The Difference Between a Master’s in Information Assurance vs Cybersecurity

From large-scale consumer data breaches to an unprecedented foreign attack on the 2016 U.S. presidential election, public and private institutions are increasingly being called upon to better secure their data. With so much uncertainty and vulnerability related to data protection, one thing is clear: As cyber criminals become more sophisticated, those who protect, secure and defend valuable data in the public and private spheres must learn new skills to stay one step ahead.

Professionals with master’s in information assurance or cybersecurity degrees offer critical support to organizations looking to ensure proper protection of their valuable digital and physical data, but the question is, what kind of master’s degree is best for that purpose? When technology can evolve faster than the terminology used to describe it, determining whether it’s better to obtain a master’s degree in cybersecurity or in information assurance can be tricky.

For example, cybersecurity professionals are increasingly responsible for data management within an organization, a task that previously went to those with information assurance degrees. Clearly distinguishing between cybersecurity and information assurance can prevent knowledge gaps that make institutions vulnerable to attack.

Review the key differences between a master’s in information assurance and a master’s in cybersecurity when considering how an advanced degree can help you to reach your career goals.


Key Differences: Master’s in Information Assurance vs Master’s in Cybersecurity

Master’s in Information Assurance

  • Focus on strategy and protection of all information, digital and non-digital
  • Coursework in cybersecurity, cryptography and data analysis
  • Traditional degree in a field that existed before the Internet

Master’s in Cybersecurity

  • Focus on protecting digital information and managing risk
  • Coursework in computer forensics, mobile and cloud security, and organizational infrastructures
  • Degree in an innovative field that keeps pace with the latest research in cyber policy

Information Assurance Professionals Guard Data Online and Off

Earning a master’s in information assurance is ideal for those intrigued by the responsibility of defending a larger range of data than is housed in cyberspace.

Professionals with a master’s-level information assurance degree are prepared to protect physical data and electronic hardware in addition to digital information. Information assurance experts institute policies that protect an organization’s most valuable physical and digital materials.

An information assurance program may include similar coursework to cybersecurity with additional classes in cryptography and data analysis.
Because the field of information assurance existed long before the Internet, a professional with a master’s in information assurance can be responsible for developing an all-encompassing information protection strategy that someone with a cybersecurity master’s degree may put into action in the digital realm.


Cybersecurity Experts Stay Ahead of the Latest Threats

Professionals who are interested in using their skill set to defend against attacks on digital data and devices are well-suited for a master’s program in cybersecurity.

This degree focuses on risk management, which typically consists of assessing cyber threats and devising the best ways to prevent and defend against them. While the coursework for this degree has traditionally centered on digital infrastructures, some employers are turning to these professionals for help in protecting physical data as well.

In addition to risk management, the course content of a master’s in cybersecurity often covers computer forensics, mobile and cloud security, and management of organizational infrastructures.

In contrast to many master’s degrees in information assurance, not every cybersecurity program incorporates lessons related to policy. Those seeking a master’s in cybersecurity will get the most from a program that covers the standards that constantly redefine and reshape the industry.


About GW’s Master of Engineering in Cybersecurity Policy and Compliance

While many cybersecurity programs focus primarily on technical knowledge or even solely on policy, the Master of Engineering in Cybersecurity Policy and Compliance from George Washington University offers a unique perspective on policy through the lenses of engineering and computer science.

The M.Eng (CPC) allows students to study cybersecurity and the broad standards that underlie actionable cyber intelligence plans. All faculty members hold doctorates in engineering or in computer science and are well prepared to lead students to a high-level understanding of cybersecurity practices and policies.

Engineers, IT workers, project management professionals, software developers and other professionals enrolled in the M.Eng (CPC) program can position themselves for career advancement in the public and private sectors without disrupting a full-time work schedule.

If you’re interested in exploring opportunities in this rapidly growing field, explore the Online Master of Engineering in Cybersecurity Policy & Compliance offered by George Washington University.

This article was updated on August 15, 2018.


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