“Every day, computer hackers find new vulnerabilities in software. The onus is on us as security professionals to proactively find and fix those issues before they could potentially be exploited.”
– Christopher Buse, Minnesota’s chief information security officer (MPR News)
Highly publicized hacks and security flaws impacting big-name companies like Equifax, WhatsApp, and Fortnite, that at worst result in user data landing in the hands of cybercriminals and at best expose it to the possibility of theft, have left information security professionals scrambling to secure systems against domestic and international aggressors. Spear phishing attempts, botnet armies, and SQL injection attacks have become so common it seems like they’re baked right into the internet, affecting small companies, government and commercial systems equally.
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Even elementary schools aren’t exempt, as a Duluth school district found in early 2020, as 14 student accounts were found to be compromised, right in the middle of the national shift to distance-learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The entire district IT system had to be investigated and cleaned before other students could be allowed to log in again, resulting in massive disruptions to learning as the only platform for delivering curriculum was shut down.
Cyberattacks are also being leverage in the name of social justice, as the Minneapolis Police Department experienced mass denial-of-service attacks in protest over the George Floyd murder in 2020. And disturbing reports from inside Minnesota-based Blue Cross/Blue Shield, an insurer entrusted with some of the most sensitive data on nearly 3 million people, exposed hundreds of unpatched vulnerabilities in their systems near the end of 2019.
These incidents and other have resulted in massive and ongoing investments in cybersecurity systems and personnel. Also in 2019, the state laid the groundwork to deploy a special National Guard cyberdefense team to protect the state’s election systems during the 2020 election cycle, one of only four such teams nationally according to GovTech. Private sector employment is booming as well, with Burning Glass Technologies reporting that cybersecurity job postings have increased by 94% since 2013. The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry projects a 23.9% increase in information security analyst jobs by 2026.
Those analysts are making good money, too, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting in 2020 that the annual median wage for the role in Minnesota was $101,410, with those in the top 10% making $144,200. It’s a huge incentive to invest in a graduate-level education in cybersecurity.
Earning a Master’s Degree or Post-Bachelor’s Certificate in Cybersecurity in Minnesota
Minnesota is home to two universities that offer cybersecurity master’s programs designated by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as Centers of Academic Excellence.
The National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security offer designations specific to two classifications of schools that offer graduate programs in information security:
- CAE-CDE – National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (qualifying colleges and universities offering bachelor’s, master’s, and graduate certificates)
- CAE-R – National Center 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)
NSA and DHS designated universities from throughout the nation also offer online cybersecurity programs to students in Minnesota. Many general IT and infosec professionals opt for online programs due to the flexibility they offer, and the fact that they provide the opportunity to choose from a larger variety of program options.
Online and traditional NSA/DHS designated programs offer similar curriculum. They are made up of around 30 credits, with 15 core credits and 15 credits of electives. Typically completed in fifteen months, designated programs provide some of the most well-rounded and respected cybersecurity education available, especially if you plan to work in government.
Some cybersecurity specialists seeking some post-graduate training choose to pursue a post-bachelor’s certificate rather than a full master’s. About half the length of a master’s program, post-bachelor’s certificate studies focus on risk analysis and IT, information assurance, network security, and process analysis and design. Certificate programs may be found in traditional Minnesota schools or through online programs. Three NSA and DHS designated Minnesota schools also offer post-bachelor certificate programs.
Standard Admissions Requirements for Cybersecurity Master’s Programs
Cybersecurity master’s programs are often highly selective, requiring candidates to bring to the table a unique mix of IT and programming skills, knowledge of data structures, logic and applied mathematics, and an excellent educational history.
Minimum requirements include:
- Bachelor’s degree in a related discipline
- 0 GPA from prior coursework
Admissions departments look for the following GRE scores, though entrance exam requirements may be waived for applicants with a high GPA:
- Verbal score of 150 or higher
- Quantitative score of 155 or higher
- Analytical score of 650 or higher
Applicants will be expected to have completed one year of calculus, one mathematics course beyond calculus, and a Java or C++ programming course.
Core Courses, Electives, and Program Objectives
Core courses for NSA and DHS designated programs must follow a standard curriculum. Topics will include:
- Cyberlaw ethics and policy
- Database modeling
- Network structure
- Operating systems theory
- Discrete structures
Elective topics may include:
- Applied cryptography
- Terrorism and cybercrime
- Threat modeling and intel
- Cloud computing
NSA and DHS Designated Institutions in Minnesota
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:
Metropolitan State University, School of Sciences
Capella University, School of Business and Technology
- Master of Science in Information Technology–Cybersecurity Concentration
- Master of Science in Information Assurance and Cybersecurity–Digital Forensics Concentration
St. Cloud State University, Center for Information Assurance Studies
Walden University, Center for Information Assurance Studies
- Master of Science in Information Technology, specialization in Information Assurance and Cyber Security
Enrolling in a Cybersecurity Bootcamp for Master’s Degree and Career Preparation – in St. Paul or Online
A master’s degree is a lot to bite off, and the best programs are a real challenge to get into. Moreover, it doesn’t solve all your problems when looking for high-end jobs in the industry… according to tech industry recruiting firm, Burning Glass Technologies, 85% of all cybersecurity jobs require more than 3 years of experience.
This chicken and egg problem can be solved by an educational option that puts experience front and center: a cybersecurity bootcamp.
Although they typically last only a few days or a few weeks, bootcamps focus on practical skills and hands-on experience for the duration. They put real-world tools in your hands and let you learn the hard lessons based on real, cutting-edge cyberattacks and cyberdefensive techniques. And most of them come with job placement or preparation services to help you slide right into a position in the industry – a great opportunity to get some real world experience before applying to a master’s program.
You can even find bootcamps today run by some of the same schools, using the same instructors and resources that are offering those master’s programs. The University of Minnesota Cybersecurity Boot Camp, available either online or in person in St. Paul, is a good example. A six-month, part-time course, it offers an intensive course of instruction designed to improve your proficiency with:
- Defensive and offensive cybersecurity
- Computer systems operating both Windows and Linux
- Web technologies
- Common security tools like Nessus and Wireshark
- Penetration testing and defensive analysis
It also offers preparation for both the crucial CompTIA Security+ and Certified Ethical Hacker certifications. It’s open to anyone who can pass a critical thinking assessment and a phone interview. Other bootcamps are aimed at higher skill levels or more specialized certifications and may have different entry requirements to reflect that, but this type of bootcamp is the perfect choice for anyone just entering the industry.
Opportunities Available to Master’s-Prepared Cybersecurity Analysts and Specialists in Minnesota
According to the St. Paul Business Journal, the second half of 2019 saw more job openings in Minnesota than ever before, with more than 146,000 total positions, demonstrating the state’s thriving economy. And according to industry monitoring firm Cyberseek, 8,297 of those were unfilled cybersecurity jobs, just waiting for your application. With the local job market booming, cybersecurity specialists can be assured that there are plenty of opportunities in Minnesota for information security professionals. From security consulting firms to government offices to small companies with an interest in protecting their digital assets, virtually all organizations have a critical need for highly skilled cybersecurity analysts.
The following job opportunities are shown for illustrative purposes only and are not meant to represent current openings or a guarantee of employment. They represent the types of opportunities that may be available to master’s-prepared cybersecurity professionals in Minnesota.
Cyber Security Manager—Imagine Print Solutions in Minneapolis
- Bachelor’s degree at minimum; master’s preferred
- At least five years of experience in an information security position
- Develop, implement and operate cyber security strategies
- Establish long-range security and compliance goals
- Establish metrics, reporting mechanisms and models
Senior Cyber Security Engineer with Moneygram in St. Louis Park
- Bachelor’s degree at minimum; master’s preferred
- Five or more years’ management experience in information security
- Provide information protection and assurance solutions to customers and business partners
- Participate in development and ongoing support of identity and access management
- Provide security architecture and engineering
Senior Info Security Analyst, Cyber Threat Intelligence with Target in Brooklyn Park
- Minimum of bachelor’s degree in a related discipline; master’s preferred
- 3-6 years of info security experience
- Develop expertise on emerging cyber threats and trends
- Provide functional analytic support
- Draft threat intelligence estimate, briefs, and assessments