Workforce demand outpaces supply when it comes to cyber security. If you’re thinking about a career in cyber security — or furthering your current career in the field — you’ve chosen a path that has a lot of opportunities. By 2019, the world will see a shortage of 2 million cyber security jobs, according to ISACA, a global nonprofit association of IT governance professionals. And, according to a Forbes article titled, “The Fast-Growing Job With a Huge Skills Gap: Cyber Security,” posters for cyber security jobs are having a hard time getting qualified applicants to apply.
Graduate programs help you learn advanced technical, conceptual, and practical skills needed for a leadership career in cyber security. Master’s in Cyber Security students learn advanced strategies and techniques to identify, prevent and address national security threats, as well as predict and prevent cyber attacks before they occur. Online programs potentially allow you to study while you work thanks to a more flexible school schedule.
Online master’s degree programs can be just as immersive as in-the-classroom experiences. Students may engage in a combination of live and recorded sessions (also referred to as synchronous and asynchronous classrooms) taught by accomplished and experienced industry professionals. You may even interact with your peers and instructors face-to-face online. Not all online cyber security programs have live classes, so you will need to determine whether the program is synchronous, asynchronous or a combination.
Some online programs require immersions, which are on-campus or on-site workshop experiences. Students meet in classrooms or workplaces for hands-on learning, often on weekends. If an immersion experience isn’t available near you, you may have additional expenses for travel and lodging. If this is a concern, talk to an admissions counselor before you begin the application process.
Online discussion boards allow for continued conversation among students, so you can learn in a collaborative setting. And because lessons might typically be recorded and accessible after class, students can reinforce learning on a schedule that works for them.
A variety of students pursue master’s degrees in cyber security. Many are working professionals in a computer science-or cyber security-related field who want to open opportunities in management, administration and executive leadership. You might consider a Master’s in Cyber Security degree worth it if:
- You’re interested in entering the industry or advancing your career within the field
- You want to leverage your experience with an advanced degree to demand a higher salary
- You would like to someday earn your PhD in cyber security
Cyber security professionals with master’s degrees tend to earn 5.5 percent higher base salaries on average than those with bachelor’s degrees, according to Pearl Meyer’s 2017 Cyber Security Compensation Survey. The SANS Institute found that cyber security professionals with master’s degrees earn even more than their bachelor’s-level peers over their careers:
|Cyber Security Salary by Education Level and Years of Experience*|
|Education||0-3 Years||4-6 Years||7-10 Years||11-15 Years||16-20 Years||Overall|
Part of the reason why master’s-prepared cyber security professionals earn more than their peers is because of the global shortage of cyber security professionals overall. The 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education provides some insights into this gap that can help explain why highly skilled and educated cyber security professionals are well-paid and in high demand:
- The global cybersecurity workforce gap is on pace to hit 1.8 million by 2022
- North America will have an estimated 265,000 more cyber security jobs than skilled workers
- Two-thirds of cyber security hiring managers worldwide plan to increase the size of their departments by 15 percent or more
Deciding to go back to school for your master’s is one thing, but deciding to earn your degree online is something else entirely. An online Master’s in Cyber Security degree might be a good fit if:
- You’re interested in getting your master’s degree and want to learn and study from the convenience of your own home, or any other location beyond the school campus
- You want to get a degree from a particular school, but don’t want to move out of state to attend
- You want to pursue a master’s degree while you continue to work full or part time
- You are interested in cyber security graduate programs, but have obligations that make studying at home the best option for you
Typically, students who apply to online Master’s in Cyber Security degree programs have a computer science background and may have worked in these cyber security fields:
- Software engineering
- System engineering
- IT analysis
- Private sector
- Criminal justice
- Department of Defense
Lastly, an online degree program takes discipline and time-management skills. Because much of the program is self-directed and flexible to accommodate working professionals, you’ll need to set aside time for classwork, study time and communication with instructors and other students.
Online cyber security curriculum may vary, but they all tend to focus on the advanced skills needed to lead and manage teams. You’ll find that some online master’s programs have been designated by the National Security Agencyand Department of Homeland Security as distinguished programs, which means coursework is designed to align with those high-security roles in government.
Cyber security curriculum
While some programs may allow you to focus on a certain concentration related to cyber security, typically you’ll study the following core topics:
|Cryptography||Topics may include authentication protocols, symmetric block ciphers and the Advanced Encryption Standard, public-key cryptosystems, digital signatures and cryptographic hash functions.|
|Computer Forensics||Topics may include investigating network intrusions, software forensics, audit logs, processing crime and incident scenes, data acquisition, digital evidence controls and legal and ethical issues associated with investigations.|
|Network Security||Topics may include access control, virtual private networks, intrusion detection systems, perimeter security defense, authentication, wireless security and network security auditing tools.|
|Incident Response||Topics may include vulnerability testing and exploit analysis, risk mitigation, business impact analysis, disaster recovery planning and information security compliance.|
|Ethical Hacking/Penetration Testing||Topics may include remote network mapping, vulnerability exploitation, OS fingerprinting, attack surface analysis, fuzz testing, credential gathering and privilege escalation.|
Students with master’s degrees in cyber security will be prepared to work with complicated networks, including at government levels. Coursework is hands-on, allowing students to use encryption tools, fix bugs, run tests and solve problems from their own machines. Students may work individually or in groups, depending on the course.
- Each school will have a unique set of requirements to apply for a graduate program in cyber security. While a bachelor’s degree in a field related to computer science is preferred, some schools do not require you to have majored in a related field as long as you demonstrate proficiency in programming and have basic knowledge of operating systems, or if you currently work in a computer science-related field and have a bachelor’s degree. Some schools require experience/knowledge in mathematics, probability and statistics.When applying for an online master’s, some schools will require the completion of a Graduate Record Exam (GRE) test and will require a minimum GPA in order to be considered. References, a personal statement and a resume may also be required.
- Is it 100% online, or are immersions required?
- Is an undergraduate degree in a related field required?
- Is a GRE/GMAT required?
- For international students, is the TOEFL required?
- Are the online classes live (synchronous), recorded (asynchronous) or a combination?
- Does the school offer support with job placements and internships?
- What are the academic requirements?
- How long does the program take to complete? Are accelerated options available?
- What is the mix of instructors/professors who have field experience vs purely academic?
As you explore schools and programs, use the list above to compare programs and evaluate the factors that are most important to you.
What is an MS in Cyber Security Online?
See where an online master of science degree in cyber security can take you.