As the center of the universe for technological innovation, Silicon Valley is a constant target for cybercriminals. From the dramatic showdown between Kevin Mitnick and Tsutomu Shimomura in the mid-90’s to the discovery of the biggest-ever leak in history that compromised data on1.2 billion Facebook and LinkedIn users in late ’19, California has been ground zero for the most storied events in the history of information and network security. And that history is still being forged today.
The difference between cyberthreats and criminal actions comes down to time in most cases, so neither the giants of the Valley or the state are interested in waiting around to see what happens. As far back as 2013, then-Governor Jerry Brown directed the state Office of Emergency Services and the Department of Technology to establish the California Cybersecurity Task Force, a partnership between the public and private sector, academia, and law enforcement. Under its auspices, the state Cybersecurity Integration Center works relentlessly to reduce the likelihood and severity of incidents that could damage the state’s economy, critical infrastructure, and the networks that both government and industry rely on.
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In their arsenal are new laws that have the potential to drive change at the global level as much of the world looks to the Valley for guidance, or at least for a barometer of consumer sentiment and some forecasting of things to come. The Consumer Privacy Act and Internet of Things laws that passed in 2018 offer new legal leverage for seeing to it companies take responsibility for the privacy and security of user data. These are laws with real teeth and real reach, since just about every tech company out there has operations in California, and even those that don’t can’t ignore consumer preferences in that market.
This point at the cutting edge of both technical and legal cybersecurity response continues to push demand for qualified cybersecurity staff. In 2020, Cyberseek, a tech industry data tracking tool sponsored by NIST, found that more than 111,000 cybersecurity professionals worked in California… but it also found that more than 72,000 positions remained unfilled. Even with one of the highest concentrations of information security jobs, and easily the hottest technology job market in the nation, there’s a lot of empty seats to fill. And as the law of supply and demand dictates, that void places huge upward pressure on starting salary offers as employers compete for top talent.
As a cybersecurity specialist with the right qualifications, there’s no better position to find yourself in. If you don’t already hold a master’s degree, now’s the time to get one.
Earning a Master’s Degree or Post-Bachelor’s Certificate in Cybersecurity in California
California is home to several National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated schools that offer cybersecurity master’s programs.
The NSA and DHS offer designations specific to two classifications of schools that offer graduate programs in information security:
- CAE-CDE – National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (qualifying colleges and universities offering bachelor’s, master’s, and graduate certificates)
- CAE-R – National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research (schools that participate in research initiatives and that integrate a strong research component into the curriculum of bachelor’s and graduate programs)
In addition to traditional on-site programs, the NSA and DHS also recognize online cybersecurity programs throughout the country. Online programs are flexible enough to accommodate the schedules of working professionals and provide a greater variety of program options.
Both online and traditional programs are generally 30 credits long and can be completed over 15 months. 15 of the credits will be core classes, with the other 15 made up of electives.
Students may also seek post-bachelor’s certificates, which are typically 15 credits in length.
Standard Admissions Requirements for Cybersecurity Master’s Programs
Being accepted to a top cybersecurity master’s program generally requires a strong showing in your undergraduate studies, skills in advanced mathematics and programming and, in some cases, high scores on entrance exams. Students will also be expected to maintain a 3.0 GPA during the program.
Minimum requirements to be accepted into a quality master’s program generally include:
- Bachelor’s degree in a related discipline, such as computer science, engineering, or applied mathematics
- Minimum 3.0 GPA in bachelor’s coursework
- One year of calculus and one year of a mathematics course beyond calculus
- Courses in data structures and programming languages, such as Java or C++
- Instruction in computer and network architecture
Applicants to cybersecurity master’s programs with a GPA less than 3.0 in undergrad studies may be required to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and submit their scores to the university. Master’s programs set highly competitive requirements, and look for the following scores:
- Verbal score of 150 or higher
- Quantitative score of 155 or higher
- Analytical score of 650 or higher
Core Courses, Electives and Program Objectives
Core coursework may vary slightly among programs, but will typically include the following topics:
- Foundations of information security
- Information security policies
- Distributed systems and network security
- Trusted system design, analysis and development
- Secure systems engineering
- Computer and network forensics
Most master’s programs require 15 credits of electives. Topics may include:
- Applied cryptography
- Intrusion detection systems
- Cryptography theory and applications
- Threat modeling and intel
Graduates of master’s programs will be well-versed in programming languages and database structures, have experience working with real world security tools, and be able to architect secure systems. Graduates will also be expected to have ample knowledge of system protection techniques for web, mobile and embedded infrastructures.
NSA and DHS Designated Research and Education Institutions in California
The following schools have met the rigorous criteria required to earn the NSA/DHS National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (CAE-CDE) designation for their master’s and post-bachelor’s certificate programs:
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, Computer Information Systems Department
California State University, San Bernardino, Cyber Security Center
Naval Postgraduate School, Cyber Academic Group (Also holds the esteemed NSA/DHS National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research (CAE-R) designation.)
- Master of Science in Computer Science Computer Security Track
- Cyber Security Adversarial Techniques Graduate Certificate
- Cyber Security Defense Graduate Certificate
- Information Systems Security Engineering Certificate
San Jose State University, Silicon Valley Big Data and Cybersecurity Center
Additionally, the following schools hold the NSA/DHS Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research (CAE-R) designation:
University of California, Irvine, Secure Computing and Network Center
California State University, Sacramento, Center for Information Assurance and Security
Attending a Cybersecurity Bootcamp Online, or in Berkeley, Sacramento, Irvine, Los Angeles, Riverside, or San Diego as Preparation for a Master’s Degree or the Job Market
Applying to a master’s program is a highly competitive process, and application committees are quite selective. Many individuals without the right bachelor’s experience and qualifications struggle to find ways to gain the knowledge they need to make the cut.
A cybersecurity bootcamp is one way to get that kind of skill without eating up much time or money. Lasting from a few days to a few weeks on average, bootcamps are a hard-charging course of instruction in practical, hands-on elements of cybersecurity based on real-world threats and techniques. You can find bootcamps for every level of expertise, from broad-based, entry level programs to highly specialized and focused programs that deliver advanced training and lead to industry standard certification.
Get hands-on training in defensive and offensive cybersecurity, networking, systems, web technologies, and databases, and benefit from our CompTIA Partnership. Maintain your work or college schedule by studying part-time, only three days a week, with convenient evening and weekend hours. Click for more info:
- UC Berkeley Cybersecurity Boot Camp
- UC Davis Cybersecurity Boot Camp
- The Cybersecurity Boot Camp at UCI Continuing Education
- The Cybersecurity Boot Camp at UCLA Extension
- The Cybersecurity Boot Camp at UCR Extension
- The Cybersecurity Boot Camp at UC San Diego Extension
Each of these delivers approximately six months of part-time instruction and has no entry requirements beyond a GED and the ability to take on some elementary problem-solving tasks. In return, you will walk away with an introductory knowledge of subjects like:
- Use of industry-standard tools like Nessus, Wireshark, and Metasploit
- Competencies to help you earn Security+ and CEH certifications
- Penetration testing
- Security operations and analytics
- Risk management techniques
All of it is accompanied by extensive career services and resume preparation that can fast-track you into a cybersecurity position if you choose to get into the job market rather than immediately progressing to a master’s degree.
Opportunities Available to Master’s-Prepared Cybersecurity Analysts and Specialists
Everyone knows California is rich with opportunity for cybersecurity professionals. It’s even more motivating to learn that those opportunities come with impressive salaries and benefits. According to Robert Half’s 2020 Information Technology Salary Guide, tech workers in locations like LA, Oakland, and San Francisco can earn anywhere from 30 percent to 40 percent more than the national salary averages in their roles. That puts a security architect in San Francisco earning more than $200,000 per year at the median, or an information systems security manager in the top five percent of the profession pulling down an eye-popping $290,107.
Master’s-prepared professionals in California can expect the ability to move into exactly those senior positions and lead teams of information security professionals.
The following job opportunities are not meant to provide any assurance of employment. They represent the kind of employment opportunities available to cybersecurity specialists in California, and are shown for illustrative purposes only.
Director of Cyber Security & Incident Response – Cyber Coders in San Francisco
- Minimum of bachelor’s degree; master’s degree preferred
- Experience with incident response, computer forensics
- Preference given to candidates with current certifications, especially: GIAC, GCIH, GCIA, GREM, GCFA, GCFE
- Analyzes data breaches, determines the extent of data loss
- Provides remediation strategies
- Provides risk assessments, IR plans and pen-testing
Senior Cyber Security Engineer – AT&T in San Diego
- Bachelor’s degree minimum; master’s degree preferred
- Minimum five years of experience in information security position
- Design, develop, implant and support cyber security solutions
- Operate and manage information systems
- Implement and monitor security measures
- Execute security policies and procedures
Lead Threat Response Engineer – Apple in Santa Clara Valley
- Bachelor’s at minimum in a related discipline
- 5-10 years of experience in information security
- Knowledge of TCP/IP, UDP, DNS, FTP, SSH, SSL/TLS, HTTP, and others
- Manage a team of information security analysts
- Operate monitoring of security events
- Evaluate security events for context, risk, and criticality