In the wake of the Equifax breach, Uber hack, and other cybersecurity failures, the field of information systems security has become even more important. Information security professionals help prevent identity theft, commercial data breaches, and international terrorist events. They implement firewalls, encryption, and powerful security protection software to help users and companies keep their data safe.
These jobs often offer competitive salaries and ample opportunities for employment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 13% growth rate for information and computer technology jobs overall, and a 28% growth rate for information security analysts. By comparison, the growth rate for all occupations is just 7%. These positions require at least a bachelor's degree and related experience. Candidates with a master's degree are more likely to secure competitive opportunities, advance to managerial roles, and earn higher salaries.
Should I Get a Master's in Information Systems Security?
A master's degree in information systems security can qualify you for high-level government positions with the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, or the CIA. Threats to the country's digital infrastructure have steadily increased, and these organizations need knowledgeable information systems security experts to identify and contain them. Private businesses, especially companies that deal with financial data, also need highly qualified information systems security specialists. The skills you develop in a master's program can help you address these different needs effectively and efficiently.
Several colleges and universities now offer information assurance master's programs online. Online programs usually feature the same course requirements and key assignments as on-campus programs. The convenience and flexibility of online programs often make these degrees an attractive option for working students. Distance learning options also tend to cost less than on-campus options. On the other hand, on-campus programs foster face-to-face interaction and the frequent exchange of ideas, industry news, and best practices. On-campus programs may also host more networking events.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Information Systems Security?
Professionals with a master's degree in information systems security refine computer systems, research security software, and monitor network threats. If you prefer to work with people, you may leverage your master's into a leadership or managerial position. Because a master's degree in information systems security provides students with highly valuable and widely applicable skills, graduates can find careers with many different employers, including corporations, consulting agencies, IT departments, the federal government, and software companies.
- Database Administrator
Database administrators secure and organize information, recover and restore lost data, identify and prevent possible threats, and test the security of databases. A master's in information systems security can help these professionals secure and protect sensitive data.
Median Annual Salary: $87,020*
- Computer Systems Analyst
These analysts examine an organization's operating system to determine possible areas of improvement. They design and implement solutions to secure technology and make systems run more smoothly. Employers with large and highly complex systems may prefer candidates with a master's degree.
Median Annual Salary: $88,270*
- Information Security Analyst
Information security analysts improve system safety by installing firewalls, maintaining data encryption software, researching and recommending security enhancements, and investigating and documenting security breaches. These professionals may help create a disaster recovery plan that can secure data and allow for continued operations in case of an emergency.
Median Annual Salary: $95,510*
- Computer Network Architect
Computer network architects design data communication pathways. They research the latest technologies and coordinate with software developers and equipment suppliers. They also often train personnel or network administrators in how to use a new system.
Median Annual Salary: $104,650*
- Computer and Information Systems Manager
These managers not only oversee an organization's entire technology system, but also supervise the personnel in charge of implementing and managing the network. Several companies prefer information systems security specialists with a master's degree.
Median Annual Salary: $139,220*
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How to Choose a Master's in Information Systems Security Program
Schools with a master's in information system security program usually offer courses in topics such as database security, encryption principles, computer forensics, and secure software design. However, each school offers unique specializations, projects, and electives. Students should thoroughly research the curriculum of each program to make sure it aligns with their career goals and interests. If you plan to pursue a specific subfield of information security, such as networks or cybersecurity, search for a program with a relevant specialization or concentration.
Students should also determine if they want to take courses online, on campus, or both. An online master's degree in information systems security can help working professionals and busy students earn an education while maintaining other obligations. Asynchronous online courses allow students to create their own schedules and complete coursework on their own time.
Some online schools also offer accelerated or self-paced options for students who want to graduate more quickly. By contrast, on-campus programs feature set class times and more structured learning. Many students learn better through face-to-face interaction with peers and professors, especially those new to the industry. Going to a brick-and-mortar school also makes it easier to establish a professional network of colleagues and partners.
Requirements for degree completion vary between programs. Some master's degrees in information systems security require a thesis, while others require a capstone or special project. If writing is not your strong suit, opt for a program that requires a capstone instead. If you are interested in a specific security challenge, select a program that will allow you to develop your idea and conduct original research. Make sure the program you choose supports your professional interests and career objectives.
Accreditation for Master's in Information Systems Security Programs
Accreditation is a voluntary process that demonstrates a school's academic quality according to the standards of an external accrediting body. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognize several accrediting organizations, including both regional and national agencies.
Students should always attend a school with regional accreditation. Most employers only recognize regionally accredited degrees, and many colleges only accept transfer credits from regionally accredited schools. Additionally, students who do not attend regionally accredited programs may face difficulty receiving federal financial aid and external scholarships.
In addition to regional or national accreditation, schools may also earn programmatic accreditation for particular programs or departments. Although no agency specifically focuses on information security, students may consider a school with accreditation from the Computing Accreditation Commission of the Accrediting Board of Engineering Technologies.
Master's in Information Systems Security Program Admissions
Although students often do not apply to as many schools for a master's degree as they would for a bachelor's degree, the admissions process can be equally challenging and time-consuming. Master's programs usually require at least two letters of recommendation and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants pursuing online degrees usually submit the same admission materials as their on-campus counterparts, although some schools set different deadlines for each group.
After you submit all required materials, the admissions office will review each element of your application, including GRE scores, essays, and letters of recommendation. Master's programs are often highly competitive, so make sure you submit all materials on time and thoroughly polish your essays.
- Bachelor's Degree: Master's in information security programs typically require applicants to have a bachelor's degree in technology or a related field. Some schools require applicants with non-IT degrees to take prerequisite courses.
- Professional Experience: Many schools prefer master's applicants with some type of professional experience in IT or cybersecurity. This requirement varies greatly. Some schools ask for at least two years, while others don't require any experience at all.
- Minimum GPA: Regardless of major, most graduate programs require candidates to have an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher. Some schools require applicants who do not meet this requirement to take prerequisite courses.
- Application: Both online and on-campus programs accept electronic applications. Deadlines vary for master's programs, since schools can have two or more start dates throughout the year.
- Transcripts: Schools require transcripts from every college an applicant has attended. Colleges usually charge a fee for this service.
- Letters of Recommendation: Applicants should submit letters from professors, supervisors, and community leaders. These references should know you well and attest to your accomplishments. Some schools prefer letters from certain groups, such as prior teachers or coworkers.
- Test Scores: Many, but not all, schools ask for scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).
- Application Fee: Fees vary between schools, but most range between $40 and $100. Some colleges waive fees for applicants with demonstrable financial need.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Information Systems Security Program?
Although information systems security is already a highly specialized field, you can fine-tune your education further by choosing an area of concentration. These courses can prepare you for work with certain projects, employers, or industries. If your program does not offer further concentrations, you may choose to add a second specialization or courses in a complementary field.
|Technology and Networking||This concentration focuses on topics such as systems analysis, operations management, and network development. Students analyze emerging technologies that impact information security and explore software that organizations can use to strengthen their network.||Computer and information systems manager|
|Large-Scale Data Management||In this concentration, students develop the skills they need to manage large volumes of information, design digital libraries, and retrieve information. Courses include the fundamentals of metadata theory, database management, and information systems design.||Information architect|
|Cryptology||Cryptology refers to studying, creating, and solving codes. Information technology professionals use encryption to protect data from theft. This concentration typically includes courses in symmetric encryption, public-key cryptography, and emerging trends in cryptology.||Software developer|
|Cybersecurity||This field focuses on protecting electronic infrastructures from digital attacks. Students learn how to assess system vulnerability and design solutions that address critical problems. Students investigate state-of-the art security products and evaluate their relevance in the industry.||Cybersecurity analyst|
|Information Security||This concentration helps students develop the skills necessary to investigate security breaches. Students learn how to analyze and search for both physical and digital evidence. Learners also discuss how to coordinate, design, develop, and implement security measures.||Information security analyst|
Courses in a Master's in Information Systems Security Program
Because the field of information systems security constantly changes, schools often review and update their course offerings. However, students can expect to take certain foundational courses in networking, security, and development. The sample curriculum below describes a few common classes for a master's degree in information systems security.
- Database Design and Implementation
In this introductory course, students learn about object-relational databases, data mining, warehousing, and basic database architecture. Students also learn how to use database design and implementation tools such as SQL and develop a working understanding of relational database management systems like Oracle. This course especially benefits database managers.
- Fundamentals of System Development
This class covers topics such as systems analysis and design, object models and diagramming, documentation techniques and tools, and lifecycle and processes. Students also learn about project management and software quality and metrics. Aspiring systems analysts may find this course particularly useful.
- Information System Security
This course examines risk assessment; operational issues, planning, and design; and access control frameworks. Students formulate a basic understanding of the different elements of information system security and how to integrate them within an operational framework.
- Strategic Information Systems Management
Students assess how to customize information systems to suit the needs of their businesses and clients. Topics include performance measurement and enterprise architecture. Computer and information systems managers can benefit from this course.
- Web Application Security
Students learn how to identify and exploit weaknesses in different web applications in order to develop defenses against possible security breaches. This hands-on course can help prepare for jobs in software development and consulting.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Information Systems Security?
Most master's degrees in information systems security require students to complete 30-48 credits. Full-time students usually earn the degree in 18-24 months. However, certain factors can change this time frame. For example, some programs grant credit for prior work experience; this can reduce the length of time it takes to complete the program.
Self-paced online programs allow students to progress through coursework as quickly or slowly as they like. Through these programs, ambitious students can earn a master's in information systems security in just one year. Part-time students and other busy learners may choose to complete less credits per semester. These students may take two and a half or three years to finish the degree.
How Much Is a Master's in Information Systems Security?
According to U.S. News & World Report, an online master's degree in information systems security costs $575-$795 per credit, which calculates to a total of $17,000-$38,000. Depending on the school, on-campus tuition may run higher. Keep in mind, however, that tuition is not the only cost of education. Many online programs charge a technology fee, which can cost as much as $150 per course.
If you pursue an on-campus master's program, the location of your school can significantly impact your finances. The cost of living in major U.S. cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago is drastically higher than in other parts of the country.
To save the most money, consider attending a public four-year public university in your home state. For example, the University of Arizona charges just $24,000 for in-state students, compared to $44,000 for out-of-state students. Private colleges tend to cost the most. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a world-renowned institution, tuition costs $71,000 per year.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Information Systems Security Prepares For
- Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
This management-focused certification requires a minimum of five years of professional experience in information security. Candidates should work in a managerial capacity for at least three of those five years. Applicants who do not meet this requirement can check the website to find acceptable substitutions.
- Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
This certification recognizes security professionals who audit, assess, control, and monitor vulnerabilities in information technology and business systems. This certification qualifies security practitioners to report on systems compliance and implement security controls within the enterprise. Candidates should have a minimum of five years of relevant work experience or an acceptable substitution.
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
Experienced security practitioners who wish to focus their career on cybersecurity should explore this International Info Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC2) certification. The CISSP program meets the baseline certification requirements of the U.S. Department of Defense Directive 8570.1. This certificate demonstrates that the holder has the skills to design, implement, and manage a highly sophisticated cybersecurity program.
- Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)
Information technology professionals with skills in business and technology risk management may apply for this credential. The program trains applicants to design, develop, and implement different types of information systems controls. This certification has strict experience requirements.
- Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP)
Administered by ISC2, this certification demonstrates skill in implementing, monitoring, and administering IT infrastructure using cutting-edge security protocols. Applicants must have at least one year of work experience in risk management, security, cryptography, or another key area.
Resources for Information Systems Security Graduate Students
ISACA members gain full access to the contents of this journal. Non-members can read several informative articles, columns, and new research related to the technology security industry.
This online resource focuses on business technology, emerging trends, and current issues, including security challenges and solutions. The network also provides information on big data management, cloud technology, and wireless infrastructure.
This free online magazine focuses on emerging issues impacting the information systems security field. Infosecurity features the latest news and developments in the industry, and subscribers may earn continuing education units.
This journal features articles on network security problems, contemporary solutions, and regulatory changes. Experienced professionals provide analysis and recommendations on key network security issues.
This website focuses on the challenges, threats, and risks that security and privacy executives face on daily basis. The site presents peer-driven research, practical advice, and news analysis.
Professional Organizations in Information Systems Security
In the ever-changing field of information systems security, industry professionals rely on one other to keep up with emerging trends, address pressing challenges, and find viable solutions to mounting global security threats. Professional organizations foster collaboration and cooperation, provide learning and mentoring opportunities, and help information systems security experts maintain a safe and secure digital infrastructure. Through these organizations, students pursuing an information systems security master's degree can access peer-reviewed journals, job boards, mentorships, and networking events.