In 2012, the Washington Post quoted Alec Ross, senior adviser for innovation to the White House, as saying, “If any college student asked me what career would most assure 30 years of steady, well-paying employment, I would respond, ‘cybersecurity.’”
Cybersecurity professionals in Alaska play a critical role in providing information security for the state government, local IT firms, the healthcare and finance industry, and numerous other industries in the state. In 2014, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that information security analysts in Alaska earn an average annual salary of $88,380. Cybersecurity analysts with masters’ degrees have a higher earning potential and the ability to easily transition into senior positions within cybersecurity teams.
In many ways, Alaska critically needs more professionals trained in information security techniques. Alaska has been a pioneer of online voting in the US, and many state residents and officials have expressed concern that online voting increases the ability for outside sources to alter votes and destroy the anonymous nature of the voters. In 2014, the IEEE Spectrum reported that cybersecurity experts in Alaska have been hard at work to prevent hackers from obtaining discretionary access to voting records.
Maintaining security within the state’s online voting infrastructure just scratches the surface. Cybersecurity analysts and engineers support some of the state’s largest industries, including oil and gas extraction. In 2015, the Fairbanks Daily News Miner reported that Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. is just one Alaskan company that has faced repeated threats of cyber security breaches, with as many as several thousand attempts to hack into the system occurring every month.
Cybersecurity analysts in Alaska are also vital to the protection of the healthcare industry. The database of the largest health insurance company in Alaska, Premera Blue Cross, was attacked in 2014, allowing hackers to access members’ social security numbers, bank account information, and other personal details. The attack affected about 34,000 Alaskans. In the wake of the recent cyber-attacks, cybersecurity experts have been commissioned to secure this information for the future and develop well-rounded disaster recovery plans.
In 2015, Burning Glass Technologies reported that the professional services, finance, and manufacturing/defense sectors have the highest demand for cybersecurity analysts, but as industries across the state transition their secure information online; cybersecurity experts are needed in every field. Cybersecurity professionals in Alaska may find employment with companies like Alaska Communications, the leading IT provider in the state. They may also choose to work for companies like WatchGuard, an IT security company that partners with Alaska Communications and other IT firms to protect client information.
Earning a Master’s Degree or Certificate in Cybersecurity in Alaska
As of May 2016, Alaska was home to just one traditional in-state cybersecurity program at the undergraduate level available through a school designated by the NSA and DHS as a National Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education (CAE/IAE). However, there are no similarly designated master’s programs housed in the state.
Alaska’s would-be analysts seek their master’s degrees in cybersecurity from several NSA and DHS designated online programs hosted by universities throughout the country. Many professionals appreciate the flexibility that an online program offers, as well as the greater variety of program titles to choose from. Online programs allow students to complete course modules at their own pace, and many programs involve online lectures and the ability to meet professors in the virtual environment.
Whether online or traditional, master’s programs in cybersecurity typically consist of 30 credit hours, broken into two sections: 15 credits of core classes and 15 credits of electives. These programs take about 15 months to complete.
Another option for professionals seeking to expand their current education is to earn a post-bachelor’s certificate through an online program. Post-bachelor’s certificates are generally 15 credit hours long, and offer students the ability to learn new programming languages and gain experience with the most current databases without embarking on a full master’s program. Through a post-bachelor’s certificate program, students will study network management and security, foundations of information security, cyber forensics, and disaster management.
Admissions Requirements for Cybersecurity Master’s Programs
Students seeking admission to a cybersecurity master’s program in Alaska must bring a well-rounded educational background, technical experience, and excellent entrance exam scores.
Students will be expected to hold a bachelor’s degree in a related discipline, which may include computer science, engineering, or information security. In addition, students will be expected to have maintained at least a 3.0 GPA during bachelor’s coursework, and will be required to maintain a 3.0 GPA during the master’s program.
In some cases, students without a 3.0 GPA in undergraduate studies may be required to submit General Record Examination (GRE) scores in order to be considered. Admissions departments look for the following scores:
- GRE verbal score of 150 or higher
- GRE quantitative score of 155 or higher
- GRE analytical score of 650 or higher
Master’s program students must possess prior knowledge of advanced mathematics and programming. Admission departments look for:
- One year of calculus
- One mathematics course beyond calculus: discrete mathematics, linear algebra, or differential equations
- A Java or C++ programming course
Core Courses Found in Accredited Cybersecurity Programs
While the core courses in cybersecurity programs may vary slightly, all accredited programs will cover the following topics:
- Cyberspace and Cyber Security
- Human Aspects in Cybersecurity: Ethics, Legal Issues and Psychology
- Prevention and Protection Strategies in Cybersecurity
- Monitoring, Auditing, Intrusion Detection, Intrusion Prevention
- Cyber Crime Investigation and Digital Forensics
- Networking and LAN Infrastructure
- Routers and Routing Concepts
- Cybersecurity Defense and Countermeasures
- Network Security Penetration Testing
Electives may include advanced computer architecture, machine learning, malware analysis, or biometrics.
Opportunities Available to Master’s-Prepared Cybersecurity Analysts in Alaska
From 2010-2014, Burning Glass reported that the number of cybersecurity job postings in Alaska grew by 17%. In a time of high unemployment and economic instability, the field of cybersecurity offers some of the best prospects for long term job security available.
The following opportunities, sourced in May 2016, represent the types of employment opportunities available to master’s-prepared cybersecurity specialists in Alaska, but are shown for illustrative purposes only and are not meant to offer an assurance of employment.
Information Assurance Security Officer at General Dynamics IT in Fort Wainwright
- Bachelor’s or higher degree in cyber security or a related discipline
- 8-10 years of experience in data security
- Design and maintain network security systems
- Perform vulnerability scans, build residual risk reports, and perform privacy impact assessments
- Establish internal procedures for review and systems integrity
Cyber Analysis Support Specialist at Leidos in Anchorage
- Bachelor’s degree or higher in a related field
- 9 or more years of related experience
- Experience with CNO and SIGINT tools and databases
- Conduct research, evaluate intelligence, and analyze network events
- Analyze data, perform risk and opportunity assessments
- Assess vulnerabilities and develop response strategies
Cyber Warfare Engineer with the US Navy in Anchorage
- Minimum of a bachelor’s degree from an NSA-approved Center of Academic Excellence
- Navigate complex computer networks and infrastructures to provide defense against real and potential attackers