Cyber Security and Networking are a hot topic and if you want to pursue a cyber security career you need to stand out. Getting your Master's and any additional certifications can help you strengthen your career options and job opportunities. As we become more reliant on web technologies in the home and the office, our need to be protected from hackers, cyber-terrorists and network outages also increases. According to the BLS, cyber security job prospects are growing faster than any other projected occupations.
Why A Cyber Security Master’s?
When a person uses their credit card to pay for an item, or checks their bank account balance online, they are taking a risk. At any given point, there could be someone lurking, just waiting to steal that person’s information for a variety of nefarious reasons. The battle to stop these people from getting what they desire is what cyber security is all about. It is important that anyone working in this field has the knowledge and expertise needed to protect people from cyber-attacks and attaining a graduate degree in cyber security makes these people even more valuable. If you have an undergraduate degree in the cyber security field or the idea of being on the front line of fighting this scourge is something you’re interested in, keep reading.
Overview of Reasons to Get an MS in Cyber Security
In this day and age, for every new technology introduced, there’s a person or organization trying to crack the code to get to the information. Cyber security is important because it helps to keep information safe, from a person’s medical records to the highest level of military information. Those on the front lines protecting that information are cyber security experts, all of whom are trained in the area of cyber security. Without them, every time you swipe your credit card or give out your social security number, someone could steal that information, making life complicated. The area of cyber security was born from the need to keep the information that people share on the Internet safe.
Attaining a bachelor’s degree in the field is an excellent start, but for many, going further to get a graduate degree opens more doors. It is also a way to combine two forms of cyber security, by getting a master’s degree in a similar but different area than your bachelor’s. And, any time you have an advanced degree, especially from an esteemed institution, you have the chance to command a higher income and more responsibility. For those who are looking to grow their careers, a master’s is a great step to doing that.
Types of Master Degrees Available in Cyber Security
There are several paths a person who is interested in getting a master’s in cyber security can take. The right path depends on several factors. For example, does the person want to continue on their current career path or switch gears? Such as a computer programmer who wants to track fraud data for a credit card company, or a systems analyst who wants to focus on firewall protection. Whichever path a person decides on, the graduate degree is going to focus on one of the following areas, or depending on the school, any combination of two or more of the below concentrations.
MS in Cyber Security
A master's degree in Cyber Security demonstrates that the student is adept at identifying risks, creating safeguards against said risks and, in the event of an attack, has the skill and expertise to stop the attack and correct any damage done. There are several areas on which a student could focus when attaining this degree: networks, computer systems, or cyber security.
Core courses for the master’s in cyber security include:
- Foundation of Algorithms
- Information Assurance
Other courses are based on the specialization selected. but the above-mentioned courses are required for any cyber security degree.
MS in Computer Forensics
When a computer, network, or system is hacked, or computer fraud occurs, a special group of people is called in to trace the source of the hack and determine how the breach was completed. This area of expertise is called computer forensics. Computer forensic scientists are trained to spot and correct security breaches in computer networks and software as well as decipher data to determine what is missing and what was left behind by the perpetrators of the fraud. Those with a master’s degree in computer forensics could lead a team of these experts or command a good salary hiring themselves out to companies. Government work on both the local and federal level is also an option.
A sample of courses that a student would be required to take to pursue this degree include:
- Computer and Cyber Forensics
- Foundations of Information Security and Assurance
- Information Security Management
- Network Management and Security
MS in Network Security
Those employed in network security are the ones who come up with the firewalls, encryption codes and other devices that keep all data that is transmitted and stored on a network safe. They are trained to locate the possible areas that could pose a threat and take steps to prevent a breach or attack from happening. Although you can attain a job in network security with a bachelor’s degree, many working in the field have found that having a master’s in network security has made them more employable and able to command higher salaries.
Courses in a master’s degree in network security might include:
- Government Risk Management and Compliance
- Network Security
- Computer Security
Other Computer Related Degrees
Master’s in Computer Science
If you know how to program a computer, this can help you determine whether coding in a program is malicious as well as help you prevent a breach from happening. And in the event of a breach, this skill can assist in closing it and creating computer code that can prevent it from happening again. This is a large part of what those in cyber security do daily.
Master’s in Computer Engineering
Building systems that are as impervious to cyber-attacks is a highly sought-after skill in the cyber security field. A computer network that is built with security in mind is less likely to be breached. Attaining a master’s degree in this field will make you more attractive in the cyber security field.
Master’s in Information Technology
Just as building an infrastructure that is secure is important, having software and systems that are built with security in mind is just as important. A person with a master’s in information tech has learned how to create software that is not easily hacked. When that is combined with infrastructure that is secure, it creates an environment that is ideal for those who deal with personal and sensitive data.
Master’s in Information Assurance
These specialists help to safeguard information by putting the steps in place to assure the information cannot be leaked or otherwise manipulated. This is done through a series of checks and balances related to the use, storage, and transmission of data across secured and unsecured networks. A person with a master’s degree in this area would not only work on the assurances but could head a team that develops new assurances as technology develops.
A master’s degree concentration is a specialization within a particular field. For example, algebra is a type of mathematics. The master’s degree might encompass an entire field, but a person might want to concentrate on a specific part of that field, hoping to set themselves up as an expert. In this case, a person would choose the concentration in which they wanted to focus. When it comes to cyber security, a person can choose a particular part of cyber security to focus their attention. For example, a person could choose computer forensics as their concentration for their cyber security degree. They would still get the needed education regarding overall cyber security, but they would study more about computer forensics than network security or information assurance. Someone who concentrated on information assurance might study software engineering a bit less. Choosing a concentration can improve employability because it sets a person apart as an expert instead of a generalist.
How Much Does a Master’s in Cyber Security Cost?
The cost of a master’s degree in cyber security varies depending on the program and the school. On average, a degree will cost roughly $10,000 for a student attending either online or an in-state program. Programs vary between 30 and 40 semester hours. Students who are out-of-state students will pay substantially more, just as undergraduate students going to a school out-of-state would pay. Most schools approximate that it will take between 18 and 36 months to complete a program, but as with most graduate programs, a student can have up to five years to successfully complete their degree. Online programs are on the more expensive end of the spectrum, with courses costing up to $500 per credit hour, but the completion time is often shorter than other programs. In-state programs, since many are on campus, tend to be longer. Some programs have additional lab and equipment fees, while others rely more on book learning and lectures and therefore cost a bit less in that area.
In most cases the requirements to be accepted into a master’s degree program for cyber security include the following:
- Bachelor’s degree in computer science, computer information technology, networking, or system engineering from a regionally accredited college or university
- A cumulative GPA of at least a 3.0
- An acceptable score on the GRE - this score requirement varies by school
- A completed admission packet - this may or may not include an essay question or a solution to a cyber security scenario
- Work experience in the cyber security field
- Specific courses in mathematics, science, or engineering may be required but this varies greatly by school
Traditional – Online – and Hybrid Programs
Schools that offer master's degree programs in cyber security structure the course load in a variety of ways. Some schools offer traditional classroom study, while others offer a cybersecurity degree online. And other schools offer a combination of both on-campus and online learning.
Here’s a breakdown regarding the three options:
Students come to campus daily and take courses in a classroom setting. Classes might be held during the day, or there could be options to take the same classes at night. This helps to accommodate working students who are seeking an advanced degree.
Students take courses online instead of going to campus each day. This is helpful for students who work or have other responsibilities and need some flexibility in their school schedule.
These programs use a combination of online and traditional courses for their programs.
Master’s Curriculum and Courses
The required curriculum for a master’s in cyber security always include courses directly related to cyber security, but then can vary depending on the concentration a student chooses. If a student chooses to remain a generalist in the field, then the majority of his classes will revolve around cyber security. However, if a student chooses a specialization or concentration, then a student’s second-year curriculum will mostly revolve around that concentration.
Year 1 Sample Classes and Courses
- Computer Network and Security
This course focuses on the study of computer networks and how these systems can be breached. Students learn how to prevent these breaches as well as how to stop one once it has started.
- Cybersecurity Law and Policy
This course studies cybersecurity laws in the United States and beyond. It also studies the policies put into place to safeguard against cyber theft and how effective or ineffective these policies are.
- Foundations of Cybersecurity Engineering
This course is an overview of cybersecurity engineering and how it shapes fraud protection and cyber security laws and policies.
- Hardware Security
This course studies the various methods used to protect computer hardware from cyber thieves.
- Software Security
This course studies the various safeguards and methods used to create and run software safely.
Year 2 Sample Classes and Courses
The second year of the program is when students who choose a concentration start to delve into specialized classes.
For those who choose to remain cyber security generalists, some of the course work for their degree programs might include:
- Cybersecurity Literacy in the Global Arena
Students learn how cyber security is handled on a global scale and how each country interacts with other countries to prevent attacks from happening.
- Methods and Issues in Cyber Policy and Cybersecurity
Students study the different methods used to create cyber policy and security and the issues this sometimes creates domestically and internationally.
- Data Analytics for Cybersecurity
Students familiarize themselves with the ins and outs of data analytics and how it relates to cyber security.
- Cybersecurity Policy, Issues, and Operations
Students learn about the formation and execution of policy and issues revolving around cyber security. They also learn about the breaches that prompted the policies to be put in place.
- Business Information Security
This course teaches students about information security as it pertains to business. From protecting credit card information to making sure someone’s personal information is not leaked to an unscrupulous person.
Financial Aid and Scholarships
As with most graduate degree programs, financial aid consists of scholarships and loans. Most aid that is available to undergraduates, such as Pell Grants, are not available for graduate students. However, there are a plethora of scholarships and awards that students can seek out. For students looking for scholarship funding, start with the desired school and see what grants or scholarships are available directly from the school. Most schools also have a catalog of scholarships that they accept so that’s another option for finding funding for your degree. Below we have listed a few scholarships that are available to cyber security students, but again, this is just a small sampling of what’s available.
- Center for Cyber Security and Education Women’s Scholarship
Deadline: Feb 17
A scholarship for women seeking a graduate degree in cyber security. The requirements include a 3.3 GPA from an accredited college or university. As part of the application process, you’ll have to submit transcripts, a CV, a letter of recommendation, and answer an essay question. Students can attend school full or part time.
- NSF Graduate Research Fellowship
For graduate students who are required to complete a research project, this fellowship could be a lot of help. The fellowship funds a cyber security graduate student’s research for their program. The fellowship pays $16,000 per year.
- Sourcefire Snort Scholarship
Deadline: May 15
This scholarship is easy to apply for because the only requirements are proof of presence of a computer-related discipline and an application. The scholarship pays the recipient $10,000 per year.
- Raytheon’s Women in Cyber Security Scholarship
The requirements include a 3.0 GPA from a regionally accredited college or university, US citizenship, a CV, references, transcripts, a statement of purpose, and reasonable assurance that an applicant is pursuing a cyber security-related field of study. The scholarship offers $8,000 per year.
Jobs/Salaries for Master’s Graduates
Many cyber security graduate students are already working in the cyber security industry, but there are some looking to break into the field, and with good reason: the average salary of a person working in the field of cyber security is $98,350 as of 2018.
Below are some examples of jobs and the salaries they can command:
- Cyber Security Analyst: $75,900
- Cyber Security Engineer: $94,900
- Cyber Security Consultant: $85,600
Cyber security is one of the most in-demand and growing fields in existence. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently 112,000 people employed in the field of cyber security, with an anticipated need of 36,000 more employees through 2028. This works out to a much higher than average hiring and demand rate of 32%. With more and more new technologies being rolled out to help make our lives simpler, there are also those who are working to disrupt those enhancements in order to create chaos. This is what is fueling the need for cyber security specialists, now and in the future.