“Capitalizing on the advantages that Virginia has in the cybersecurity industry is one of my highest priorities. This executive order [for the Virginia Cyber Security Commission] will lay the groundwork for my administration’s efforts to make this commonwealth the world’s leader in cybersecurity and the enormous economic opportunities that accompany growing that industry.”
-Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe (quoted by State Scoop, 2014).
Home to Virginia Tech and some of the world’s most innovative cybersecurity firms, the Virginia area is one of the nation’s biggest hotspots for cybersecurity professionals. According to Forbes, “Technology companies have been busy expanding in Virginia to take advantage of the largest concentration of high-tech workers in the US” (Forbes, 2013).
In 2014, according to an article by the Washington Post, there was an increased series of attacks on federal government computer systems, including those at the National Weather Service, the State department, the U.S. Postal Service and the White House. The Washington Post also reported that Virginia’s 2013 cybersecurity audit revealed 6,000 security risks.
Here’s how Virginia has advanced the cybersecurity sphere over the past several years:
- In 2013, Virginia governor Bob McDonnell opened a security-focused start up Mach37. The start-up, located in Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, is an effort to fund and develop more cybersecurity firms in the state, training them in the most advanced technology.
- In 2014, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe created the Virginia Cyber Security Commission in order to oversee and identify cybersecurity risks threatening state offices and networks.
- In 2015, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe spearheaded an initiative to partner the public and private sectors in order to protect public safety agencies from cybersecurity attacks, especially those targeting cars.
Virginia has no shortage of opportunities for master’s-prepared cybersecurity professionals. An incredible 39 Virginia-based cybersecurity firms were listed on Cybersecurity Venture’s 2015 top 500 list, “a definitive list of the world’s hottest and most innovative cybersecurity companies.” In fact, Virginia had more companies on the list than any other state, with the exception of rival technological giant California. Companies included Sera-Brynn, a cyber risk management firm, IKANOW, which produces a threat analytics platform, Lookingglass, a cyber threat intelligence management firm, ePlus Security, which provides information security products and services, Ntrepid, a secure network and online computing firm, and CACI, a firm which specializes in intelligence, defense and federal security.
According to a 2015 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Virginia has the highest employment rate for information security analysts and is on the top five list of top paying states for info security analysts, with an average annual wage of $106,320. And according to Burning Glass Technologies, Virginia was the second highest state for job postings, second only to California.
Earning a Master’s Degree or Post-Bachelor’s Certificate in Cybersecurity in Virginia
Graduates of cybersecurity graduate programs are prepared to identify risks and provide a timely, appropriate response to protect sensitive data and critical infrastructures. With a thorough grasp of anomaly detection and threat assessment, graduates will be able to identify threats and respond appropriately.
Master’s programs are made up of 30-40 credits, with 15-20 credits of core courses and 15-20 credits focusing on electives, special topics in cybersecurity. Some IT and engineering professionals interested in more advanced training choose to pursue a post-bachelor’s certificate. These 15-20-credit programs focus on data structures, network security, threat intel, and incident response.
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 require the following scores:
- Verbal score of 150 or higher
- Quantitative 155 or higher
- Analytical 650 or higher
Core Courses, Electives and Program Objectives
NSA and DHS designated universities follow a standard curriculum. Core coursework will typically include:
- Advanced Computer and Network Security
- Systems Security Administration, Management, and Certification
- Risk Management
- Systems Security for Senior Management
- Computer Forensics
- Cyber Law and Ethics
Elective topics may include:
- Applied Cryptography
- Cloud Computing
- Linux Operating Systems
- Cyber Warfare and Terrorism
- Threat Intel and Mitigation
NSA and DHS Designated National Centers of Academic Excellence in Virginia
Virginia is home to several National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated schools that offer cybersecurity master’s programs and post-bachelor certificates.
The National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security offer two designation classifications applicable to schools that offer graduate programs in information security and cyber defense:
- 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)
The NSA and DHS also recognize universities throughout the country that offer online cybersecurity master’s programs.
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:
George Mason University, School of Business (Also holds the NSA/DHS National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research (CAE-R) designation.)
- Masters in Information Security and Assurance
- Master of Science in Computer Engineering – Network and Systems Security
- Master of Science in Management of Secure Information Systems
Hampton University, Information Assurance Center
- Master of Science in Information Assurance
James Madison University, Computer Science Department
- Master of Science in Computer Science – Information Security
- Master of Science in information Technology – Computer Security
Norfolk State University, Department of Computer Science
- Master of Science in Cybersecurity
- Master of Science in Computer Science – Information Assurance
Additionally, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University holds the NSA/DHS National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research (CAE-R) designation and offers:
- Master of Science in Computer Science, Information Assurance
- Master of Science in Computer Engineering, Information Assurance
- Graduate Certificate in Cybersecurity
- Master of Science in Information Systems
Opportunities Available to Master’s-Prepared Cybersecurity Analysts and Specialists in Virginia
Virginia is a hotbed of opportunity for cybersecurity professionals. The state is home to some of the most innovative tech firms in the world, and almost every industry in the state has the need for cybersecurity analysts to defend critical infrastructures. Master’s-prepared professionals are prepared to step into management roles within cybersecurity teams in the state.
The following job listings are shown to represent the kind of employment opportunities that may be available to master’s-prepared cybersecurity specialists in Virginia. They are shown for illustrative purposes only, and are not meant to provide any assurance of employment.
Senior Information Security Analyst—Centripetal Networks in Herndon
- Bachelor’s degree in a related field
- Three years of experience in cybersecurity
- Performs threat analytics using threat intelligence
- Supports incident investigations
- Provides executive reporting
- Identifies workflow of events that affect information security
Senior Cyber Security Engineer—InfoReliance in Arlington
- Bachelor’s degree
- 10 years of progressive experience
- Performs advanced countermeasure design, implementation, and assessment
- Assesses commercial service provers for risks
- Provides mitigation for advanced, persistent threats
- Supports cyber security initiatives
- Deploys risk counter measures
Cyber Security Analyst—Engility in Reston
- Bachelor’s degree in a related field
- CISSP certification preferred
- Certified Ethical Hacker certification preferred
- Manages information systems, data availability, and confidentiality
- Implements security measures for communication systems
- Develops and executes government approved security policies
- Performs social engineering tests
- Researches and maintains proficiency tools