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Online Master’s Degrees in Cybersecurity

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.

Online Master’s Programs in Cybersecurity

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.

  • Based in: Arlington, VA
  • Cost: $57,800 total
  • Courses: network architecture, cryptography, penetration testing, cybersecurity law
  • Accreditation: Southern Associations of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)

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.

  • Based in: Los Angeles, CA
  • Cost: $1,774 per credit, $49,672 total
  • Courses: applied cryptography, distributed systems, intelligence analysis, security systems, software development
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)

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.

  • Based in: Elkridge, MD
  • Cost: $1,100 per credit-hour, $50,410 for program.
  • Courses include: foundations of algorithms, intrusion detection, quantum computation, reverse engineering, vulnerability analysis
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)

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.

  • Based in: University Park, PA
  • Cost: $854 per credit-hour, $28,182 total
  • Courses: network security, risk management, information security management, intelligent agents, multisensory data fusion
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)

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.

  • Based in: Newark, DE
  • Cost: $1,166 per credit-hour, $34,980 total
  • Courses: system hardening and prevention, pen tests, smart grids, data mining, applied cryptography
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) and ABET

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.

  • Based in: St. Louis, MO
  • Cost: $816 per credit-hour, $24,480 total
  • Courses: pen testing, security log management and analysis, cloud security, mobile device hacking, incident handling, breaches and legal aspects of privacy
  • Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCACS)

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.

  • Based in: Irving, TX
  • Cost: $1,250 per credit-hour, $37,500 total
  • Courses: cybersecurity management, penetration testing, digital forensics
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC), Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)

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:

Admissions Requirements

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:

  • Coursework or an undergraduate degree in related technical or scientific fields; programs with more of a network/structural focus (e.g., engineering or network design) may require higher-level math, science, or engineering
  • Transcripts of relevant coursework with at least a B average (i.e., GPA >3.0)
  • Recent programming experience with languages including Java, Python or C++, and/or knowledge of modern data structures
  • Professional experience in network design, database development, information technologies, and web services
  • An application and letter of intent describing interest in the program
  • Letters of recommendation from employers and professors
  • Strong GRE scores, especially for the more competitive programs


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.

Influential Online Cybersecurity Professors

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.

Tom Longstaff, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University

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.

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