Because cyber security is concerned with protecting information held on computers, networks, the Internet, and throughout cyberspace remains secure, it seems only fitting that those interested in the field can earn a cyber security degree online. There are a number of cyber security degree choices available through distance learning, particularly on the bachelor's and master's levels. These degree programs are offered by a variety of sources including traditional colleges and universities, both public and private, as well as several primarily online schools, both for-profit and not-for-profit. Many of these programs are accredited, some by the same agencies that accredit similar on-campus programs. Increasingly, degrees earned online from well-established, traditional schools are treated exactly as those earned on-site, with no indication either on the diploma or in a student's transcripts of their online origins.
Online degree programs offer a number of advantages over their traditional counterparts. Distance learners enjoy the convenience and flexibility of being able to attend class and complete coursework from wherever they are, often on their own schedule. In some cases, the total costs of completing an online degree program may be lower than those of a traditional program, particularly when considering costs associated with attending an on-campus program such as transportation, parking, childcare and more.
Cyber Security Online Degree Options
The types of cyber security degrees that can be earned online mirror those available in the more traditional campus environment. Determining the right degree type and level depends mostly on an individual's specific professional goals. The purpose of this section is to present the information necessary to match the career goal with the proper degree program and to provide potential students with an idea of the time and study commitments they will be expected to make.
Associate degrees commonly require two years of full-time study to complete and are typically made available by local community colleges and vocational schools. The rapidly increasing popularity of the cyber security field has led to a growing demand for degree programs on all levels, including associate, and the distance education market has responded to that demand. While some of these programs are offered by private institutions, a surprising number of public community colleges are quickly getting into the act.
Degrees in the cyber security field take on a variety of titles. When searching for an online associate degree program, students should consider those with titles that include information security, information systems security, network security, computer security and related. Additionally, cyber security courses are often included in degree programs with titles such as information technology, computer technology, network systems administration, emergency management and homeland security. The point here is to look beyond the degree title and examine a program's course descriptions and curriculum.
Earning an cyber security associate degree will require completion of a set of general education classes plus a number of subject-specific mandatory and elective courses. Many careers in cyber security require a bachelor's degree in the field, so students intent on becoming cyber security professionals should consider treating the completion of an associate's degree program as a convenient and economic means for transfer on the way to a four-year bachelor's degree program.
Nowhere is the explosion in the popularity of cyber security more evident than in the rapid growth of online bachelor's degree programs. Only a few years ago, distance education offerings in the subject were the domain of a few primarily for-profit online providers. Today, the number of public and private traditional colleges and universities with fully-accredited online bachelor's degree programs in cyber security is quite impressive. Again, as with associate degree level, bachelor's students are advised to look beyond degree titles when seeking out a distance learning cyber security program. Individuals will find cyber security course options hidden in degree programs with titles such as information technologies, security and risk analysis and even computer science.
Admission requirements for online cyber security bachelor's degree programs, like those for more traditional, on-campus programs, vary. Many online schools offer only completion programs in cyber security meaning that applicants must have previously completed an associate's degree program or equivalent college coursework in order to be admitted. In all cases, applicants must have earned a high school diploma or GED, complete a formal application and provide the appropriate high school and college transcripts. Many programs additionally require test scores from the SAT or ACT exams. Once accepted, cyber security bachelor's students should, in most cases, expect to commit four years of full-time study for the completion of their degree. Some programs, however, offer an accelerated format providing students the option of completing degree requirements in three years or less. Additionally, some programs allow more than four years for degree completion to accommodate working students who are only able to study part-time. There are also a few schools that offer five-year bachelor's/master's dual degree programs.
The curriculum for a bachelor's degree in cyber security will consist of a general education requirement in subjects such as English, arts and humanities, behavioral and social sciences and others, followed by a substantial subject-specific course requirement. Below is a sample of the types of actual courses and students will encounter in a cyber security bachelor's degree program:
- Advanced Technical Writing. Comprehensive and project-based study of applied technical writing aimed at teaching students to design and develop effective technical documents using strategies and technologies for a number of different audiences.
- Assurance Foundations. Covers the foundational theory, concepts and the computer-assisted reasoning tools necessary for assurance. Topics discussed include functional programming, theorem proving, and logic for reasoning regarding access control, security and trust.
- Business Systems Analysis and Design. Provides the necessary level of information technology education for understanding the uses and roles of information systems in business organizations. Also covered are the major issues of managing information technology in the contemporary business environment and the relationship between an organization's structures and information technology.
- Cybercrime Forensics. Explores cybercrime, security threats and the legal considerations facing cyber security professionals concerning the discovery, investigation and prosecution of cybercrimes. Additionally, the course studies the tools used by computer forensic professionals for in their investigations.
- Human Aspects in Cyber Security. Examines the human aspects in cyber security with topics that include ethics, laws, regulations, policies, standards, psychology and the hacker culture. The course also considers the human element and motivations for cybercrime.
- Modern Techniques in Criminal Investigation. Examines the theory and practice of modern investigation methods for private sector agencies. Included are the techniques and procedures for the collection, preservation and presentation of evidence, and a review of investigation resources such as the crime laboratory and databases.
The number of online master's programs in cyber security is comparable to that of bachelor's programs and appears to be increasing relatively rapidly. That could be good news for online degree seekers. Designed with the working student in mind, online cyber security master’s degree programs provide students with the advanced training and skills necessary to keep on top of the always-growing and ever-morphing world of cybercrime. Master's programs commonly require two years of full-time study to complete, although a few accelerated online programs exist that can be finished in as little as one year. Most schools, however, are well aware of the fact that working students are unable to devote the time necessary for full-time study and allow as much a three or four years for degree completion.
Coursework on the master's level offers advanced study in subjects such as operating systems, computer networking, application security, cryptography, counterterrorism, network security and others. Upon graduation, students should have, among other things, a clear understanding of the theory behind cyber security and be able to apply their knowledge to the LAN/WAN environment, apply security measures to perimeter network devices, apply forensic concepts to digital material and analyze and apply compliance issues.
The availability of distance learning doctorate degrees in cyber security was, until very recently, practically non-existent. Fortunately, things now appear to be changing rather quickly with a few schools now entering the market and several more planning to enter in the near future. For the moment, though, the options for earning an online doctorate degree in cyber security are limited. As with master's level programs, some colleges offer doctorate degrees with more generalized titles such as computer science, computer security, and information assurance with specializations or concentrations in cyber security. Most doctorate degrees in the field are given the Ph.D. designation and employ a research-based curriculum.
Students interested in earning cyber security Ph.D., online or otherwise, will need to complete an academic program consisting of one to two years of full-time study of core and specialization courses, comprehensive examinations, and a substantial research component culminating in the development, presentation and defense of a dissertation.
In contrast to the dearth of doctorate options, online cyber certificate programs are abundant and geared almost exclusively for working professionals interested in career advancement. Cyber security certificates are available in two basic types, serving two distinct functions. The first type focuses on the foundations of cyber security. These certificate programs are designed for professionals in the information technology, computer science and criminal justice fields who wish to improve their general knowledge in cyber security. The second type focus on specific topics such as cyber security management, cyber security technology, cyber security policy and homeland security management. These certificate programs are designed for cyber security specialists to allow them to deepen their knowledge and hone their skills in a particular topic within the field.
Most certificate programs can be completed in as little as one year or less and are made available online by many of the same colleges and universities that offer full degree programs. In addition, most of these schools allow students to transfer credits earned in a certificate program to their degree programs.
Cyber Security degree and certificate programs are relatively new entries into the world of online education, so it may be difficult to know which ones are of the highest quality and best value. The truth is that students will simply have to a little research on their own to decide if a program is right for them. There are, however, several factors that should always be considered when choosing an online academic course of study. Here are a few of the most important:
Accreditation The importance of proper accreditation of a post-secondary institution and its academic programs cannot be overstated. It is the foundational indicator of school and program quality. Accreditation of post-secondary institutions is handled primarily through six U.S. Department of Education recognized regional accrediting agencies. In addition, individual academic programs within the larger institution are often accredited by subject-specific private non-profit organizations. There are currently no such organizations that specifically accredit post-secondary cyber security degree or certificate programs in the United States, although degree programs that fall under the more general titles of computer science and information technology, and which may include concentrations or courses in cyber security, are accredited by the Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Student considering an online cyber security program should always insist on, at minimum, full institutional accreditation.
Licensure and Certification As mentioned earlier, specific government licensure of cyber security professionals does not currently exist in the United States. There are, however, a substantial number of professional certifications available in the cyber security field. These credentials are voluntary but can have a significant impact on employment and career advancement. Most of the organizations that sponsor cyber security professional certifications require candidates to earn some level of degree in the field in order to become certified. Students are advised to seek out only those online degree programs that will be accepted by these organizations.
Internships Whether a specific degree requirement or not, participation in internship programs sponsored by well respected government agencies, private companies or nonprofit organizations can provide students with priceless, real-world experience and give them a leg up on the competition when it's time to find a job. High-quality degree programs should be able to provide students with access to solid internship opportunities.
Program Resources and Support Services for StudentsIn addition to internship program location assistance, students should expect their online colleges to offer a variety of important supplementary resources and services such as Internet access to library and tutoring resources, personal and professional counseling, and job placement assistance.
Cyber security personnel protect our computers and their programs from attacks. As the number and sophistication of cyber threats grows, there is a corresponding growth in the cyber security job market. Demand for highly skilled cyber security workers exists across the entire breadth of the employment market with positions throughout the public, private, and non-profit sectors.