Fight Rising Threats with a Degree in Cyber Security

Few topics are as hot as cyber security right now; not simply because cyber security issues are in the news, but because experts predict that cyber security will radically transform the way we live. At the personal and business level, cyber security attacks are expected to cost $6 billion in annual damages by 2021, or twice as much suffered in 2016. In 2017, ransomware damages will cost $5 billion, or fifteen-times suffered in 2015.

But the larger threat may be political. In December 2016, Forbes predicted that 2017 would be the year of cyber warfare, and a flurry of successful hacks soon confirmed those fears, including the May 2017 WannaCry attack that affected nearly 200 countries, and which might have compromised 65 million more systems but for an emergency kill switch, according to the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. While governments are acting to increase cyber security measures, many in the tech community claim that current efforts fall short, and some are taking a vigilante approach: single-actor hackers and hacktivist collectives are on the rise, producing several high-profile hacks just within the last five years.

Why Get a Master’s in Cyber Security?

Given these imminent threats, now is the time to pursue a master’s in cyber security, whether you’re a working cyber professional, preparing for a cyber security career, or transitioning from a traditional IT role to cyber security. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts computer and IT jobs to grow 12% through 2024 (or 500,000 jobs), and positions specific to information security to grow 18%, or more than twice the average rate. Still, the consulting giant Booz Allen Hamilton paints a bleaker picture in a recent study, warning of a “shortfall of 1.5 million skilled security professionals by 2020.” In other words, there is a massive demand for cyber security professionals that is going unfilled, particularly in high-paying, upper-level roles. If you’re interested in a career that promises long-term stability, flexible work hours, and cutting-edge opportunities, earning a master’s in cyber security is a good place to start.

Master’s in Cyber Security vs. Related Degrees

Confused about the amount of similar-sounding master’s in cyber security, computer science, and other information technology areas? A brief breakdown:

  • Cyber Security: an increasingly popular degree that builds on IT basics to develop specific technical skills, with additional interdisciplinary studies in forensics, management, politics, psychology, and business
  • Computer Science: a broad-based degree that emphasizes high-level computing, cyber security programming, software engineering and architecture, and other advanced technical skills
  • Information Technology: generally a more theory-based degree that covers business, ethical, and strategic aspects of IT
  • Computer Engineering: stresses hardware and software infrastructure, plus reverse engineering, intellectual property protection, operating systems, and digital forensics
  • Information Assurance: combines studies in advanced technical skills and managerial practices with a multidisciplinary curriculum in areas like criminology, the social sciences, and law

The bottom line? The industry is moving toward a cyber security focus, and most employers are looking to hire professionals with at least some understanding of security fundamentals. The master’s in cyber security provides a solid groundwork in technical expertise, an understanding of how cyber security works in personal, business, and political environments, and room to specialize in a specific area of cyber security.

Master’s in Cyber Security: Core Curriculum

No MS in Cyber Security is the same, but most consist of 30-45 credits. A typical course progression might look like:

  • Overview of Computer Security
  • Digital Forensics
  • Ethics, Legal Issues & Policy
  • Applied Network Security
  • Applied Cryptography
  • Secure Software Engineering
  • Security Engineering
  • Issues in Security, Privacy & Anonymity
  • Web Security
  • Ethical Hacking
  • Capstone Project

Master’s in Cyber Security: Specializations

Many programs also offer specialization/concentration options, for instance:

  • Policy
  • Engineering
  • Intelligence
  • Cyber Operations
  • Information Assurance
  • Information Systems
  • Physical Systems
  • Digital Forensics
  • Computer Security Fundamentals

Master’s in Computer Science: Careers

A few possible careers for professionals with a master’s in cyber security:

  • Security Architect: a mid- to senior-level information assurance role that builds, implements, and manages secure networks and computer systems. In most companies, this is the highest role in cyber security on the tech side, requiring soft-skills like strategy development, project and team management, and training and mentoring junior team members.
    • Median Salary: $98,430
    • Job Outlook, 2014-24: 13%
  • Security Software Developer: another mid- to senior-level position that designs, develops, and integrates security at every level of software development. In addition to managing malware, spyware, and intrusion detectors, security software developers design forensic tools, build prototypes, and manage junior team members.
    • Median Salary: $98,430
    • Job Outlook, 2014-24: 13%
  • Ethical Hacker: also known as “white hat hackers,” ethical hackers are employed by a variety of prestigious government and private firms, working to expose and then patch system vulnerabilities. For perhaps obvious reasons, most hold certifications, like Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) or Certified Network Defense Architect (CNDA).
    • Median Salary: $71,331
    • Job Outlook, 2014-24: 15%
  • Cryptographer: among the highest-paying cyber security positions, cryptographers develops algorithms, ciphers, and security systems that conceal secret, private, or sensitive information. Additional job titles may include Information Assurance Systems Engineer, Encryption Expert, or Senior Security Engineer.
    • Median Salary: $105,810
    • Job Outlook, 2014-24: 21%