“For top talent, cybersecurity isn’t about just a job and a paycheck. It is about the hottest technology, deployed by honorable organizations, for a purpose that is inherently important. It is no surprise that Virginia is an ideal location for these types of people.”
-Jim Duffey, Virginia’s technology secretary (Los Angeles Times, 2013).
From finance and banking to healthcare and insurance to private defense contractors, almost every industry in Washington, D.C. has a pressing need for highly trained cybersecurity professionals to architect and monitor secure information systems.
D.C. is an especially important source of valuable government intel, and with the widely publicized government breaches in recent years, more and more government offices are assembling IT security task forces comprised of qualified cybersecurity professionals. With such a demand, there is no shortage of jobs for master’s-prepared cybersecurity professionals. In fact, in 2015, Burning Glass Technologies ranked Washington D.C. as the city with the most cybersecurity job postings in the US.
Washington DC is also home to many continuing education opportunities, such as “The Exchange” Data Privacy and Cybersecurity forum, an interactive seminar targeted towards both public and private sector technology experts.
Here’s what has been happening in DC’s tech circle:
- According to DC Inno, from 2011-2014, Washington DC companies bought three major cybersecurity companies—NetWitness, Mandiant, and SourceFire.
- According to a 2015 Network World article, Hexis Cyber Solutions’ CTO said that there is 0% unemployment for cybersecurity professionals in the Washington DC area
- In 2015, The Observer noted that Washington DC is at the top of the cybersecurity tech scene. According to the journal, “Washington has the government contracts and the mega-corporations. They have the talent, the military institutions, and they’re listing twice as many jobs as any other competitor in the space.”
- Cybersecurity Venture’s top 500 2016 list— “the definitive list of the world’s hottest and most innovative companies in the cybersecurity industry”—listed four DC cybersecurity companies.
With an average annual wage of $116,100 for information security analysts, DC boasts the highest salary in the nation (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). Not only does DC boast high wages, but cybersecurity specialists in the area have the opportunity to work for companies known nationwide for their innovation and service. Some of these companies include The Newberry Group, a DC-based cyber security practice designed to help clients build their own secure systems, and four companies mentioned on Cybersecurity Ventures’ top 500 list of 2016”: Thycotic, an account management and security firm; the Certoff Group, a consulting firm which helps build and execute security strategies; Ridge Schmidt Executive Cyber Solutions, a cybersecurity firm; and Virtru, a cybersecurity firm specializing in email and file protection.
Earning a Master’s Degree or Certificate in Cybersecurity in Washington D.C.
The greater Washington DC area is home to National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated schools that offer cybersecurity master’s programs and post-bachelor certificates.
Jointly, the NSA and DHS offer designations for two classifications of schools that offer graduate programs in information security and cyber defense:
- 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)
The NSA and DHS also recognizel universities throughout the country that offer online cybersecurity master’s programs.
In lieu of a master’s degree, cybersecurity professionals desiring to gain more advanced training may also pursue a post-bachelor’s certificate. About half the course load of a master’s program, a certificate program will focus on Design and Analysis of Algorithms, Computer Architectures, Advanced Software Paradigms, Network Management and Security, and Risk Assessment and Mitigation.
Standard Admissions Requirements for Cybersecurity Master’s Programs
In order to apply to a cybersecurity master’s program, students must be prepared with an excellent education history, high GRE scores, and prior knowledge of basic programming languages and applied mathematics.
Minimum requirements include:
- Bachelor’s degree in a related discipline
- One year of calculus and one year of a mathematics course beyond calculus
- A course in data structures
- A course in Java or C++
- A course in computer organization
If the applicant has less than a 3.0 GPA in bachelor’s coursework, the school may require GRE scores. Admissions departments 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 for NSA and DHS designated programs will typically include:
- Ethics in Technology Management
- Managing Technology
- Systems Requirements
- Computer Forensics
- Databases and Database Algorithms
- Cyber Ethics and Policy
Elective topics may include:
- Information Assurance and Risk Assessment
- Cryptography and Network Security
- Cyber Threats and Vulnerabilities
- Intelligence Analysis for Information Security
- Perspectives in Addressing Cybersecurity Issues
With a thorough understanding of network security, cryptographic protocols, and relevant programming languages and operating systems, graduates of cybersecurity master’s programs will be prepared for the challenges of the field. In addition, graduates will be able to architect secure systems, provide intrusion detection, and assure the security of IP communications.
NSA and DHS Designated Centers of Academic Excellence in Washington D.C.
As of 2016, the following school has met the rigorous criteria required to earn the NSA/DHS National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (CAE-CDE) designation for its master’s program:
The George Washington University, College of Professional Studies (Also holds the NSA/DHS National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research (CAE-R) designation.)
- Master of Science in Cybersecurity in Computer Science
- Master of Professional Studies in Cybersecurity Strategy and Information Security
- Computer Security and Information Assurance Graduate Certificate
Additionally, Georgetown University holds the NSA/DHS Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research (CAE-R) designation and offers:
- Master of Professional Studies in Technology Management: Information Security
Opportunities Available to Master’s-Prepared Cybersecurity Analysts and Specialists in Washington D.C.
Washington DC is arguably the best location in the entire nation for cybersecurity professionals seeking employment. Not only does DC offer the highest salary for cybersecurity specialists in the nation, but it is home to some of the country’s most innovative tech and cybersecurity firms, as well as a host of cybersecurity government task forces. Master’s-prepared cybersecurity professionals in DC can enter into the job search with confidence.
The following job listings are not meant to represent any guarantees of employment. Taken from a 2016 survey of cybersecurity job postings in Washington DC, they are shown to represent the kinds of opportunities that may be available to cybersecurity specialists and analysts in the state.
Computer Systems Security Analyst with Northrop Gruman
- Bachelor’s degree required; master’s preferred
- Eight years’ experience performing security assessments
- Develop and coordinate documentation of security processes
- Support the control, reporting and monitoring processes
- Develop and document a plan of action
- Prepare for the tri-annual security assessment and authorization
- Review existing documentation regarding trends in threats
Information Systems Security Officer at Defense Point Security
- Bachelor’s required, master’s preferred
- Use Federal certification and accreditation processes to research and document information security controls
- Analyze and advise on the risk and remediation of security issues
- Track the patching and remediation of security weaknesses
- Review event logs and conduct security document reviews
Information Assurance Specialist at Compnet Federal Solutions
- Bachelor’s degree in a cybersecurity-related discipline at minimum; master’s preferred
- Plan, coordinate, and implement information security strategies
- Help agencies identify current security structure and implement new systems
- Gather IT information about clients and perform risk analysis