The world has always been a dangerous place, but with the increasingly networked globe, it is easier than ever to gain access to information that doesn’t belong to you. And by “you,” naturally we mean the bad guys of the world: thieves, terrorists, political mavericks and others in whose hands information can go very wrong.
Luckily, there are many people on the side of good, helping to put protective measures in place and ensure that information remains as safe as possible. Such people are known as cyber security analysts, people who review and strengthen systems that keep organizations and people safe from the dangers of the online world.
Whether you’ve long considered a job in cyber security or are just now wondering if it might be right for you, you probably have some questions about what it is – and what master’s degree can get you the job you’d like upon graduation. You have quite a few choices, discussed below.
But first, what exactly is cyber security, and why does it need to be analyzed?
What Is Cyber Security?
According to malware-protection giant Norton, “Cyberattacks are an evolving danger to organizations, employees, and consumers. They may be designed to access or destroy sensitive data or extort money. They can, in effect, destroy businesses and damage people’s financial and personal lives.” Naturally those are outcomes best prevented, which is where cyber security comes in. Norton defines this as “the state or process of protecting and recovering networks, devices, and programs from any type of cyberattack.”
In plain terms, cyber security means making sure that people who want to do harm can’t access systems they’re not supposed to. A strong defense makes it much less likely that cyber attackers can:
- Steal sensitive personal information, such as medical or financial records
- Steal identities, which is an increasing problem in vulnerable populations such as children or the elderly
- Access government information that might enable terrorist attacks, espionage or sale of critical information
- Steal credit card information from organizations
- Create PR disasters in the form of inflammatory communication that appear to come from an organization, but in fact originate from a hacker
- Shut down important systems, such as power grids or defense networks
- Prey on vulnerable people such as children through social media networks or other channels
Cyber security analysts have the important job not only of building defenses against the above (and other) situations, but also of analyzing them to see where they need improvement. Because it’s such an important job, they can expect to make good money: $98,350 per year or $47.28 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The market for such jobs is also growing incredibly fast, at a projected 28 percent between 2016 and 2026.
The daily activities of a cybersecurity analyst will differ depending on an organization’s needs, but most will perform duties such as:
- Running audits on systems to identify flaws, weaknesses or loopholes
- Recommending fixes to these flaws, and in some cases coding the fixes themselves, or directing teams to do so
- Ensuring that systems stay up to date at all times
- Extracting and analyzing data to gain valuable information about what is and isn’t working
- Using statistics and best practices from peers, government organizations and others to bolster systems and their effectiveness
A good cyber security analyst will always be looking for potentially compromising aspects of the system and working to fix them before a cyberattack can occur. In order to do the job effectively, though, you first need to get a degree. Here are our favorite master’s degrees for a cyber security analyst.
Master of Cyber Security
If you want to get straight to the heart of the matter, consider an online or traditional on-campus degree in cyber security. This discipline addresses the dangers we face from cyber attackers and malicious software today, and gives you the tools you need to combat it at work on a daily basis. The biggest benefits of this degree include:
- You are qualified for a very specific job. If the only thing you want to do is cyber security, than you are well set. Potential employers know you have exactly the skills they need to get the job done.
- You will stay ahead of the technology curve. A cyber security degree not only teaches you what to watch out for now, but what you might need to deal with later – and how to see new problems coming down the pipeline before they cause disaster in your organization.
- It’s the perfect degree for lifelong learners. Because attackers and defensive systems are in a constant arms race, a cyber security analyst can never get complacent. That means lots of continuing education and professional development, which is ideal for those who want to keep enriching themselves for life.
- It helps the world. If you want to make a difference, this degree (and the others that follow) can absolutely get you there. Cyber security is more necessary than ever, which is why the job market is growing so quickly. No matter which population you want to protect, where you want to live and who you want to work for, you can rest assured that you’re doing something good.
Master of Computer Science
Computer science is an old discipline, but it is made new every year by the rapidly changing pace of the digital sphere. While computer scientists can take on a huge variety of roles, this is an excellent master’s degree to have if you want to become a cyber security analyst. The job requires a deep understanding of digital systems, which will in turn enable you to spot weaknesses in those systems that attackers or thieves might exploit. The degree will also confer other benefits, such as:
- It has broad appeal to organizations. Pretty much anyone with a computer science degree these days is extremely saleable. Every organization needs people who have this background, so getting it will set you up for employment.
- The degree is flexible. If it turns out that you don’t love working in cyber security, you can switch tracks pretty easily with a computer science degree. You could, for example, go into IT or systems analysis instead.
- It teaches data mining and analysis skills, which are always valuable. Data has gone from a trickle to a firehose in today’s world. The problem is not that we lack pertinent data, but that we have no ability to draw meaning from it because there’s so much. Anyone who is able to parse and analyze data – for security reasons or otherwise – will receive major appreciation.
Master of Software Engineering
Software is the basis of most cyberattacks. Called “malware,” malicious code can be used for a number of evil ends: stealing information, planting bugs, sending false communications, and more. For that reason, a background in software engineering is extremely helpful if you want to work in cyber security. Understanding how programs work – and therefore how to patch them and reverse-engineer malicious programs – is a critical skill for cyber security workers. That means this is an excellent choice of master’s degree for anyone who is interested in the role. It also brings perks like:
- You can code your own solutions to problems. Rather than having to rely on others, cyber security analysts who have a background in software engineering can come up with their own fixes on the spot.
- You can take on leadership roles within the organization. Having a background in software and programming gives you the necessary abilities to manage teams of software engineers. This is turn makes you likelier to receive promotions and pay raises, and to add meaningfully to your organization.
- You can work for big names. Hoping to impress bigshots like Microsoft or Intel? You have a better shot at doing just that if you have a background in software engineering and can work well with their systems.
Master of Information Assurance
Never heard of this degree? That’s because it is a relatively new one, created expressly in response to the online dangers that populate the world today. This degree is very targeted, helping to protect information from a variety of institutions, such as hospitals, financial institutions and government offices. If you love the idea of protecting information at all costs, this might be the degree for you. It’s bonuses include:
- You can target your interest area specifically. Want to work for a government office? Then you can learn the in-depth skills needed in this environment. Care more about medical records? Make that your focus. Whatever your interest area and cause, you can take classes and do research related to that interest.
- You will learn a lot about forensics. Many people love the thrill of a good case. With an information assurance degree, you can get ready to play detective: tracking clues, following them back to where they originated, building theories and acting on them. In so doing, you help to make the world safer for others.