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What Will You Learn in a Cybersecurity Master’s Program?

Written by: University of Tulsa   •  Dec 8, 2023
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The breadth of the cyberthreat landscape cannot be overstated. While U.S. companies lose billions of dollars to cybercrime each year, cybercriminals aren’t just digital thieves. Sometimes, they’re spies and terrorists looking to infiltrate and shut down the systems that sustain countries. In other words, hackers don’t just drain bank accounts and steal people’s identities; they also cripple infrastructure and topple governments.

In 2020, a Russian hacking campaign made headlines for its breadth and depth. The nine month-long SolarWinds hack created a back door in common network monitoring software that gave attackers access to systems used by the Pentagon, United States Treasury, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other federal agencies. According to the DHS, “Our daily life, economic vitality and national security depend on a stable, safe, and resilient cyberspace.”

Unfortunately, while securing data and networks is more important than ever, there aren’t enough cybersecurity experts to keep everything and everyone safe. According to the Global Information Security Workforce Study, the cybersecurity workforce gap will hit 1.8 million by 2022. It’s bad news for organizations that deal in sensitive data, but good news for anyone who has completed a master’s program with a comprehensive cybersecurity curriculum.

A bachelor’s degree was once all it took to launch a career in the high-demand, high-impact cybersecurity field. Today, a master’s in cybersecurity is becoming the entry-level degree for security professionals. You can get ahead of the curve – and learn what you need to know to thrive in a variety of cybersecurity careers – in The University of Tulsa’s 100% online part-time M.S. in Cyber Security program.

Who typically earns a cybersecurity master’s degree?

Students in TU’s online M.S. in Cyber Security program are curious lifelong learners who want to grow their knowledge and advance in technology careers. They choose the online program because they’re also working professionals who don’t want to have to take a sabbatical to pursue a master’s degree. Some already work in entry- or mid-level cybersecurity, network security or information assurance roles. Others are new to the field but have related technical skills, knowledge and experience.

Many M.S. in Cyber Security candidates have academic or professional backgrounds in areas of technology, such as computer science, network engineering, IT and information systems management, software development or system administration. Those who don’t may be admitted into the university’s cybersecurity master’s program on the condition that they take leveling courses in information technology and computer programming before the end of the first semester.

What students in TU’s online M.S. in Cyber Security program have in common is a desire to learn advanced skills for cybersecurity so they can take the next step in their careers. Some will pivot into technical roles in information assurance and system security. Others will take what they learn and apply it in their IT or information management careers. Still others will use their new credentials to climb the corporate ladder.

Cybersecurity skills you’ll learn in The University of Tulsa’s master’s program

As an M.S. in Cyber Security candidate at TU, you will engage in real-world practice with the latest digital security technologies and acquire hands-on skills by participating in labs administered by expert faculty through remote virtual machines. The core cybersecurity curriculum includes courses focused on the fundamentals of this multifaceted discipline.

In Foundations of Cyber Security, through virtual classroom discussions and hands-on project work you’ll learn skills related to the security of socio-technical systems, the threats to those systems and the countermeasures professionals use to keep them safe. Coursework touches on software security, malware, keylogging, data loss and privacy, as well as the economic, legal and ethical issues that make cybersecurity a society-wide issue.

In Defensive Cyber Security Technologies, you’ll explore the essential cybersecurity skills and technologies modern organizations use to keep their digital assets safe. Coursework covers security frameworks and documented best practices, as well as information security risks, threats and vulnerabilities. You’ll use actual security tools in class to practice different cyber threat mitigation strategies and get a feel for their limitations.

In Information Systems Assurance, you’ll learn design and analysis methods for high-assurance information systems that are safe, reliable and secure. Coursework covers the specification of mission-critical system properties, software validation, verification and certification.

In Network Security Concepts and Applications, you’ll learn skills related to the principles of computer networks and network security design and operation, including requirements, connectivity levels, layered architectures and applications. Skill-building in this course is centered around core perimeter security fundamentals, secure networks, incident response, design fundamentals and security assessments.

In Systems Security and Cryptography, you’ll explore the technical aspects of computer, network and information system security in greater depth, as well as the fundamentals and applications of cryptography. Coursework touches on access control, authentication, secure communication, and audit and security system design, engineering and operation.

In Security Audit and Penetration Testing, you’ll learn to apply risk metrics to threats from vulnerabilities and exploits and to identify, understand and apply defensive practices against the major classes of vulnerabilities. As you advance through the course and perform basic penetration testing, you’ll become more comfortable with standard penetration testing methodology, practice and outcomes for common IT elements.

In Cyber Security Law and Policy, you’ll learn about the legal, technical and logical dimensions of computer systems, information and network security. This course doesn’t teach technical skills for cybersecurity. Instead, it covers topics such as data security regulation, security breach law, cybersecurity litigation, anti-hacking laws, emerging national security threats and cyberwarfare – all of which you’ll need to understand in order to ensure your work is ethical and on solid legal ground.

This might sound like a lot to learn in just 20 months of part-time study, but a key element of TU’s online M.S. in Cyber Security program is flexibility. You can progress through the course content on your own schedule and can continue working full time while learning. That doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on on-the-ground opportunities, however. Just because you’re enrolled in the online program doesn’t mean you can’t take part in annual events, such as Tulsa Cyber Summit, and stay abreast of innovations in the cybersecurity industry via The University of Tulsa Cyber Consortium.

What you can do with a master’s in cybersecurity

The technical and professional skills for cybersecurity you’ll develop in TU’s part-time program are highly sought after by federal government agencies, national laboratories, law enforcement and intelligence communities, as well as by private-sector businesses. In each of those spheres, numerous cybersecurity career pathways tend to fall into one of five categories.

Risk analysis jobs involve identifying vulnerable information assets and quantifying risks so stakeholders can make informed decisions about security. Network security jobs involve protecting networking infrastructure from unauthorized access. Security software development jobs involve writing computer programs that safeguard systems and data. System security engineering jobs involve building secure systems. And security intelligence jobs involve identifying and mitigating threats to the nation’s communication infrastructure and the federal government’s sensitive data.

There are numerous interconnected titles within each of these broad categories. According to the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers & Studies, cybersecurity encompasses not only dozens of specialization areas but also more than 50 specific career roles. The breadth of this discipline can make it difficult to map out a “typical” career trajectory for master’s in cybersecurity graduates. You might start as a security analyst before becoming a cybersecurity consultant and then advance into a cybersecurity engineer position. Or you might work in quality assurance before transitioning into penetration testing or becoming a certified ethical hacker.

Because there’s no blueprint for building a career in cybersecurity, it can be helpful to consider your interests and aptitudes in the context of the many specialty areas of cybersecurity. After earning a cybersecurity master’s degree, you might specialize in application security, automation, cloud computing security, cryptography, digital forensics or penetration testing. Or, you might not specialize in cybersecurity at all – at least not on paper. According to a Burning Glass Technologies report, “cybersecurity is a task built into other IT jobs, such as network administrators. Overall, these ‘cyber-enabled’ jobs form the majority (56%) of all cybersecurity-related openings.”

As for where you’ll work after learning advanced skills for cybersecurity in a program such as TU’s M.S. in Cyber Security, the sky is the limit. Employers across industries need qualified cybersecurity professionals, which means you’re as likely to work in aerospace, health care or finance as you are to work in tech. Many of The University of Tulsa’s M.S. in Cyber Security graduates go on to secure jobs at high-profile companies such as Amazon, CymSTARGoogle, GPSG, Hilti, Instagram and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Is the M.S. in Cyber Security the right degree for you?

There are many compelling reasons to look into cybersecurity degree programs that will prepare you to master the theory, concepts and techniques of information assurance and network defense.

Demand for professionals qualified to protect organizations against cybercrime is high, but there aren’t nearly enough of them to keep the vast quantity of data generated by humans safe from thieves, hackers and terrorists. Around 200,000 cybersecurity jobs in the U.S. go unfilled each year, and that’s just a fraction of the three million positions that go unfilled worldwide. The 2020 (ISC)² Cybersecurity Workforce Study predicts the global cybersecurity workforce will need to grow by 89% to meet the needs of organizations looking to defend critical digital assets.

It’s also a stable field that pays quite well. Robert Herjavec, CEO of the $300 million cybersecurity firm Herjavec Group, has said, “If you know cybersecurity, then you have a job for life.” Earning a graduate degree in cybersecurity can help you achieve not only lifelong job security but also financial security. The average cybersecurity salary is about $91,000, which is higher than the average for all IT jobs. University of Tulsa alumni who specialize in cybersecurity typically earn around $95,000 soon after graduation. Some cybersecurity roles pay a lot more, particularly those geared toward professionals with advanced credentials.

If you don’t yet have any experience in the field of cybersecurity, enrolling in TU’s M.S. in Cyber Security program can be the first step in your career transition. And if you do have experience, a graduate degree can be your ticket into those higher-paying, higher-profile management positions. Before you enroll, however, think carefully about why you’re interested in cybersecurity careers. Maybe you find digital forensics fascinating or want to create new weapons in the fight against malware. Maybe spending your days breaking into systems to expose vulnerabilities sounds exciting. Having clear goals will help you put together the strongest possible M.S. in Cyber Security application.

Whether TU is the right school for you depends on what you’re looking for. TU has a long-standing reputation for excellence in cybersecurity, with on-campus and online programs supported by the federal government, National Security Agency, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency. The university has been a designated Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense since 2000, when it was one of the first 14 institutions awarded this distinction. Since then, TU has held and continues to hold all three NCAE-C designations, and the university’s cybersecurity master’s program alumni have gone on to work in leading roles in the private sector, the public sector and academia. Scholarships and financial aid are available, you can earn your degree in as few as 20 months and you’ll graduate prepared to become a technical and managerial leader in the world of cybersecurity.

Some sources predict automation will make cybersecurity professionals obsolete, but cybercriminals will always find ways to penetrate automated security systems as quickly as they are implemented. Cyberattacks will still be fueled by human ingenuity and there will always be vulnerabilities caused by human error. Demand for a skilled cybersecurity workforce will never disappear because there will always be cybercriminals and, therefore, a need for highly trained professionals capable of identifying and responding to their attacks.

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