The near endless number of applications available through wireless networks accessible from terminals and mobile devices anywhere in the world has certainly improved our lives– but it has also increased our vulnerability to cybercrime. When information systems are compromised, it not only disrupts business transactions and inconveniences our lives in countless ways, it has the potential to put our financial system at risk and even jeopardize national security. It’s these bigger implications that keep cybersecurity teams up at night.
Like never before, we need a highly skilled workforce of graduate-educated cybersecurity analysts, engineers, architects, auditors and administrators to defend our information systems against malicious attacks, cybercrime, and terrorism.
DHS and NSA Designated Cybersecurity Graduate Programs
In addition to achieving regional or national accreditation, colleges and universities that house the nation’s top cybersecurity degree programs can earn the distinction of being designated as National Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE). Together, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sponsor the CAE designation program in an effort to promote higher education and research related to information assurance and cyber defense.
Institutions that offer graduate degrees may hold one or more of the following CAE designations:
- CAE-CDE – National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education: Designed for four-year colleges and graduate-level universities
- CAE-R – National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research: Designed for universities with academic IA/cybersecurity programs that support advanced academic research and development capabilities
The NSA and DHS confer these designations to schools that offer a robust degree program in cybersecurity that consists of specified knowledge units as determined through a validation process.
Public and private sector employers often recruit candidates from CAE-designated programs, since they can be confident graduates have the skills and knowledge necessary to lead cybersecurity and defense teams.
Cybersecurity Master’s Degree Options
Cybersecurity master’s degree programs produce graduates who are able to detect cybersecurity threats and preserve and restore information systems.
Graduates of these programs are prepared to:
- Assess enterprise security risks and formulate recommendations
- Understand the challenges associated with secure operating systems, secure applications, secure networking, cryptography, and key management
- Protect pre-existing infrastructure, detect intrusions and abuses, and respond to attacks
- Manage the complexities of securing data, networks, and systems
- Develop, engineer, and operate secure information systems
- Develop security policy that drives technology decisions
- Examine the legal, social, regulatory, ethical, and technical issues involved with securing information systems and critical infrastructures
Cybersecurity master’s degrees go by a number of titles, including:
- Master of Science in Information Systems
- Master of Science in Information Technology – Internet Security
- Master of Science in Cybersecurity
- Master of Science in Information Security and Assurance
- Master of Science in Information Technology/Cybersecurity
- Master of Information Technology in Information Assurance and Security
- Master of Science in Cybersecurity Policy
- Master of Science in Computer and Information Security
- Master of Science in Cyber Security Engineering
- Master of Engineering in Cybersecurity
- Master of Business Administration– Cybersecurity
Many programs allow students to choose a concentration in areas that include:
- Cyber investigations
- Network security administration
- Secure embedded systems
- Digital forensics
- Data management systems security
- Systems security administration
- Systems security engineering
Colleges and universities may house cybersecurity master’s programs in any number of departments:
- Computer science
- Interdisciplinary studies
- Library science
- Military science
- Legal studies
In many institutions, cybersecurity master’s degrees are co-located or shared across academic departments, such as engineering and computer science or business and computer science.
Skill Requirements for New Graduate Students
Candidates for admission into a master’s degree program in cybersecurity are expected to possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, usually in a related field like computer science or computer engineering.
The application process for a cybersecurity master’s program often requires that candidates demonstrate knowledge of:
- High-level programming
- Systems programming basics
- Concurrency and coordinated mechanisms
- Data structures
- Discrete mathematics
Master’s program candidates are generally required to have a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher. Candidates would also be expected to submit these additional items during the admission process:
- Resume, detailing relevant professional experiences
- Personal statement, detailing the reason behind pursuing the degree, related academic and professional experiences, and career goals
- Letters of recommendation from supervisors or peers
- GRE/GMAT scores (may be waived for applicants that possess strong undergraduate GPAs or those with extensive work experience in a related field)
Program Content and Structure
The content found in cybersecurity master’s programs is designed to produce graduates skilled in designing and developing secure and assured systems and capable of predicting, preventing, and responding to cyberattacks.
Master’s degrees in cybersecurity consist of about 30 credits, encompassing a core and related electives. Most programs can be completed in 15 to 24 months.
The core focuses on the following topics:
- The design of new systems
- The protection of systems
- Systems assurance
- Analysis and malware detection
- Data mining and anomaly detection
- Cyber crime investigation
- Assurance foundations
- Applied cryptography
- Network security
- Design and analysis of algorithms
Many CAE-designated institutions have begun offering cybersecurity master’s degrees and post-master’s certificates in a fully or partially online format designed to accommodate today’s busy working professionals.
Many of these online programs combine live classes through a virtual classroom experience, interactive coursework, and collaborative group exercises that provide students with a well-rounded and rigorous education experience. Online tools and services allow students to engage with instructors and cybersecurity professionals, all from the comfort of their home.
Coursework in online cybersecurity programs is enhanced through:
- Interactive videos
- Self-paced recorded lectures
- Face-to-face group projects
- Hands-on learning exercises
Accelerated and part-time scheduling is also common in cybersecurity master’s programs.
Post-Bachelor’s Graduate Certificate Programs
Post-bachelor’s cybersecurity graduate certificate programs consist of about four to six graduate-level courses (about 18 credits).
These programs are designed to supplement computer science or engineering undergraduate degrees with graduate-level courses, which can be transferred toward a master’s degree in cybersecurity in the future, if desired.
Most post-bachelor’s graduate certificate programs offer flexible scheduling, allowing students to complete the program’s requirements in one to three years.