The US is experiencing a critical skills gap in the technology fields required to protect data and infrastructure in cyberspace. One area that has proven to greatly improve our cyber defense capabilities is cyber analytics. Using artificial intelligence (AI) to extract actionable information from big data, this unique discipline provides crucial insights into cyber vulnerabilities and promises to enable the development of essential new defense techniques.
This guide will help students choose the best academic path to qualify for the growing number of cyber-related jobs in the US and worldwide. There has never been a better time to enter cyber defense-related fields of study. The demand for workers is high, and the educational and scholarship resources are plentiful.
Data analytics vs. cybersecurity
It can be said that the field of cyber analytics is the offspring of a marriage between data analytics and cybersecurity. To gain a clear picture of where cyber analytics — sometimes called security analytics — falls between these bookends, we need first to examine the common definitions for these three areas of study.
Data analytics is the process of examining datasets to draw conclusions about the information they contain. Valuable insights can be derived from uncovering and examining data patterns. Scientists categorize data as descriptive, diagnostic, predictive, or prescriptive to help them utilize data in innovative ways. It can help companies better understand customer purchasing habits, measure the efficacy of advertising campaigns, discover new markets, and develop new products.
Cybersecurity, the other parent of cyber analytics or security analytics is the practice of defending digital assets against malicious attacks. This discipline employs various techniques, strategies, processes, and tools to diagnose, predict, and prevent unauthorized access of networks, systems, and devices.
Cyber analytics, or security analytics, can then be described as the use of data analytics to achieve a cybersecurity objective. It is a powerful tool born of a deep understanding of data that can describe cybersecurity risks, diagnose vulnerabilities, predict future malicious behavior, and prescribe protective remedies.
Cyber analytics has evolved over the last few decades to become the basis for essential cybersecurity solutions and practices. It has provided a crucial understanding of bad actors, their techniques, and behaviors.
It has been said that the best way to understand the difference between cyber analytics and cybersecurity (sometimes termed cybersecurity analytics and cybersecurity engineering) is to ask this question; “Do you want to be the person in the room that can answer how it works? Or do you want to be the person in the room that can answer why it works?” Cyber analytics answers the “how it works” question. Cybersecurity is more concerned with “why” things work as they do.
Cybersecurity analytics and security analytics training
A degree in cyber analytics may be called by several different names. The fields of data analytics and cybersecurity are relatively new disciplines, and as such, academia has not settled on a standard nomenclature for related degree programs. Depending on the institution, a cyber analytics degree might be described as any of the following:
- Cyber analytics
- Cybersecurity analytics
- Security analytics
- Information security analytics
- Data analytics for cybersecurity
- Big data security analytics
Like other college degrees, students can earn a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in cyber analytics, security analytics, or information security analytics. Doctorate level students can earn a Ph.D. in cybersecurity with a focus on data analytics.
A degree in cyber analytics will equip students with skills in modeling big data, data analytics, and statistical learning methods. Data can be used to uncover dependencies, weaknesses, risks, and identify corrective actions. Graduates will have the ability to combine big data science with threat intelligence to detect, analyze, and prevent targeted attacks from external hackers as well as insider threats from rogue or careless employees.
It is the application of big data analytics, rather than computer science or programming, that sets cyber analytics apart from traditional cybersecurity methodologies. To be sure, both disciplines examine the same exploits, vulnerabilities, threats, and attack methods. Still, for a cyber data scientist, these challenges are viewed through the lens of big data security analytics.
Choosing the right cybersecurity analytics degree program
The first step in choosing the right cyber analytics degree is to decide how much time to invest in education. A Bachelor of Science (BS) in Cyber Analytics, Security Analytics, or Information Security Analytics will prepare students for entry-level positions protecting data and defending digital systems from cybercriminals and nation-states adversaries.
A Master of Science (MS) in Cyber Analytics builds on the foundation of the BS by preparing students for careers in risk management, malware analysis, penetration testing, or management positions in a security organization.
A Ph.D. in cybersecurity will prepare professionals to take a leadership role in stopping hackers and preventing data theft. Students are taught to think outside the box as an innovation leader and be prepared for various technology leadership roles to manage and mitigate risks in both government and private sector organizations.
After deciding on an appropriate level of education, it is time to examine the specific programs offered by various colleges and universities. As detailed above, various academic institutions may describe their cyber analytics program using similar and related, but not identical, names. One good place to start your search for just the right degree program is with those institutions that offer a degree in cybersecurity.
For example, by using the complete guide to a bachelor’s in cybersecurity degree resource and selecting Southern New Hampshire from the featured cybersecurity degree program list, a prospective student will find that this institution also offers a BS in Cybersecurity – Data Analytics degree. To find the ideal program, this process can be replicated for other schools and degree levels.
Before granting admission to a BS in Cyber Analytics degree program, colleges will commonly require applicants to be a high school graduate. Acceptance into a preferred academic institution may have more stringent requirements, such as a certain GPA or completion of advance placement (AP) or honors courses during high school, but this will vary for each college.
Before applying for admission to a cyber analytics program, each applicant should engage in a thorough and honest self-examination to determine if their interests and strengths align with the program’s curricula and the job requirements.
Applicants should have an interest in technology and an aptitude for working with numbers. The cybersecurity side of a cyber analytics degree requires a technical acumen consistent with someone comfortable working with networks, databases, and complex software. The analytics component will require the ability to master concepts of statistical analysis and big data research.
To apply to a graduate degree program in cyber analytics or security analytics an applicant should have completed a bachelor’s degree in a related field or be completing a bachelor’s degree before enrollment. Many programs require a 3.0 cumulative grade point average or higher for the applicant’s undergraduate studies.
To measure verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, analytical writing, and critical thinking skills, many graduate schools require taking entrance exams like the GRE. Others may require applicants to take the GMAT to assess certain analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills.
Cybersecurity analytics, security analytics, and information security analytics degree curriculum
Just as a cyber analytics degree may be given many different titles, each college or university that offers this unique hybrid between cybersecurity and data analytics will differ in the level of emphasis placed on the two primary characteristics. Some will emphasize the cybersecurity aspects of the field, while others focus more on data analytics.
As examples of what a student should look for in their search, a BS in Computer Science – Data Analytics might include courses such as:
- Introduction to Structured Database Environments
- Emerging Technologies and Big Data
- Data Validation: Quality and Cleaning
The required undergraduate curriculum will cover the areas of:
- Programming and Computers
- Information Assurance
- Mathematics and Sciences
- English, Humanities, and Social Science
An MS is Cyber Analytics program could be expected to offer classes with names like:
- Network Assessment and Defense
- Investigation and Digital Forensics
- Cyberlaw and Ethics
- Incident Detection & Response
Applicants should expect graduate-level courses to fall into both cybersecurity and data analytics areas.
Tuition for a degree in cybersecurity analytics
Like most undergraduate degrees, a Data Analytics for Cybersecurity bachelor’s degree will require approximately 120 credit hours of coursework, including core courses and electives.
The National Center for Education Statistics indicates that for the 2017–18 academic year, costs for undergraduate tuition, fees, and room & board were estimated to be $17,797 at public institutions, $46,014 at private nonprofit institutions, and $26,261 at private for-profit institutions.
Excluding room and board, the average tuition and fees for 4-year institutions for the 2018-19 school year were $16,318.
According to this site’s complete guide to a bachelor’s in cybersecurity degree page, there are five things to consider when evaluating tuition costs.
- Cost per credit: This is probably the simplest metric to use when comparing cybersecurity degree programs to one another. Sometimes total tuition costs can include things like lab fees or other expenses. But to really get a sense of the cost versus value for a cybersecurity degree, make sure and compare credit costs for each program.
- Location: The cost of a cybersecurity bachelor’s degree might vary depending on geographic location. One thing to evaluate is whether or not the school has existing relationships with cybersecurity employers in a geographic area. This will make things like internships and career planning a little bit easier.
- Size: Overall, school and program size seem to correlate to cost. Larger programs offer more in the way of diversity of course offerings because the programs are part of a larger university. However, bigger isn’t always better, so conducting research on how individual programs will help meet individual student needs and aspirations is always advisable.
- Online vs. campus-based: It’s important to look at the cost per credit when comparing online degrees versus campus-based degrees. It’s also important to compare the required course hours to obtain the degree and then decide which is a better fit.
- Full-time versus part-time: While the decision to attend a cybersecurity bachelor’s degree program full-time versus part-time might not really impact the cost-per-credit, it still might make the degree more affordable, or at least financially obtainable, because students can work while attending school. Not all programs offer a part-time option, but enough do that it’s worth looking at as an option.
The technology fields related to protecting our nation’s cyber infrastructure face a severe shortage of qualified workers to fill the millions of available job openings. An industry-wide deficit of trained workers can mean good news for certain groups of people. It can mean higher wages for those qualified to work in the field, and it can mean scholarship opportunities for students looking to become eligible for these positions.
Below are several of the many applicable scholarships available from a wide range of sponsors.
- Department of the Navy, Chief Information Officer – Information Assurance Scholarship Program
- Department of Defense – SMART Scholarship Program
- Center for Cyber Safety and Education – (ISC)² Women’s Scholarships
- Central Intelligence Agency – Undergraduate Scholarship Program
- National Science Foundation – Graduate Research Fellowship Program
- National Security Agency – Stokes Educational Scholarship Program
- Cisco – Snort Scholarship
- CyberCorps – Scholarship For Service
Cybersecurity analytics career outlook
The career outlook for cyber analytics is most decidedly positive. An example of a job that is representative of the many positions for which a graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Cyber Analytics degree will qualify is that of an information security analyst. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook indicates that the 2019 median annual salary for this position is $99,730. This government resource cites an anticipated 31% increase in job growth for the information security analyst role. This growth rate is categorized as much faster than average.
The demand for graduates with a degree in cybersecurity or cyber analytics has never been greater. This demand for qualified workers has driven wages up and incentivize the development of many scholarship opportunities. For students looking for a meaningful career to protect valuable information and digital assets, cyber analytics, security analytics, and information security analytics are a good choice for academic pursuit.