19 November, 2021

Ultimate Guide to Cybersecurity Master's Degree ProgramsEarning a master’s degree in cybersecurity opens you up to a field with lucrative salaries and readily available career options in sectors as varied as healthcare, business, financial services, contracting, armed forces, education and government. Although these degree programs are relatively new, the complexity and ubiquitousness of cybersecurity have paved the way for numerous specializations. Colleges and universities have responded with multiple cybersecurity degree options, allowing students to tailor their education to their specific talents and career aspirations.

Names vary across institutions, but cybersecurity master’s programs can generally be categorized as follows:

  • General cybersecurity
  • Cybersecurity analytics
  • Cybersecurity management, policy, compliance or governance
  • Cybercrime, digital forensics or digital investigation
  • Cybersecurity engineering
  • Information assurance and cybersecurity
  • Cloud computing and cybersecurity

Though they each may offer unique specialization opportunities or emphasize certain strategies over others, all cybersecurity programs are built upon similar foundations. Each program applies such universal concepts in specific ways. They may, for example, incorporate coursework on data analytics but explain the benefits and uses of big data differently. A cybersecurity management program may teach students how to use insights gleaned from big data to design effective company policies for employees, while students in a digital forensics program would use analytics software to review troves of data as part of a criminal investigation.

As you discover different types of cybersecurity master’s programs, consider which area best reflects your goals and expertise. If you’re simply looking for an entry into the field and are not certain what specialty would be a good fit, a general cybersecurity degree is an excellent place to start.

General Cybersecurity

Students in basic cybersecurity master’s degree programs get a comprehensive overview that prepares them for a variety of jobs, including those at managerial and even executive levels. While these programs may not dive deeply into specific areas like data visualization or engineering, students can expect an introduction to these concepts as they learn the basics of cybersecurity programming, preparation, policy implementation and response.

What You’ll Study Learning Outcomes
  • Network and system defense
  • Intrusion detection
  • Cryptography
  • Threat assessment, mitigation, and response
  • Penetration testing
  • Cybersecurity best practices for users
  • Understand, implement, maintain and improve industry-standard security measures for both software and hardware.
  • Conduct vulnerability assessments and strengthen insecure systems.
  • Identify, prepare for, defend against and respond to ever-evolving cybersecurity threats.

Cybersecurity Analytics

Applying big data and analytics to the realm of digital security, cybersecurity analytics master’s programs teach students how to analyze and interpret large amounts of data to better address cybercrime and security threats. In addition to the basics covered in a generalized degree, students learn to apply data science strategies to strengthen an organization’s cybersecurity-related initiatives or to analyze vast quantities of breach data for organizations such as government agencies or security software companies.

What You’ll Study Learning Outcomes
  • Data analytics
  • Data visualization
  • Open-source intelligence
  • Connected devices and IoT
  • Cybersecurity and cloud computing
  • Use data analysis to identify and prepare for new and persistent security threats.
  • Analyze past incident response measures and identify ways for improvement.
  • Address cybersecurity holistically within organizations.
  • Help organizations make smarter data security decisions.

Cybersecurity Management/Policy/Compliance/Governance

Their names differ, but these programs address a similar concept: establishing, implementing and revising cybersecurity practices within organizations. Students in a cybersecurity policy master’s program learn about business operations as they relate to data, the legal and regulatory concerns surrounding cybersecurity, and the ways human behavior can protect or jeopardize valuable information.

Be sure to review the requirements as you consider one of these programs. Some are designed for professionals with an established background in cybersecurity or computer science who want to advance to a leadership role. Other programs are structured to help professionals with managerial or leadership experience gain cybersecurity expertise.

What You’ll Study Learning Outcomes
  • Leadership and cybersecurity
  • Enterprise-specific cybersecurity strategy and policy
  • Organizational behavior
  • Data and privacy
  • Create cybersecurity policies and procedures that meet or exceed industry standards and align with the needs of the organization.
  • Prepare for and respond to user-based issues in cybersecurity.
  • Identify laws and methods that keep digital information safe while allowing for efficient operations.

Cybercrime/Digital Forensics/Digital Investigation

As data breaches, ransomware and similar threats grow in scale and damage, justice systems need professionals who understand the intersection between law and the digital sphere. Master’s degree programs in cybercrime, digital forensics and digital investigation focus on using and advancing legal pathways to address the challenge of digital crime. While these programs may be hosted by STEM departments, many are connected to criminal justice or law enforcement programs. As such, these are good options for professionals with a cybersecurity background interested in exploring another field, or for legal professionals who want to be at the forefront of society’s most pressing legal concerns.

What You’ll Study Learning Outcomes
  • Forensic investigation strategies and techniques
  • Forensics tools and software
  • Mobile device forensics
  • Law and ethics as applied to digital information
  • Legal intervention and resolution
  • Recover and analyze digital evidence using methods aligned with established legal procedures.
  • Summarize and communicate findings of digital investigations to a variety of audiences, such as courtrooms and the media.
  • Understand how cybercrime is prosecuted at the state, federal and international levels.
  • Know the various law enforcement organizations responsible for investigating and prosecuting cybercrime.

Cybersecurity Engineering

Cybersecurity engineering master’s degree programs prepare students to enter one of the first guards of digital defense, giving them the programming and analytical skills necessary to build secure software, networks and cybersecurity tools. Compared to other options, these programs include more technical courses and can introduce you to a number of cybersecurity-related programming languages and software tools.

What You’ll Study Learning Outcomes
  • Secure programming
  • Network and systems engineering
  • Life cycles of secure systems
  • Threat mitigation and response from an engineering perspective
  • Reverse engineering of security breaches and malware
  • Build cybersecurity software and tools.
  • Incorporate security measures into software applications during the development process.
  • Develop, maintain and deactivate secure applications, systems and networks.

Information Assurance and Cybersecurity

Information assurance prioritizes the target of many cyberattacks: data. It is concerned with storing, managing, accessing and verifying confidential information. The discipline predates cybersecurity, having been created to manage non-digital records in the decades before businesses incorporated computers and databases. Now, because sensitive information is stored digitally, information assurance and cybersecurity practices are often combined. A master’s program in information assurance and cybersecurity teaches students to safeguard both digital and physical records, to ensure the systems housing them perform as expected and to establish methods that prohibit unauthorized access.

What You’ll Study Learning Outcomes
  • System administration
  • Databases
  • Encryption
  • Enterprise continuity
  • Recovery planning
  • Resolve security IT issues.
  • Establish security measures such as firewalls and authentication methods.
  • Develop secure networks, systems and software.

Cloud Computing and Cybersecurity

The scale and complexity of cloud computing presents security challenges for organizations that, if not addressed properly, provide myriad avenues for data breaches to occur. Organizations relying on cloud computing need leaders who can help them manage multiple vendors, access points, authentication strategies and more in order to keep information protected. A master’s degree in cloud computing management prepares you for such a role, allowing you to prioritize cybersecurity while adopting and managing cloud-based solutions.

What You’ll Study Learning Outcomes
  • Cloud migration strategies
  • Cloud computing architecture
  • Big data and the cloud
  • Intrusion detection
  • Identify processes that are better supported through cloud solutions and determine which vendors best support organizational needs.
  • Design data governance practices that account for numerous cloud service providers and any differences between them.
  • Devise strategies that help businesses securely and effectively migrate to cloud-based solutions.

Cybersecurity Concentration Options Within Other Degree Programs

Although it is a STEM discipline, the concerns of cybersecurity are so omnipresent that its theories and methods overlap in many other areas. As seen above, cybersecurity matters are of great concern in the legal field, and lawyers can benefit from having at least a basic understanding of digital security methods. Similarly, organizations of all kinds can benefit from administrators who understand cybersecurity policy best practices.

Colleges have taken note of cybersecurity’s wide range of applications, adding coursework to programs where digital security is a concern within related careers. As such, you’ll likely encounter non-STEM programs with concentrations or electives in cybersecurity. Common opportunities include:

  • Business programs
  • Public services programs
  • Administrative healthcare programs
  • National security programs

If you are interested in cybersecurity or believe such knowledge will help advance your career but don’t want to venture into the world of STEM, a master’s program in a different field that offers a cybersecurity concentration may be the best route for you.

Cybersecurity Master’s Degree Program Accreditations and Recognitions

Choosing an accredited cybersecurity master’s program helps to ensure that you receive a top-tier education and are prepared to meet the demands of the industry and employers. Such programs have been reviewed to meet specific industry and academic standards that will help graduates in the job market and their individual careers.

Accreditations to look for include:

  • NCAE-C (National Center of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity): Managed jointly by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, and partnered with six federal groups, including the FBI, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and U.S. Cyber Command (CYBERCOM). The George Washington University is recognized as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research (CAE-R).
  • ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc.): A leading, global accrediting body for applied and natural science, computing, engineering and engineering technology education.

About the Online Cybersecurity and Cloud Computing Master’s Programs at GW

The George Washington University has three online cybersecurity and cloud computing master’s programs preparing graduates to address the data management and protection needs of today’s digitally connected organizations:

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