“Idaho’s long term economic competitiveness is intimately linked to cybersecurity, but our companies and government networks are not the only ones vulnerable to cyber-attacks. All Idahoans are under threat if our state is not vigilant about protecting our citizens’ privacy.”
-Lieutenant Governor Brad Little in a 2015 interview for the Idaho Statesman.
A 2012 article by the Wall Street Journal revealed that top cybersecurity experts in the state are concentrated in Idaho Falls. Cybersecurity experts in the area are found working in Idaho National Labs, within the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team. These professionals are trained to respond to attacks which threaten government information. Positions like these have become incredibly sought after in wake of government data breaches over the past several years that have compromised millions of Americans’ social security numbers and other sensitive information.
According to Michael Meline, instructor at the University of Idaho cybersecurity center and director of data and security at Kootenai Health, both small and large companies in Idaho are in danger of facing cyber-attacks (The Spokesman Review, 2016). Here’s how companies, universities and the Idaho government have responded to cyber threats:
- As far back as 2001, University of Idaho and Idaho State University have hosted the CyberCorps, a program for training cyber defenders (Idaho Statesman, 2016).
- In 2015, Idaho governor Butch Otter created the Idaho Cyber Security Task Force. Members of the task force monitor security systems throughout the state and respond to alerts as well as architect new security solutions.
- In 2015, the Idaho Department of Homeland Security convened the Idaho Cybersecurity Interdependencies Workshop with the intention of public and private sectors in the state working together to share intel and IT security information.
- In 2016, The University of Idaho opened a new Cybersecurity Training and Operations Center to prepare and test cybersecurity professionals for certifications and conduct ongoing education and simulated cyberattacks.
In just four years, (2010-2014), the state of Idaho’s cybersecurity job field experienced a staggering growth of 260%, more than any other state except for Louisiana. As a result, a 2015 article by Motherboard named Idaho as one of the top two state governments in cybersecurity, credited mostly to their habit of developing tech policy based on advisement from cybersecurity professionals instead of politicians. Idaho was also praised for its clear state IT plan.
According to 2015 stats from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, cybersecurity specialists in Idaho make an average annual wage of $90,210. Master’s-prepared cybersecurity specialists in the state have the opportunity to make a higher starting wage than their bachelor’s-prepared peers, and a master’s degree also qualifies professionals to step into senior roles in the industry.
Earning a Master’s Degree or Certificate in Cybersecurity in Idaho
As of May 2016, Idaho is home to one National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated school that offers a cybersecurity master’s degree program.
The NSA and DHS offer designations for three classifications of schools:
- CAE/2Y – National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense 2-Year Education
- CAE/CDE – National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education
- CAE/R – National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research
The NSA and DHS also recognize several universities throughout the country that offer online cybersecurity master’s programs. Online programs are highly respected by employers, and students who choose online programs cite benefits such as flexibility and a greater variety of program options.
Both online and traditional master’s programs are made up of 30 credits, with 15 credits of core classes and 15 credits focusing on electives.
Cybersecurity professionals desiring to gain more advanced training may also pursue a post-bachelor’s certificate. Certificate programs are usually 15 credits long and can be completed in about a year. Students will study topics such as network security and management, malware threat analysis, penetration testing, data and algorithm analysis and cloud computing.
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 such as Java and C++.
Admissions departments require the following:
- 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 require 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
NSA and DHS designated cybersecurity programs follow a standard curriculum. Core coursework will typically include:
- Network Management and Security
- Cloud Computing
- Database Design and Programming
- Malware Analysis
- Secure System Architecture
- Algorithms and Analysis of Algorithms
Elective topics may include:
- Cyber Warfare: Blue Force Operations
- Current Trends in Cybersecurity
- Disaster Recovery and Ops Security
- Applied Cryptography
- Computer Forensics
Using a combination of IT technology and innovative strategies, graduates of cybersecurity master’s programs will have a thorough understanding of the technological building blocks that make up secure networks and systems. Graduates will be able to conduct risk assessments, penetration testing, and malware analysis, as well as monitor system logs and produce accurate documentation of incidents.
NSA and Homeland Security Designated Research and Education Institutions in Idaho
As of 2016, there is just one university in Idaho that meets the rigorous criteria set forth by the NSA/DHS Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (CAE-CDE) for its master degree program:
University of Idaho, Center for Secure and Dependable Systems
- Master of Science in Computer Science – Information Assurance
Opportunities Available to Master’s-Prepared Cybersecurity Analysts and Specialists in Idaho
With a job market that grew by 260% between the years of 2010-2014, cybersecurity specialists in Idaho can be assured that the cybersecurity field is critically in need of qualified professionals to fill roles within almost every industry in the state. Master’s-prepared professionals are qualified to fill senior cybersecurity roles in Idaho.
The following job opportunities, sourced in May 2016, are not meant to provide any assurance of employment. They represent the kind of employment opportunities that may be available to cybersecurity specialists in Idaho, and are shown for illustrative purposes only.
Information Technology Network Security Analyst—Communications and IT Office with the Idaho Military Division in Boise, ID
- Bachelor’s degree in a related field required; master’s preferred
- Five years of related experience
- Support the bureau of homeland security by implementing a statewide cybersecurity management system
- Maintain the Idaho emergency operation center
- Perform monitoring of voice, video, and data applications
Cyber Warfare Engineer—US Navy in Boise, ID
- Bachelor’s or master’s degree from an NSA and DHS designated school required
- Provide defense against cyber attacks
- Develop tools and techniques to maintain situational awareness
- Serve on the Information Dominance Corps
Critical Infrastructure Security Analyst—Mission Support Center in Idaho Falls, ID
- Master’s degree in cybersecurity or related field
- Nine years of relevant experience
- Provide cutting edge analysis of cyber threats
- Defend electrical grid, oil and gas pipelines, nuclear energy facilities, and military bases
- Produce documentation of threats
- Run risk assessments and provide incident response