One only has to look at current headlines to see how cybersecurity—particularly the fears of all that can go wrong with poor practices—can shape our future. Some tech-watchers expect future battles between nations will be fought not by soldiers with guns, tanks, and planes, but rather by computers; the internet will become the new battleground. Other futurists envision whole new levels of corporate espionage and skullduggery, with different companies hiring the best hackers to take down their rivals while defending their own virtual ramparts from similar attacks. Anyone familiar with Uber’s “Hell” software or Project Greyball may believe that it’s already begun.
Recent security breaches of businesses and government agencies have shown that determined people can find ways to break into just about any system, whether it’s an individual hacker or a well-organized criminal enterprise. In some cases, unfriendly countries may even encourage or fund their cyber-savvy citizens to go forth and hack their enemies, whether it’s to bring in new revenue or steal intel.
No target seems to be safe as more companies and individuals are falling prey to ransomware, a practice in which hackers take over and threaten to lock up your machine until you pay them.
This increase in cyber-threats—not to mention very sophisticated attacks at local, national, and global scales—means that there needs to be a proportional increase in internal and external defenses, which is why people with current cybersecurity training are already in very high demand.
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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS Dec. 2015), openings for information security analysts are expected to grow by 18 percent between 2014 and 2024, much faster than the 6.5 percent average growth predicted across all occupations. As of 2014, there were 82,900 jobs in this field closely related to cybersecurity, but the industry was expected to add 14,800 more jobs during that same decade. Another study paints a more urgent picture: ISC2, a nonprofit that offers cybersecurity certifications, estimates that there’s a severe shortage of cybersecurity workers worldwide and an incredible 209,000 unfilled jobs.
The BLS (May 2016) also found that these analyst positions can be lucrative, with median pay at $44.52 per hour or $92,600 per year. Higher-level managers, such as information security officers or chief technology officers, can earn $120,000 or more.
Because hackers are now going after everyone from home web-users to company systems and larger multi-state networks or agencies, people who want to work in this field need a dynamic, working understanding of how to design stronger systems to keep people out; they must be able to detect and remove viruses or malware, and thwart other breach attempts.
People who already have background in computer science may want to consider pursuing advanced training in cybersecurity. A master’s degree can provide advanced training in current trends, which could be useful for leadership or educational roles. Continue reading to learn about online master’s programs in cybersecurity, including the exceptional professors, expected coursework, and other relevant information.
Masters of Science in Cybersecurity, Marymount University
This campus near Washington D.C. is an ideal spot to learn cutting-edge cybersecurity topics since many of the instructors or guest speakers work in defense agencies or as private security contractors. The 36-credit program is considered one of the best of its kind, according to U.S. News and World Report, and presents a variety of security theories and hands-on applications to students. Although the entire program can be taken online, school officials encourage that at least the final course be taken in person to take advantage of the local experts.
Master’s of Science in Cybersecurity Engineering, University of Southern California
While some programs focus more on working with existing defensive tools, USC Online teaches how to develop one’s own secure information systems. The 28-credit M.S. program offers foundations in topics such as computer engineering and development, imparting the ability to creatively adapt to new security threats and build new defenses. It uses a proprietary system to allow online students to communicate with other classmates in a virtual classroom setting. It could also be used as a foundation for the USC doctoral program in information security.
Master’s of Science in Cybersecurity, John Hopkins University
This program offers in-depth look at identifying and defending against cyber-threats, as well as keeping data confidential and maintaining the integrity of data systems. There is a strong focus on modern cryptology methods, including encryption, authentication, and hash functions. Students can also choose specialty programs in analysis, networks or systems, and choose online only or a blended approach (online/on-site). They can also continue their training with a post-master’s program in cybersecurity.
Master of Professional Studies in Information Sciences/Cybersecurity and Information Assurance, Penn State World Campus
This multi-disciplinary 33-credit programs blends real-world business issues with simulations to discuss internal and external cyber security failures, breaches, and attacks. Instructors bring diverse backgrounds including engineering, chemistry, psychology, artificial intelligence, and computer science. Students discuss modern methods of information analysis, information science, and general security issues. The program has been recognized by the Department of Homeland Security as a Center of Academic Excellence in information Assurance and Cyber Defense.
Master’s of Science in Cybersecurity, University of Delaware
With a blend of theory and hands-on instruction, students learn how to create systems, networks, and software that stand up to breach attempts. The program also includes current information about encryption methods, user security, confidentiality, and system integrity. The program uses a virtual machine environment for testing and simulations. Notably, the school also has been designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education by the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security.
Master of Science in Cybersecurity, Maryville University
Students learn a blend of theoretical information about topics such as network security and technology, in addition to completing virtual simulations so they can prepare for real-world data breaches. The 30-credit program is part of the Maryville’s School of Business, so there are management components as well, which can provide even more skills for students to compete and lead in the modern workforce, reinforcing cybersecurity as part of their company’s overall strategy.
Master’s of Science in Cybersecurity, University of Dallas
This 30-credit program has been designed to provide a wide range of current security topics in different disciplines. It has a STEM focus and has been designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education from the DHS and NSA. Students gain leadership, ethics, and management skills while learning techniques to safeguard networks and other electronic infrastructure, as well as how to investigate breaches or breach attempts.
An alternative pathway to entering a graduate degree program is to seek a certificate, which offers some highlights of the degree program but requires fewer credits. This option can be handy for people who want to build or reinforce certain topics and skills faster or receive additional skills. These online certificate programs include:
While some cybersecurity program applicants can benefit from a background in law enforcement or criminology, many of the above programs require (or at least recommend) more professional and academic experience in computer sciences and computer engineering.
Every school’s admissions process varies, but they typically ask that applicants have:
With so many schools offering graduate degrees and certificates in cybersecurity, degree-seekers are encouraged to make sure the school has been recognized as meeting quality standards in education through accreditation. Accreditation is available through many entities, but not all of them carry the same weight. Prospective students are encouraged to seek out institutions or programs with accreditation from organizations recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which recognizes six geographic entities for accreditation:
CHEA also recognizes online learning via the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). Additionally, technology-based programs in computer science or engineering can receive accreditation from ABET, a non-profit federation of professionals that focuses on applied science, engineering, and engineering technology degrees. Furthermore, the cybersecurity and information technology industries include various organizations that offer certification, research, networking, and training opportunities. These include ISC2 and The SANS Institute.
Finally, program applicants are strongly encouraged to verify the “state authorization” status of their institutions. In other words, if their distance-based institution is based in another state, they must ensure that they’re eligible to enroll. State authorization information is typically readily available on program websites (e.g., Johns Hopkins University), or students can contact program admissions to determine eligibility.
Blending legal, intelligence, and security backgrounds, Elaine Lammert offers a useful perspective for students. She’s currently the program director for GWU’s cybersecurity strategy and information management program. She previously worked for the FBI starting as a special agent, where she was involved in a variety of terrorism, drug, and organized crime investigations. She retired from the FBI Office of the General Counsel, and also served as a special assistant U.S. attorney. Her counsel experience included offering legal advice in the areas of national security, intelligence capabilities, technology, and cyber defense.
Dr. Longstaff is currently the program chair for the university’s computer science, cybersecurity, and information systems engineering programs, and co-chair of the data science program. His doctorate is in the philosophy of computer science, and he’s had various roles at JHU’s Applied Physics Laboratory, including serving as chief scientist for the lab’s cyber missions branch. He also worked as a senior computer scientist for the U.S. Department of Defense.
As the associate dean for online and professional education in the school’s College of Information Sciences and Technology, Dr. Forster blends a background in political science and terrorism with current cyber technology. He also has affiliate status with Penn State’s School of International Affairs. He has researched how today’s terrorists are using online and mobile technology. Notably, he contributed to the institution’s transition to an online learning environment.
This graduate of Maryville returned to his alma mater after working in the corporate sector for more than a decade at places like Boeing and IBM. He now heads the online cybersecurity program and has also focused on delivering the curriculum using Apple tools, which is unusual when many in the academic community use Windows technology. It’s worth noting that Mr. Loeffler is an Apple Distinguished Educator, an elite designation comprising 2,000 state-of-the-art educators.