This guide is intended as a brief overview of cybersecurity within the state of Virginia. It includes a review of some of the educational options and career opportunities available to would-be cybersecurity professionals.
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As measured both in terms of the number of cybersecurity job openings and the number of cybersecurity professionals currently employed, Virginia ranks third in the US behind Texas and California, according to CyberSeek data. One of the reasons for this high concentration of cybersecurity companies and the workforce is Virginia’s proximity to Washington D.C.Virginia ranks second among US states in federal government procurement spending.
The northeastern corner of the state is home to the CIA and the US Department of Defense, two of the most important employers of cybersecurity professionals. In fact, Virginia is second to only California in federal Department of Defense employees.
The long list of other federal government agencies residing in Virginia includes the FDIC, DEA, Marshals Service, Fish & Wildlife Service, Defense Information Systems Agency, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, and the Army National Guard Readiness Center.
Virginia is also home to 39 Fortune 500 corporations. The area around the Dulles International Airport has become a huge center for technology, including internet, communication technology, and software engineering companies. Other areas of the state also boast a number of nanotechnology, biotechnology, and medical research companies.
Growing importance of cybersecurity in Virginia
The list of programs and initiatives sponsored or provided by state and local governments in Virginia is as impressive as any state in the country. It’s not surprising, considering the state has over 90,000 cybersecurity professionals already employed there, and the rolls are growing quickly. Below, we’ve brought attention to some of the cybersecurity-focused initiatives now underway in Virginia.
In 2016, the governor launched the Cyber Vets Virginia program. The goal is to assist military veterans who wish to join the cybersecurity workforce by providing a free information security training program. The training program is a collaboration between the Institute for Veterans and Military Families’ Onward to Opportunity (O20) and Cisco, Amazon, and cybersecurity education leader (ISC)². Virginia has one of the highest concentrations of veterans in the US.
In 2018, Virginia’s state government initiated funding of the CyberX program with a $30 million budget allotment. The physical facilities are to be developed on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia. CyberX is intended to be a research and education hub within Virginia for cybersecurity students and industry.
Also, in 2018, the Virginia Growth & Opportunity Fund funded the Virginia Cyber Alliance. Its mission is to promote regional economic growth by reaching out to stakeholders and providing internships, salary subsidies, and technical assistance where needed. It plans to accomplish this by acting “as a partnership of industry, government, and academic institutions working to expand the region’s influence in cybersecurity, data analytics, and unmanned autonomous systems (UAS).”
The Virginia Beach Economic Development department has instituted its own program to encourage the development of cybersecurity resources in its region of the state. The Regional Cyber Workforce Readiness Program is tasked with defining regional cybersecurity needs and assets, stimulating individual and corporate business growth related to information security, and to “create a sustainable and scalable cyber workforce development ecosystem.”
A number of states have funded programs similar to this on the state level, but very few such initiatives have been seen from municipal governments. It’s an indication of the extra effort Virginia is putting into making a home for the cybersecurity industry.
The Virginia Department of Education is fully on board with developing cybersecurity education programs within the state. It provides students with the resources to find and apply for any and all available grants and scholarships designated for those with a career in cybersecurity in mind. It also encourages state higher education institutions to develop degree and certification programs for cybersecurity.
Virginia’s proximity and access to the nation’s largest and most important military and intelligence agencies is one reason the state is such a large employer of cybersecurity professionals. Of course, positions in these federal agencies put a premium on security clearances.
A large concentration of veterans is one reason this area is perfectly suited for cybersecurity careers. And the state provides resources for anyone interested in cybersecurity with its CyberVirginia website. But Virginia isn’t all about the federal government. Its many large multinational corporations and economic focus on technology have also contributed to it being a top center of cybersecurity companies. In fact, Virginia is now home to several of the highest ranked cybersecurity companies in the US as ranked by Cybersecurity Ventures and published in their Cybercrime Magazine.
Cybersecurity education in Virginia
Virginia is known for many things, and among them is being home to multiple highly-respected venerable colleges and universities. A number of these well-known institutions, and a host of others, have jumped on board with the push to provide top cybersecurity degree and certification programs. Old Dominion, Marymount, James Madison, George Mason, Virginia Tech, and the University of Virginia are just some of the Virginia institutions that have developed cybersecurity education programs.
There is an abundant selection of degree and certification options provided in both on-campus and online formats, so whether you live in Virginia or elsewhere, this is a state well worth looking at for cybersecurity education.
Virginia Tech, in particular, has set itself apart as a center for cybersecurity research and education. Even before the aforementioned state-funded CyberX program, Virginia Tech had developed its own cybersecurity department. The school has established itself as a National Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) approved by the National Security Agency for both Cybersecurity Defense Research and Cybersecurity Operations. And Virginia Tech’s Hume Center for National Security and Technology has been designated as an Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence.
For those eyeing a career in cybersecurity but perhaps lacking the time or resources to attack a full four-year degree program, consider starting out with an associate’s degree in cybersecurity. In part due to the shortage of cybersecurity professionals, there is still a good supply of entry-level positions requiring only an associate’s degree. These programs generally only take a year to two to complete. Once that’s accomplished and a cybersecurity career is underway, professionals can go back and earn a bachelor’s degree, or higher, when time and money permit. In fact, associate’s degree coursework is often transferable to many bachelor’s degree programs, making it easier to finish the next level.
Campus-based associate’s degrees in Virginia
There are currently four on-campus associate’s degree programs available in Virginia for cybersecurity offered by four separate community colleges. The list and more information can be viewed below.
Online associate’s degrees in Virginia
Virginia universities now offer just one cybersecurity associate’s degree through online formats. ECPI University has a program leading to an Associate of Science in Computer and Information Science with a Cyber and Network Security Concentration.
In today’s cybersecurity industry, bachelor’s degrees are a minimum educational requirement for most jobs. Degrees in a cybersecurity specialty are not usually demanded, but majoring or having a concentration in cybersecurity is certainly viewed as an advantage over other technology majors.
Because Virginia has such a high concentration of professionals with technology backgrounds and degrees, it’s a good idea for those aspiring toward information security careers to obtain a degree with a cybersecurity specialization.
Campus-based bachelor’s degrees in Virginia
Virginia schools currently offer five campus-based bachelor’s degree programs for cybersecurity. More information is below.
Online bachelor’s degrees in Virginia
At present, 12 online bachelor’s degrees in cybersecurity are being provided by Virginia colleges and universities. See the table below for more information.
Cybersecurity master’s degrees are growing in importance, demand, and availability. Senior corporate and management-level information security positions are increasingly requiring candidates to have a graduate degree. Those seeking c-suite corporate posts such as Chief Information Security Officer are providing much of the demand. But information security professionals preferring to find a home in academia, cybersecurity research, or cybersecurity consulting also find master’s degrees helpful for landing the best jobs.
Campus-based master’s degrees in Virginia
As the below table indicates, there are eight master’s degree programs currently being provided in campus-based formats in Virginia. Three of these are from George Mason, and two from Virginia Tech.
Online master’s degrees in Virginia
For those preferring the convenience of online coursework, there are now 14 master’s degree programs being conducted in online venues by Virginia Schools. See below for more information and links.
Doctorate degrees in cybersecurity are now becoming more popular. Much of the demand comes from those wishing to have careers in academia or research pursuits. But some aspiring to reach the highest cybersecurity positions in corporate life also are beginning to seek out PhD’s in information security.
Campus-based PhD’s in Virginia
Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia currently provides the only on-campus option available in the state for a PhD in cybersecurity – PhD in Computer Science with a Cybersecurity Track.
Online PhD’s in Virginia
One online PhD program is currently available from Virginia universities. The University of Fairfax has a program leading to a Doctorate in Information Assurance (DIA).
Certification programs can be beneficial for students just starting out in cybersecurity and for experienced professionals. Different certification programs are designed for different audiences.
For those trying to decide if cybersecurity is right for them, some certifications provide an introduction to information security and possibly give an advantage to beginner professionals applying for entry-level jobs.
For existing professionals, some cybersecurity certifications are designed to advance study in a distinct specialty, penetration testing for example. Having specialized infosec certifications like this will enhance a professional’s knowledge and potentially help boost their career.
Some colleges and universities have designed cybersecurity certifications to be a substitute for or serve as early coursework toward advanced degrees, particularly master’s degrees. Virginia schools now provide all three types of cybersecurity certificate programs.
Campus-based cybersecurity certifications in Virginia
Virginia schools of higher learning currently have a total of 14 cybersecurity certificate programs available in campus-based formats. The below table has more information.
Online cybersecurity certifications in Virginia
There are also nine cybersecurity certification programs being provided by Virginia institutions via online access. These are listed below:
Cybersecurity Jobs in Virginia
Virginia has one of the highest concentrations of cybersecurity job demand in the country. According to CyberSeek, it is currently experiencing nearly five times the national average of new information security job openings per capita.
From October 2020 through September 2021, Virginia had 93,225 people employed in some aspect of cybersecurity. It also saw over 50,000 new information security job openings during that time. By far, the most active region of the state for cybersecurity hiring is in the Alexandria area, largely due to its close proximity to Washington D.C. While dwarfed by the activity closer to the nation’s capital, Virginia Beach is also experiencing high demand for cybersecurity professionals, seeing over 5,500 new job openings. And employers in the state capital of Richmond also posted 4,440 information security job openings.
In May, 2020, security analysts in Virginia were enjoying an average hourly wage of $56.21, and the average annual salary was $116,920, this according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of course, it comes as no surprise that the standard of living in Virginia is also significantly higher than the national average, particularly in the areas closest to Washington D.C. The high cost of housing is the primary culprit.
Cybersecurity in Virginia
Virginia’s location in the shadow of Washington D.C. has proven to be a huge advantage for the state’s economy, and this is particularly true for the cybersecurity industry. But this is far from the only reason that Virginia has become the second-largest state for employing cybersecurity professionals. A plethora of large multinational corporations and the state government’s strong support for cybersecurity education and service companies are also among the reasons Virginia is a leader in information security.
Programs stressing more education, the advancement of infosec research, providing advantages to cybersecurity companies and assistance for students will ensure the state holds onto this leadership status. And Virginia’s large contingent of military veterans can also be assured of getting whatever assistance they need to get the education necessary to break into the field.
High rates of pay for cybersecurity professionals are balanced by a high standard of living, especially housing costs. Still, there are plenty of reasons and advantages to be had for those aspiring toward a career in cybersecurity to choose Virginia as a place to get their degrees and work.