Cybercrime, cyberwarfare, and cyberterrorism are on the rise, which is why cybersecurity is a growing field. As more companies and nations find themselves relying on networks that contain sensitive information, they need people to safeguard their data. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for information security analysts will grow an extraordinary 28% by 2026. Earning a master's in cybersecurity can get you started on an exciting career path in this flourishing field.
If you like the idea of developing systems to protect data or using forensic evidence to track down cybercriminals, then this guide is for you. Specifically, it will explore the ins and outs of master's in cybersecurity programs, along with potential career paths, sample curricula, and professional organizations.
Should I Get a Master's in Cybersecurity?
A master's in cybersecurity benefits those already working in cybersecurity and those who would like to transition into the field to advance their career. Working professionals might prefer the flexibility of online programs, while someone yet to enter the workforce might prefer an on-campus experience.
A master's degree is not often required for a job in cybersecurity, but it can make you more competitive -- indicating you have the dedication, knowledge, and skill to be a leader within the field. Students in these programs learn to monitor and protect networks from intrusion, develop and implement systems to prevent breaches or to recover data, and collect forensic evidence after a breach in order to learn from the event. Completing a thesis or other special project -- sometimes required in these programs -- can give you an edge on the job market by giving you something unique to point to on your resume.
Networking and job placement opportunities you attain while earning this degree may also benefit you. For instance, people you meet during your program could help you get a job, and faculty may have connections to major firms and organizations. Internships can also lead to permanent positions, and some programs include job placement.
What Can I Do with a Master's in Cybersecurity?
Chances are you already have an idea of where your career is going, but a cybersecurity master's degree can help you advance your career down numerous paths. Below are five careers that can benefit from a master's degree in cybersecurity.
- Information Security Analyst
These professionals analyze networks and systems in order to find weaknesses others may exploit. They design, implement, and maintain systems to protect those networks. A master's degree makes these professionals more competitive in the market and allows for greater specialization.
Median Annual Salary: $95,510
Projected Growth Rate: 28%
- Computer and Information Research Scientist
These professionals analyze computer technology in order to continue its development, often with specializations with a specific field affected by such technology (e.g., developing new systems to defend against threats or creating ways to track down cybercriminals).
Median Annual Salary: $114,520
Projected Growth Rate: 19%
- Computer Network Architects
These professionals design, implement, and maintain information networks. For certain users, these networks must include security measures capable of protecting data and responding to threats, which is where a cybersecurity degree comes in handy. Applied in this career, it would allow architects to build secure networks from the ground up.
Median Annual Salary: $104,650
Projected Growth Rate: 6%
- Network and Computer System Administrator
These professionals manage existing networks and help users store and retrieve data, all of which needs to be protected. With a cybersecurity degree, administrators handle security issues alongside other network problems to simplify network maintenance.
Median Annual Salary: $81,100
Projected Growth Rate: 6%
- Software Developer
These professionals create new software for several purposes, including security. Developers with a cybersecurity degree might help to improve and design new virus blocking software or other applications for personal users or larger networks intended to detect intrusions and protect data.
Median Annual Salary: $103,560
Projected Growth Rate: 24%
How to Choose a Master's in Cybersecurity Program
Choosing a master's in cybersecurity program requires careful consideration. Explore the courses offered, the faculty teaching them, and the opportunities the program affords. A thesis or capstone requirement can result in a unique piece of research, while internships or job placement programs can help get your career started. Some programs offer concentrations to help you narrow your skill set. Is that something you're interested in? Especially online, some programs are tightly structured, with everyone taking the same classes regardless of interest.
Cost is obviously a factor, but keep in mind that more expensive doesn't necessarily mean a better education. Also, do you prefer to attend online or on-campus? If the latter, where is the school located, and will you have to move to attend? How will that impact your budget? The cost of a degree includes more than just tuition. If you're attending online, are you able to schedule classes or do the work around your existing schedule and obligations? Part-time programs are more flexible but take longer, while attended full-time is more demanding but gets you the degree more quickly. Does a given program let you choose how much of a workload you want, and if not, is that workload something that you can handle without making significant sacrifices?
In the end, considering these and other factors can help you find the program that best fits your life, learning styles, and interests.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Cybersecurity Programs
Accreditation is the process by which a school is certified to teach students and grant degrees. It's important to know if your school of choice is accredited because if it isn't, your degree will be worthless. Schools are generally accredited by a regional or a national board. Regional boards handle public universities in their jurisdiction, while national boards cover for-profit, private, and trade schools. Either is acceptable, and neither kind of accreditation is better than the other.
Some fields have specific accreditation agencies. While cybersecurity is not one such field, keep an eye out for programs offered by departments that do have programmatic accreditation for adjacent fields, such as information technology. These departments might not necessarily offer a better cybersecurity education, but they have proven that they do offer a quality education.
Master's in Cybersecurity Program Admissions
The first step in completing your master's in cybersecurity is getting accepted to a program. Admissions is an important part of the graduate student process and your first opportunity to show a school you're a candidate who will complete the program. Take your time completing the application, making sure any essays or statements are geared to the program itself, and not generic.
Programs are unique, and you should choose one because there are things about it that appeal to you. Many students apply to multiple programs at once, and while this isn't necessary, it can be useful. Master's programs are competitive, and there generally aren't that many openings in a given year, so applying to several programs can increase your chances of getting into one. Keep to a manageable number, and don't let quantity win out over quality.
- Bachelor's Degree: You will need to have a bachelor's degree to get into a master's program. The details of what degrees qualify or what prerequisites you need will vary by school.
- Professional Experience: Some programs require a certain amount of work experience, but even those that don't will look kindly upon applicants with some experience in the field.
- Minimum GPA: Master's programs typically have a minimum GPA you must have maintained in your undergraduate program. This is usually 3.0 or higher.
- Application: These are primarily done online and consist mostly of basic questions about past education, tax information, and other factors that help determine eligibility for a program.
- Transcripts: These need to be sent over from your prior institutions, and schools will request either official or unofficial transcripts for the application. There is usually a fee associated with sending out official transcripts.
- Letters of Recommendation: The specifics will vary by program, but generally these should come from professors, mentors, or employers with whom you have worked and who can speak to your abilities.
- Test Scores: You will most likely need GRE scores in order to get into a master's program. Higher scores are obviously better, but the minimum score required will vary by program.
- Application Fee: This fee largely exists to prove you are serious about applying to the program. Some schools may allow it to be waived under specific circumstances.
What Else Can I Expect from a Master's in Cybersecurity Program?
Every cybersecurity master's program is different, but there are some aspects that provide a common experience. Here are some potential concentrations for a master's in cybersecurity.
|Cyber Intelligence||This concentration focuses on gathering and analyzing data about cybercrime and the threats it poses. Professionals with this focus work to prevent cybercrime from occuring by using data to predict criminal actions and close holes in security. They might also gather data to determine the identity of specific cybercriminals.||Cyber intelligence analyst, threat intelligence analyst|
|Digital Forensics||This concentration focuses on investigating security breaches and other events to determine how those events occurred and who was responsible. The information these professionals collect lead to better security systems and the apprehension and charge of cybercriminals.||Computer forensics investigator, crime analyst|
|Information Assurance||This concentration focuses on information security control, information risk management, regulation, and incident response. Those working in this field keep information safe and secure, develop networks that can withstand the attempts of cybercriminals, and mitigate damage caused by successful breaches.||Information assurance specialist, information security analyst|
|Computer Security||This concentration focuses on security issues that arise during the design, analysis, and implementation of computer systems. Professionals with this focus use their skills and knowledge not only to help identify potential problems within software or networks before they lead to breaches, but also to develop more secure computer systems.||Software developer, security architect|
|Compliance||This concentration focuses on enterprise-level work to ensure that IT and security efforts comply with standards and practices of the field. Professionals with this focus audit networks and IT departments and develop plans for implementation of standards or recovery from breaches.||Endpoint protection specialist, cyber risk management associate|
Courses in a Master's in Cybersecurity Program
Every master's in cybersecurity tends to cover similar topics. Below are five examples of the courses you might encounter when researching the right program for you.
These courses introduce students to the practices and principles behind modern cryptology, including hash functions, protocols, and digital signatures, with explorations of applicable theories and methodologies from the field.
- Intrusion Detection
These courses explore the variety of software, methods, and other tools used in intrusion detection today. While prevention is important, most evolutions in cybersecurity come after an intrusion, making the detection of them one of the more important aspects of the field.
- Ethical Hacking
Theses courses explore how to use the techniques of hackers to test a system for potential weaknesses. Know as "white hat" hacking, professionals who focus on these skills help to improve the strength of networks by finding problems before cybercriminals do, allowing themselves or other professionals to further develop security in those areas.
These courses address the kinds of algorithms used in detection and monitoring. Algorithms are important tools that allow professionals to monitor networks efficiently and maintain their security. Courses explore complexity, sorting, and analysis in order to prepare student to develop their own algorithmic tools.
- Digital Forensics
These courses explore how cybersecurity professionals investigate breaches and other events and detect evidence as to what caused those events. The collection of such evidence is essential to understanding how to adapt networks to prevent further events. Techniques used to mask events or otherwise hide forensic evidence are also covered.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Cybersecurity?
The typical master's in cybersecurity will take two to three years of full-time coursework. Of course, a number of factors can impact this. For example, attending part time will result in a longer program, whereas taking extra classes can shorten the time. Many programs, especially those offered online, offer accelerated or intensive courses. These options are generally shorter, but they pack the same amount of work into that period. They may be difficult, but they do get your degree faster.
If you find yourself living on campus or in otherwise expensive housing that you'll be leaving upon graduating, you can end up increasing the cost of your degree by going less than full-time. Attending part-time is a good choice for students with existing obligations, such as work or family, and who are working on advancing a career instead of starting one.
How Much Is a Master's in Cybersecurity?
Several factors can impact the cost of your master's in cybersecurity, not the least of which is tuition. Every school offers different tuition rates. Generally though, attending on-campus is cheaper if you are a resident of the state, and online courses are often a cheaper option no matter where you live. You should also consider the cost of student fees, books, and other supplies.
If you're attending full time, keep housing costs in mind, especially if you aren't working while you're getting your degree. Living on-campus is may be expensive, so living nearby is a better option; rent, utilities, and other bills can vary depending on cost-of-living.
Estimating the total cost of your degree before you apply is a good use of your time, as it can help you determine the changes you'll need to make to your budget, career, or lifestyle in order to afford it.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Cybersecurity Prepares For
- Certified Ethical Hacker
CEH certification focuses on white hat tactics that identify weaknesses before cybercriminals use them. This certification can lead to more focused certifications, resulting in professionals with the knowledge to improve the defenses of any network.
- CompTIA Security+
A strong early credential, this certification assess baseline skills in cybersecurity. Unlike other certifications that test the same subjects, CompTIA Security+ includes performance-based questions, resulting in a credential that indicates not only your knowledge of cybersecurity practices, but also practical experience.
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional
The CISSP certification shows that the holder is capable of designing security systems. It is geared toward professionals who are leading teams and can be difficult for early career professionals to earn.
- Global Information Assurance Certification
The GIAC certification validates the holder's ability to configure, monitor, read, interpret, and analyze intrusion prevention methods and data from intrusions that have occured. This can be an early career certification, though it is most aimed at professionals already working on intrusion.
- Certified Information Systems Manager
The CISM certification is aimed at experienced professionals who are leading teams or who are ready to take that step. It focuses on the management of systems, validating the holder's ability to track and keep in mind various domains of knowledge when designing and implementing security plans.
Resources for Cybersecurity Graduate Students
This extensive document lists known security threats in non-technical languages. It can help cybersecurity professionals and their coworkers outside the field.
While there are numerous job posting websites around the Internet, having one that is focused on cybersecurity can make finding a job in the field easier.
This site lists the canon of cybersecurity books professionals should read. The list is updated each year with new titles.
This online periodical is geared toward cybersecurity professionals and contains a wealth of information that can help keep you at the top of your game.
Another online periodical, CSO focuses on news that can help professionals adapt to and defend against the newest threats and keep up with other changes in the field.
Professional Organizations in Cybersecurity
Before you finish your master's in cybersecurity, look into professional organizations related to the field. Groups like those listed below provide networking and professional development opportunities such as forums and conferences, job boards, and certification or training. Many offer discounted admission for students, and some offer scholarships as well.
(ISC)2 is a global organization with over 138,000 members focused on networking and the professional development of cybersecurity professionals.
Established in 1989, the SANS Institute is a trusted organization dedicated to research and education; it is also one of the largest providers of IT security training and certification in the world.
OWASP is a collaborative community of professionals dedicated to the visibility and evolution of cybersecurity, free from commercial concerns.
ISSA is a global organization that brings together cybersecurity professionals to drive the field forward.
FIRST is an organization of professionals dedicated to the exchange of information about and collaboration in the face of cybersecurity threats.