“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, 2016).
Highly publicized recent hacks of big-name companies such as Target, Staples, and J.P. Morgan have left information security professionals scrambling to architect more secure firewalls. Spear phishing, botnet armies, and cyber disruptors have become increasingly more common, attacking small companies as well as government databases. Minnesota has experienced cyberattacks in both the public and private sectors in recent years, leading the state government to double down on their determination to build a more secure environment for sensitive information.
2016 has been a year of technological advance for Minnesota. In 2016, MPR News reported that Governor Mark Dayton asked the state legislature for upwards of $45 million to increase cyber defenses throughout government offices. With the budget increase, the government began hiring more information security professionals, boosting the market for Minnesota’s master’s-educated cybersecurity specialists. In the same year, the Minnesota National Guard was selected to host a new cyber protection unit as a result of the National Guard Cyber Defense Plan. The team’s goal is to protect the DoD network by strengthening existing systems and creating new firewalls.
Minnesota’s cybersecurity specialists may also choose to work in the private sector, as the state is home to several innovative defense firms. For instance, Barrier 1, a Minnesota information security firm, was chosen to partner with the US Department of Homeland Security to defend government systems for the 2016 super bowl, during which 24 billion attempted attacks occurred (ABC News, 2016). According to Pioneer Press, Minnesota is home to 20 Fortune 500 companies, leaving no shortage of opportunities for master’s-prepared cybersecurity professionals.
The future for cybersecurity specialists in Minnesota looks bright, and job security in the field is excellent. In 2014, Burning Glass Technologies reported that Minnesota’s cybersecurity job market grew by 98% from 2010 to 2014, creating an unprecedented level of new opportunities for cybersecurity professionals. The 2015 US Bureau of Labor Statistics report revealed that information security analysts in the state can expect an average annual salary of $91,110, while master’s-prepared professionals can expect to earn much more than their bachelor’s-prepared peers, and are qualified to step into senior roles within security teams.
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 Minnesota 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 the most well-rounded and respected cybersecurity education.
Some cybersecurity specialists seeking post-graduate education choose to pursue a post-bachelor’s certificate rather than a full master’s program. 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
- 3.0 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
As of 2016, 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:
St. Cloud State University, Center for Information Assurance Studies
- Master of Science in Information Assurance
Walden University, Center for Information Assurance Studies
- Master of Science in Information Technology, specialization in Information Assurance and Cyber Security
Opportunities Available to Master’s-Prepared Cybersecurity Analysts and Specialists in Minnesota
With a job market that leaped 98% over four years, 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, sourced in May 2016, are shown for illustrative purposes only and are not meant to represent 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 Money Gram 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