Combat Rising Threats with a Degree in Information Technology

Cyber security is one of the most pressing concerns of the digital era. And while no consensus has been reached on optimal cyber strategy, everyone agrees that cyber security risks will radically transform the way we live, from mundane goings-on to critical geopolitical activities. At the business and personal level, experts predict that cyber security attacks will cost $6 billion in annual damages by 2021, or twice as much suffered in 2016. In 2017, ransomware is projected to incur $5 billion in damages, or fifteen-times 2015 costs. Most notoriously, at least 143 million Americans’ data was stolen following the 2017 Equifax breach, which earned it the ignominious label of history’s largest identity theft; and yet because of the massive trove of personal data that was already trading on the black market — about 825 million records, per the Identity Theft Resource Center — it remains virtually impossible to know the full extent of the hack.

Still, despite such crisis-level statistics, the most dangerous cyber risks are state actors, both as victims and belligerents. In December 2016, Forbes predicted that 2017 would be the year of cyber warfare, and a series of major public hacks have since proved the magazine right, including the May 2017 WannaCry attack which affected nearly 200 countries (and which might have compromised 65 million more systems if not for an emergency kill switch.)
Governments have enhanced security protocols in recent years, but a significant portion of the tech community argues that policies are still insufficient, and online vigilantism has skyrocketed: single-actor hackers and hacktivist collectives are on the rise, and several of the most high-profile hacks in history have occurred within the last five years.

Why Get a Master’s in Information Technology?

Given all the above, you might be considering an advanced degree in IT, cyber security, or another computer science-related field, especially if you’re a cyber professional, preparing for a cyber security career, or debating whether to transition from a traditional IT role to cyber security. If so, good news. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts computer and IT jobs to grow 12% through 2024, which translates to about 500,000 openings. But how do you decide which master’s to pursue? What distinguishes a master’s in information technology from others?

Typically, the MS in Information Technology emphasizes a skill set and curriculum beyond generic tech course work, including business, strategic management, decision-making, and business and cyber ethics. In this way, it’s a great degree for current IT managers and professionals looking for upper-level managerial roles; less so for those looking for tech-intensive degrees, like a cyber security master’s. That said, the MSIT is also a highly customizable track, and many programs feature specializations and/or concentrations to tailor the degree by professional interests.

So, to break down your options…

Master’s in Information Technology vs. Related Degrees

  • Information Technology: a theory-intensive, interdisciplinary, and customizable degree that includes studies in business and management, security ethics, and strategic aspects of IT
  • Information Assurance: combines advanced technical lessons and managerial training with a multidisciplinary curriculum in areas like criminology, business ethics, and law
  • Cyber Security: builds on IT basics to hone and develop specific technical skills, with 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 technical skills
  • Computer Engineering: a tech-heavy degree that emphasizes hardware and software infrastructure, plus reverse engineering, intellectual property protection, operating systems, and digital forensics

Master’s in Information Technology: Core Curriculum

Every MSIT program is different, but most degrees total about 36 credits and take 1-3 years to complete, depending on full- or part-time enrollment and accelerated delivery offerings. A typical core progression might look like:

  • Strategic Use of Digital Information in Enterprises
  • Telecommunications and Computer Networks
  • Wireless Networks
  • Data and Inference
  • Applied Machine Learning
  • Data Analytics
  • Big Data Science Business Process Systems
  • Computer Science Principles for Practicing Engineers
  • Info Security
  • Cloud Computing

Master’s in Information Technology: Specializations

Because the MSIT is designed as an open-ended degree, most include specialization options:

  • Database Systems Technology
  • Homeland Security Management
  • Cyber Security
  • Informatics
  • Information Assurance
  • Project Management
  • Software Engineering
  • Systems Engineering
  • Telecommunications Management

Master’s in Information Technology: Careers

Despite the glut of IT job openings, consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton has projected a critical shortfall of 1.5 million skilled workers, which means a massive demand for cyber security and IT professionals is going unfilled, particularly in high-paying, upper-level positions. With a master’s in information technology, you’ll be qualified for several key roles:

  • Security Consultant: available as an in-house or independent contractor job. Consultants advise businesses and organizations on case-by-case security solutions, and may help plan and develop security specs, execute vulnerability assessments, and define security policies.
    • Median Salary: $77,746
    • Job Outlook, 2014-24: 18%
  • Security Analyst: one of the most common and in-demand positions that features a dragnet of responsibilities, including network, data, and computer systems monitoring; creation, implementation, and management of security measures; and training non-cyber security staff on standard protocols
    • Median Salary: $92,600
    • Job Outlook, 2014-24: 18%
  • Information Security Manager: a mid- to upper-level role in charge of protecting an organization’s computer, data, and network systems, using security remission protocols and procedures,
    forensic investigations, vulnerability audits, and tailored security products.

    • Median Salary: $88,004
    • Job Outlook, 2014-24: 18%