Since the world wide web went live in 1991, and the internet fully commercialized in 1995, there has been a rapid increase in the number and sheer variety of cybercrimes committed across the world. Hackers’ targets have included secure government websites, credit card number databases, university research organizations, popular Twitter accounts, celebrity phones, and city infrastructure to name a few.
Just how extensive are cyber threats, and how much damage can they cause? The vast majority of attacks are leveled against companies and institutions across the US, and the damage from these cyber-intrusions can be substantial. By illustration, security and risk management publication CSO (2020) compiled a list of surprising research-backed facts about cybersecurity. Currently, the FBI’s most wanted cybercriminals include a cadre of Iranian hackers working at the behest of the government of Iran whose actions compromised universities, private companies, and government entities; Alexsey Belan who has been charged in connection with compromising at least 500 million Yahoo accounts; and Viet Quoc Nguyen, who is wanted for hacking into email service providers and stealing confidential information.
So what can be done in response to these threats? A new generation of crime-fighters has emerged to protect the vulnerable security systems of the electronic age. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019), cybersecurity professionals such as information security analysts perform a wealth of preventative and proactive functions such as monitoring computer networks for security breaches; installing protective software; educating company personnel on best practices for guarding confidential information; and keeping abreast of the latest trends in the industry. Furthermore, these computer specialists are well-compensated. The BLS (May 2019) reports that information security analysts—one possible subfield of cybersecurity—make an annual average salary of $104,210, nearly double the average salary of all U.S.occupations. Finally, openings for this occupation are projected to swell 32 percent between 2018 and 2028, much faster than the average estimated growth for all jobs (5 percent).
The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies (NICCS) indicates that in addition to information security analysts, there are a number of high-growth career paths open to cybersecurity specialists such as becoming a security engineer; vulnerability assessor; computer crime investigator; forensics expert; cryptanalyst; web penetration tester; cryptographer; disaster recovery expert; or for the leadership-inclined, a chief information security officer (CISO).
Read on to discover the range of cybersecurity degree and certificate programs, both on-campus and web-based, as well as to learn about professional certification and program accreditation.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics , information security analysts typically need at least a bachelor’s degree to enter the profession, but there are exceptions for this dynamic field, particularly for those with extensive experience.
Featured Cybersecurity Degree and Certificate Programs
Colorado Technical University (CTU) offers an online bachelor of science (BS) with a concentration in cybercrime and security at all the CTU campuses except for Colorado Springs and Aurora. Recognized by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and certified by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), students in this program take courses such as introduction to computer security, security risk management, ethical hacking, and computer forensics.
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) in information assurance, research, and cyber operations, provides a variety of master’s degrees related to information technology and computer forensics.
One standout option is the three-semester master of science in information security (MSIS) degree program, which features a technical focus on security and computer systems. With a heavy emphasis on research, the MSIS curriculum consists of core courses and program electives, as well as a required summer internship. A cyber-ops certificate is also an available option for MSIS students. The MSIS program meets the requirements for the NSF-funded CyberCorps scholarship for service program, which provides a full scholarship and academic stipend for two years.
Other programs at CMU include a master’s of science in information networking (MSIN), and a bicoastal master’s of science in mobile and IoT engineering (MSMITE) with students taking courses at Carnegie Mellon’s Pittsburgh and Silicon Valley campuses and a master’s of science in information security (MSIT-IS).
George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, DC has a master of science (MS) of cybersecurity in computer science program. Boasting world-class faculty and located in the nation’s capital—a prominent target of cyberattacks—GWU’s 30-credit program gives instruction in areas such as design & analysis of algorithms, advanced software paradigms, computer system architecture, and management of information & systems security. GWU also offers a PhD program in this discipline as well as a graduate certificate in cybersecurity and information assurance.
Syracuse University (SU) offers a 30-credit master of science (MS) and a 12-credit certificate of advanced study (CAS) in cybersecurity programs. Courses in these programs provide necessary foundations for the design and development of secure systems and learn to identify and analyze vulnerabilities in systems, as well as assess risk and develop countermeasures through software components. Designated as a Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) by the NSA and DHS, Syracuse also offers a PhD in computer science that allows students to focus on research in cybersecurity. Students must complete the master’s program in four years and maintain a 3.0 GPA.
As mentioned above, there are a variety of degrees and certificates for aspiring cybersecurity professionals. Following are the common entrance prerequisites (i.e., admissions materials), courses, and sample programs at each level:
In addition to the programs listed on www.forensicscolleges.com’s online computer forensics programs, here are four additional distance-based cybersecurity programs to consider:
Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) has been recognized as a Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) by the US NSA and provides an online bachelor of science (BS) in security and risk analysis with an emphasis on information and cybersecurity. Penn State has specialized instruction in information, people & technology; the organization of data; the legal & regulatory environment of information science & technology; and the threat of terrorism & crime. As part of the curriculum, students complete a supervised internship to put their newfound abilities to work on real-world case studies. Penn State also hosts an online BS in information sciences and technology.
Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) provides an online bachelor of science (BS) in information technologies with a focus on cybersecurity. SNHU’s affordable program, which is organized into six 9-week terms, features instruction in how to protect sensitive data networks, operating systems (e.g., Linux/Unix), and cybersecurity fundamentals. The accomplished instructors cut their teeth dealing with real cyberattacks, and teach courses such as introduction to software development, fundamentals of information technology, and cyberlaw & ethics.
The University of Southern California (USC) offers a 28-unit online master of science (MS) in cybersecurity engineering which typically takes two years to complete. Ideal for information technology professionals, this advanced degree program involves not only classes such as foundations of information security, secure systems engineering, and applied cryptography, but also boasts professionally designed, simulated laboratory experiences to put students’ burgeoning theoretical and technical knowledge to the test.
The University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) offers a wealth of online bachelor’s, master’s, and certificate programs in cybersecurity, including one outstanding online graduate certificate in the foundations of cybersecurity comprising 18 semester hours of instruction in cyberspace & cybersecurity and human aspects of cybersecurity (i.e., ethics, legal issues, and psychology). Other degree options at UMGC include a bachelor of science (BS) in cybersecurity management and policy; a BS in computer networks and cybersecurity; a BS in software development and security; master of science (MS) in cybersecurity; an MS in cybersecurity policy; an MS in digital forensics and cyber investigation; and an MS in information technology (information assurance).
Following the completion of a degree or certificate program, many cybersecurity professionals choose to seek out professional certification. There is a wide variety of options available—including the popular Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and Certified Computer Forensics Examiner (CCFE) certifications, which test candidates’ knowledge of computer forensics and network security, ensuring that they are knowledgeable about techniques and learning in the field.
Many employers prefer job candidates who are professionally certified. Tom’s IT Pro (2018) created a data-driven spread of the most in-demand computer forensics certifications using data from popular job posting sources such as LinkedIn, SimplyHired, and Indeed and found the following to be the most in-demand:
Applicants should check certification websites for information on how to maintain credentials, a process which typically involves the completion of continued education (CE) hours.
Aspiring professionals in cybersecurity are encouraged to verify the accreditation status of their program. This process not only evaluates the faculty, curricula, and student outcomes of a program or institution, but also can serve as an indicator of program quality to prospective employers or graduate admissions committees.
Although there is no specific body which accredits programs in cybersecurity or digital forensics, there exist six regional accreditation organizations recognized by the US Department of Education. These agencies include:
Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Rachel writes about meditation, yoga, coaching, and more on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).