As the internet and digital technology continue to grow and become more central to everyday activity, so too do the risks associated with a hyper-connected life.
Think about the headlines over the past few months: Massive data breaches, companies selling personal information, browsers snooping on your sessions — these are all examples of new security threats that will need a talented and well-trained workforce to contain and eliminate.
The cybersecurity field is currently undergoing a massive shift. Once thought of as part of IT departments, or only really required for military outfits and massive financial institutions, cybersecurity is now the concern of just about any company or organization of any size, shape, or affiliation.
Data shows that cyber crime, including identity theft and fraud, are growing fears among all parts of the population.
If there is a silver lining in all of this, it’s that opportunities for cybersecurity experts are growing exponentially. What was once a speciality within computer science is now becoming its own field.
And what the means are lots of job openings and competitive salaries.
But it also means that schools — at all levels from industry certification to Ph.D. programs — are developing new courses and curriculum to meet the industry’s growing need for qualified candidates that understand cybersecurity’s cutting edge.
What is cybersecurity
Cybersecurity is an evolving term and profession. It once referred to people who worked to control access to databases and computer networks that contain sensitive information (such as financial transactions or military intelligence).
But as cloud and mobile computing continue to grow and more applications and information than ever before can be accessed via the internet, the profession is changing to encompass broader security risks.
For example, companies that build multiplayer video games, or startups working on browser-based productivity apps, now all have to worry about user security in some way.
According to a recent study by the Ponemon Institute, an independent research group that focuses on data and privacy, 61 percent of small and medium-sized businesses reported some kind of data attack in 2017.
Like other professions, cybersecurity jobs fill a vast spectrum of experience and responsibility. Entry-level cybersecurity jobs might be classified as cybersecurity technician or analyst. These positions might require the knowledge and understanding of specific software or data systems, which might also require an industry certification.
Some entry-level cybersecurity jobs might require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, which will demonstrate that a candidate has experience in computer science, computer coding, data and network security, and related concepts. Often cybersecurity associates degree and bachelor programs (both of which can be obtained through campus-based, online, and hybrid programs) also prepare students to take exams to get credentialed in various industry certifications.
More advanced cybersecurity positions might be classified as cybersecurity engineer or architect. These positions usually require an advanced degree in cybersecurity and work experience in the industry. Both master’s and Ph.D. programs exist for cybersecurity professionals.
One of the interesting things about the cybersecurity profession is that job opportunities exist for people interested in offensive and defensive roles. In other words, some companies hire cybersecurity experts to harden existing computer, data, and networking infrastructure against potential attacks or against the latest digital threat.
On the other hand, some companies are hiring experts that perform ethical hacking. Their responsibility is to think like digital intruders and look for weaknesses or unlocked backdoors.
Increasingly, other professions that used to exist outside of the cybersecurity sector are finding cybersecurity-related opportunities.
Lawyers, for example, or data scientists, are professions that are finding that a background in cybersecurity opens new doors and potential opportunities for advancement.
How to prepare for a profession in cybersecurity
Most job openings, from entry-level analyst and programmer positions all the way to cybersecurity management and engineering team lead positions require some combination of cybersecurity degree and cybersecurity industry certification.
There are many different kinds of educational opportunities available to students looking to prepare for cybersecurity careers:
An associate’s degree in cybersecurity can provide students with the tools and experience necessary to be eligible for certain industry certifications. Most cybersecurity jobs require some level of education beyond high school that demonstrates a background in computer science, and more advanced knowledge of operating systems and information networks.
A bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity is like a gateway to opportunity in this rapidly growing field. Many cybersecurity analyst and cybersecurity specialist positions are looking for candidates with undergraduate training in computer science or information technology security. A bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity along with intern or work experience will help job candidates stand out. A cybersecurity bachelor’s degree also prepares students to take critical industry certification exams.
Master’s degrees in cybersecurity are available for students and professionals interested in gaining more specific cybersecurity knowledge and skills. Cybersecurity master’s degrees are well-suited for professionals that obtained a degree in a technical field such as math or computer science and are looking to gain more exposure to cybersecurity specialties. Master’s degree programs are also a good opportunity to gain other skills such as project management or business tactics, which prepare students for roles in leadership or management.
A Ph.D. in cybersecurity is usually the domain of people interested in cybersecurity research. A cybersecurity Ph.D. might be good preparation for people interested in pursuing careers in academia in information technology, data security, or cybersecurity. Often, people with a cybersecurity Ph.D. can find work in companies that specialize in information security, and pursue career paths such as chief information officer or chief technology officer.
In addition to degree programs, there are also a number of related certifications that are particular to the kind of cyber security job, software, or network system being worked on.
Many cybersecurity degree-granting programs prepare students to take industry or vendor certification programs. But for students with a particular interest in mind, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and think about coursework and experiences that will offer the best preparation opportunities.
Outlook for cybersecurity careers
What this all means is that the cybersecurity field is growing rapidly. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that cybersecurity jobs will grow by 18 percent through 2024, which is much faster than most other forms of employment.
According to the ISACA, a nonprofit, membership-based cybersecurity professional group, companies are reporting that there is a talent shortage in the cybersecurity industry. This means that the hiring landscape for people that truly understand the latest in cybersecurity best practices can find ample job opportunities.
From social engineering, to massive, targeted data breaches, cybersecurity threats continue to grow and are only expected to continue to evolve in complexity and impact as the internet-of-things and other internet-connected products and applications become adopted and used.