportunity to change careers. A graduate degree in cyber security provides 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 may gain industry 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% 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 GRADUATE PROGRAM 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 graduate 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.
Fields You Can Choose to Specialize In
Some of the activities and areas of technology you might consider (or are already working in) include the following:
- Computer Security: This concentration focuses on security as it applies to enterprise-scale and web-based systems.
- Network Security: 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.
- IT Auditing: Some programs focus solely on how to conduct a cyber security audit. This is a great choice for someone with a background in accounting.
GRADUATE-LEVEL CYBER SECURITY COURSE YOU CAN EXPECT
When you enter school, there will be a wide array of courses available to you. The course list may include some of the following:
- Legal Issues in Information Assurance
- Network Programming
- Secure Electronic Commerce
- Discrete Structures
- Computer Forensics
- Audits and Regulations
- Cryptology & Cryptography
- Computer Security
- Database Security
- Database Design
Note that different universities often have different names and descriptions for courses that are very similar, so always try to compare course descriptions when deciding which university to attend for your graduate degree.
Popular Cyber Security Masters Programs to choose from
To be even more specific, here are some of the most common master's degrees available in the arena of cyber and network security:
FINDING THE BEST CYBER SECURITY MASTER'S PROGRAM FOR YOU
Once you have a strong grasp on the broad field of cybersecurity, 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.
SHOULD YOU EARN YOUR MASTER'S DEGREE IN CYBER SECURITY ONLINE?
An online master's in cyber security 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 digital security 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 master's in cyber security program does meet your needs. Some programs and courses will require that you log in at specific times of 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.
BENEFITS OF TRADITIONAL CLASSROOM FORMAT
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 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 cyber security courses are offering the same interpersonal face time through different software programs.
CYBER SECURITY GRADUATE PROGRAM ADMISSIONS
Since there are so few graduate programs in cyber security and so many students who wish to attain a graduate cyber certificate or degree, the admissions requirements are bound to be stringent. Make sure you do the very best you can if you are still taking undergraduate courses and that you enhance your work life by attending conferences.
Try to give panel discussions or lectures while at those conferences. The closer your topics are to the security field the better off you will be. It may also help to write articles for computer science journals or even blogs. Some people may start their own blogs and become known in the field by finding their own audience.
Since your degree is likely to launch your career or take it to a new level, don't be afraid to uproot and move closer to campus if you feel that in-person instruction will be a benefit. There is no substitute for education, so it would be a shame to let your future life take a backseat to temporary circumstances.
MASTERS IN CYBER SECURITY SALARY & JOB OUTLOOK
Once you graduate, your job prospects look great according to the BLS. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth for cyber security professionals to expand by 31.5% through 2032 and salaries are expected to be around $112,000 per year, though numbers vary according to location and years of experience among other factors.
ANNUAL MEDIAN SALARY OF
Information Security Analysts
If you'd like to specialize in digital 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, 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.
A FAST-GROWING FIELD
Cybersecurity is growing at nearly twice the pace of most other employment sectors. Cybersecurity jobs are expected to expand by at least 31.5% through 2032, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Students are therefore clamoring for the training necessary to work as a cyber security professional. To meet this demand, universities that offer programs such as computer science, are working hard to create graduate degrees that specialize in cybersecurity.
SHORT ON TIME? CONSIDER GRADUATE CERTIFICATES
If you are considering a graduate program for cybersecurity, it is likely that you are already working in the IT field in some capacity. With the fact that you're already working in the field in mind, you might not necessarily have two or more years to dedicate to a full cyber security master's degree. Rather, you might want to consider a certificate program.
A certificate program can take much less time than a full graduate degree and coursework can often be applied to future graduate work. Enrolling in a certificate program is often the perfect solution for working professionals. They are able to gain the knowledge and skills they need to get ahead in their careers, but also receive the credentials they need for their resumes.
In fact, since computer security is in such high demand, if you achieve the certificate level in your studies, you may not need to continue any further in your education.