Master’s degree in cybersecurity program guide

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Introduction to cybersecurity

The internet has made our lives easier in many ways. From online shopping, paying bills and staying connected with family, the convenience of having so much information at your fingertips is undeniable. But with technology growing more intelligent every day, your personal information is at a greater risk than ever. From identity theft to malware and viruses, a breach in online security must be taken seriously.

Those in the cybersecurity field are specialized I.T. professionals working to create, secure and defend data worldwide. They educate others in technological safety, focusing on the dangers of unauthorized networks and insecure passwords.

A master’s degree in cybersecurity is considered a top degree in I.T. You can begin earning this degree after getting a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity or a related technical field such as computer engineering or computer forensics. Those with a bachelor’s in cybersecurity can use a master’s to refine their technical skills and earn high-security clearance in government positions.

This degree is perfect for those dedicated to programming and data security. Whether you want to work with people or focus on computers, there is a position for you in cybersecurity.

Requirements

To begin a master’s program in cybersecurity, it is helpful if you have you have completed certain certifications, for example CompTIA+, Ethical Hacking or ISACA. These certifications give you a strong foundation of the specific knowledge and skills you learn in a master’s program.

In addition to a bachelor’s degree, master’s programs require your Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) score for admission. You need a GPA of at least 3.0 and letters of recommendation to apply. Programs sponsored by the Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity (CAE-C) have the most rigorous requirements.

Transferring into a cybersecurity master’s program often requires applicants to have completed specific technical prerequisite courses. It also requires a high GPA, graduate test scores and plenty of experience in the field. Those already in technical computer fields will have an easier time transferring into the degree.

Study options

This degree takes 2 years, or about 35 credits, to earn as a full-time student. Fast track options are available for those combining a bachelor’s and master’s degree and students in these programs usually finish in 5 years. Most programs offer online and offline study options and some online programs are also asynchronous, meaning coursework can be completed at any time.

Cost of the degree

The price of a master’s degree varies depending on the location, if the institution is public or private and whether your program is online or on campus. The average annual tuition cost for master’s programs in the 2020-2021 school year was $8,950 at public universities. This number jumped to $26,670 at private non-profit institutions. Programs certified by the Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity (CAE-C) are more expensive than their counterparts.

Online programs and those offered at public institutions are usually less expensive. Fast track programs for those combining a bachelor’s and master’s in cybersecurity require fewer credit hours and are likewise cheaper for this reason. Regardless of your program choice, there are many financial aid options available.

Scholarships

There are many financial aid opportunities for students in both the public and private sectors. With the field of cybersecurity expected to grow by over 30% by 2029, the government offers support to students in this field. Graduate students receive between $10,000 to $25,000 in aid on average.

Grants, research positions and paid internship positions are also available alongside scholarships to graduate students. Below are some popular programs for cybersecurity students.

  • National Security Agency (NSA) paid internship, fellowship and scholarships
  • Department of Defense’s SMART Scholarships
  • Graduate Research Fellowship Program STEM scholarships

College and universities also have scholarships for students in need. The criteria and amount of aid vary, but it is a worthy investment to see what your school has to offer.

Coursework

A master’s in cybersecurity includes coursework similar to that found in a bachelor’s degree but at more advanced and technical levels. Paid internships, grant work and team projects are typical for this degree. Examples of coursework included in this degree are listed below.

Computer programing

This advanced class covers programming languages, system competencies and specialized certification preparation. Computer programming is the core of a cybersecurity master’s degree.

Laws & ethics

Students in this course learn about standard policy procedures as well as progressive government policy and updated laws. Some courses also cover international data laws.

Digital crime

Students learn how to detect and trace violations in security programming in this course. This class focuses on how to find digital criminals and what to do with them once located.

Penetration testing (pentesting)

A tool used by ethical hackers, pentesting is the process of finding vulnerabilities in a specific part of a given network. This course shows students how to spot the weaknesses of programs and security architecture both digitally and in-person.

Capstone project

The capstone course prepares students for a final project culminating all the skills learned in the program. These projects can help students build a working portfolio to use in future job applications.

Specializations

A master’s degree in cybersecurity can be paired with other specializations such as data loss prevention (DLP), penetration testing and governance, risk and compliance (GRC).

DLP

Engineers with this specialization manage security applications such as malware detection, making sure systems stay updated and troubleshooting issues as they arise.

Penetration testing

Those with this specialization learn how to intentionally hack systems to expose weaknesses and make recommendations for how to strengthen systems against real future attacks.

GRC

Analysts working in GRC measure risk, perform internal audits and create contingency plans for unforeseen business disruptions to assure that systems will continue to run in all circumstances

Accreditation

There are no major accrediting bodies for this specific degree. Schools are verified by regional degree standards like the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU). STEM-based organizations may accredit some programs.

The CAE-C is the gold standard accreditation for cybersecurity programs. The CAE-C is co-sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency, making acknowledged programs verified by the government.

To check whether a school or program is accredited, check the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) database.

Career options

A chief information security officer is a team and company leader in charge of all information systems and security for their organization. They lead teams that prevent cyber threats, test current security measures and ensure adherence to regulations and security policies. They are trainers, supervisors and leaders who need strong communication skills, leadership skills, attention to detail and advanced cyber defense knowledge. A master’s degree in cybersecurity is required to enter this role, as well as several years’ experience and certifications.

The average annual salary for a chief information security officer is $165,912.

Security engineers are in charge of programming, problem solving and the detection and prevention of harmful viruses. They work in teams to fix technical issues and test programs. Those interested in this career path must work well under pressure and have strong communication skills. Computer programming and mathematics knowledge are vital for this position and a master’s degree is recommended.

The average annual salary for a security engineer is $112,000.

Continuing education

It is not essential to earn your Ph.D. in cybersecurity unless you wish to teach in the field. A master’s degree in cybersecurity is more than satisfactory for many employers and hiring organizations. Those seeking to teach or stand out to employers may consider a Ph.D. in cybersecurity.

Should I get this degree?

Many with existing jobs in I.T. choose to get a master’s in cybersecurity as it is the standard in the field for early and mid-level positions. It is a worthwhile investment for those dedicated to cybersecurity and veterans of the field.

CVE

The CVE is a public, online database of all known cyber vulnerabilities to date, helping students and professionals in the field stay aware of the latest vulnerabilities.

ASIS International

ASIS is a membership organization dedicated to cybersecurity training, certifications and networking. Their global community helps professionals collaborate and learn.

Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs)

ISACs is a membership and publication forum for those in the cyber community to collaborate and learn. They have a 24/7 alert system to notify members of large-scale security threats and breaches and offer publications, chapter events, workshops and webinars.

National Security Agency and Central Security Service (NSACCS)

The NSACCS is a government resource for online security. They sponsor the CAE-C with the NICCS to ensure the workforce is well educated on cyber threats.

National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies (NICCS)

NICCS is a premier online training system used by many professionals and employers. They host the CAE-C in partnership with NSACCS. They work to sponsor and provide acknowledged programs with updated course material and training.

CompTIA

CompTIA is a leading training and certification site where students can find most of the required exams and certifications. Many courses provide exam preparation and certifications.