How to Become a Cyber Security Analyst in Illinois

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What is Cyber Security?


Are you considering enrolling in a cyber security degree program? If you want to work as a cyber security professional in Illinois, you may want to give preference to colleges and universities located in the state. While remote learning allows you to enroll in nearly any institution in the world with internet access, choosing a program in Illinois can be most beneficial to those looking to work in the state. Many local institutions have pre-established relationships with nearby businesses and organizations hiring experts in the field, giving you and edge over other candidates. Many of these schools also provide geographically relevant instruction, as they are familiar with employer expectations and hiring standards in the region.

Common tasks include monitoring networks for security breaches, investigating violations, installing/utilizing firewall and data encryption software, and preparing reports documenting security issues and the damage they caused. These professionals may also conduct penetration testing, research information technology trends, develop security standards, and recommend potential enhancements. Additionally, most program graduates are trained to combat common threats like malware, password theft, traffic interception, phishing, social engineering, and ransomware.

Regardless of their specific role, security professionals play a vital part in keeping society safe. Individuals, businesses, and agencies of all kinds utilize and depend on electronic devices and the internet continuously to perform everyday tasks, from posting on social media platforms and shopping for groceries to sending work correspondence and storing patient records. The more dependent upon technology the world is, the more necessary familiarity with computers and information security will become.

Individuals who are best suited for cyber security jobs tend to be highly detailed oriented and often enjoy solving problems. The most successful professionals in the field also likely possess great analytical and ingenuity skills.


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Cyber Security Education in Illinois


Because many industries rely on cyber security professionals, demand for qualified candidates is relatively high in Illinois. To accommodate this, numerous colleges and universities in the state offer notable academic programs, making it easy to find an option that fits your academic and career goals.

A career in cyber security is not for everyone. You are likely to enjoy studying this subject, however, if you like and have an aptitude for working with computers and network security. Professionals in this field tend to be instrumental in planning and carrying out security measures that protect computer systems for companies, organizations, and government agencies. This profession also requires an ability to adapt to fluctuating technologies as cyber-attacks occur consistently in some industries and methods change so regularly.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job availability for information security analysts is expected to increase by 33% from 2020 to 2030. This is significantly faster than the average for all occupations and will add approximately 16,300 new jobs to the market nationwide each year. The primary reason for the projected growth in this field is due to an increase in the frequency of cyber-attacks. Corporations and government agencies need qualified analysts capable of coming up with innovative solutions to prevent hackers from stealing critical information or creating problems for computer networks.

Information security is not considered a top industry in Illinois, but professional and business services is the number one revenue-producer in the state. This sector accounts for $118.24 billion in revenue each year and is highly dependent upon cyber security professionals. Other top industries in the state also rely on experts in this field to keep their employees and clients safe, from real estate and finance to education and healthcare. Every company and organization in the country can fall victim to cyber-attacks, which means they all security assistance mitigating network-related risks.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that information security analyst occupations are quite prominent in Illinois. This sector accounted for 4,060 jobs in May 2020, which is more than most other states. These professionals also tended to make decent pay. The annual mean wage for cyber security analysts in the state was $107,340, which is significantly higher than the annual mean wage of $56,310 reported for all occupations.

Earning a degree in cyber security can lead to a wide variety of employment opportunities across many different industries. As a result, job descriptions and responsibilities tend to vary significantly. Daily tasks assigned often depend on the type and size of the business or agency that employs them. While specifics differ, the general focus for experts in this field tends to be protecting data, devices, and networks from criminal activity by preventing access to unapproved entities. They often work to stop and catch criminals who seek to misuse network accounts and data.

While it’s possible to gain entry-level employment with self-taught knowledge and relevant work experience, this is no longer standard. Most cyber security employers expect job candidates to have some amount of formal education in cyber security, computer science, or a related topic. Ensure you are a good candidate for employment opportunities by researching expectations prior to applying.

The majority of professionals in this field have, at minimum, bachelor’s degrees. Colleges and universities offer degree programs at every level, however, from associate degrees to doctorates. Degree titles and curriculums often vary from institution to institution, making it imperative to review program details, admissions requirements, and course selections thoroughly.

Some of the most common cyber security degree names at every level include those in:

  • Cyber Security
  • Information Assurance
  • Information Security
  • Information Systems Security
  • Cyber Operations
  • Computer Forensics and Digital Investigations

Associate Degree in Cyber Security (AS)

An associate degree in cyber security typically provides a general overview of the field. This is typically appealing to individuals seeking entry-level employment opportunities without long academic commitments. Some of the career options that may be available to graduates include computer support specialists, computer programmers, or database administrators. It can be difficult to find jobs after graduation, however, as those with bachelor’s degrees are likely to be competing for the same positions.

This type of degree is also appropriate for those who intend to pursue further education in the future. Most associate programs are offered by community colleges, which tend to be less expensive than traditional, four-year institutions. After graduation, it’s typically quite easy to transfer credits earned to other accredited schools and have them applied towards bachelor degree requirements.

Most associate degree programs in cyber security consist of approximately 60 credit hours of coursework, which full-time students can complete in as little as two years. Specifics vary, but most students can expect to receive a foundational introduction to computer science. Instruction on important information technology concepts is also common. Course topics often include computer forensics, cyber-crime, networking, database security, and CompTIA security.

Bachelor's Degree in Cyber Security (BS)

As previously mentioned, most cyber security professionals choose to pursue bachelor’s degrees. Graduates will have the option to either find professional employment or continue their educations. There are various employment opportunities available, but the majority people with this level of education become cyber security analysts, information security analysts, or computer forensic analysts. Professionals with this degree level typically enjoy more employment opportunities, job security, and higher pay.

Graduates can also choose to pursue higher education by enrolling in graduate degree programs. Those who opt for this path will need a minimum grade point average and GRE scores in order to apply to relevant master’s programs.

Bachelor’s degrees in cyber security usually consist of 120 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students approximately four years to complete. Every program is different, but most cover topics related to the networking fundamentals, the installation and configuration of windows servers, ethical hacking, and information systems. They are also often offered the option to specialize in related sub-fields by selecting concentrations.

Master's Degree in Cyber Security (MS or MC)

While many employment opportunities in cyber security do not require master’s degrees, choosing to complete this level of education can be extremely beneficial. Not only does it help students hone important knowledge and skills, but graduates are significantly more competitive in the job market. They also often make higher salaries, promote faster, and enjoy increased job security in the field. Common career options include security application programmer, penetration tester, and vulnerability analyst.

Most master’s degree programs in cyber security consist of 30 to 60 credit hours of coursework and can be completed by full-time students in about two years. Classes tends to be more specialized, providing a focused assessment of topics such as penetration testing, vulnerability analysis, applied cryptography, digital forensics, and information security strategy and policy. As a result, graduates are generally better prepared for administrative positions.

Another potentially viable option is earning a master’s in business administration (MBA) degree with a focus in cyber security or another similar field. This is most relevant for individuals interested in opening their own cyber security businesses. Graduates are also better prepared to take on supervisory roles, which could lead to more promotion opportunities and higher pay. Coursework tends to explore business fundamentals at a much deeper level and helps students develop a comprehensive understanding of how businesses and organizations operate.

PhD Degree in Cyber Security (PhD)

Very few positions in cyber security require candidates to have doctoral degree. This level of education can open doors, however. As programs are generally designed to help develop research, analytical, and advocacy skills, graduates tend to qualify for some of the best employment opportunities in the field. They also promote faster and earn higher salaries. Employment options tend to be highly technical or related to education. Some potential career pathways include corporate researcher, policy advisor, and university professor.

Cyber security programs at the doctoral level usually consist of about 60 credit hours of graduate-level coursework and take between two and three years to complete. Classes are often difficult, covering advanced topics that require extensive research. Students can expect to study security testing, advanced malware analysis, theory of computation, and advanced algorithms. Most colleges and universities also offer opportunities to select a specialization or concentration. Common options include embedded systems, cyber-infrastructure, or human-centered computing. Students will need to pass all qualifying exams, pursue independent research, and prepare a dissertation prior to graduation.

Become a Cyber Security Professional in Illinois


Career paths in cyber security can vary significantly. The most common course starts with obtaining the appropriate education. Most employers in the field expect professionals to have a bachelor’s degree, although some entry-level positions can be acquired based on experience alone and some upper management jobs may require master’s degrees. This means that it’s important to identify your ultimate career goals before selecting an academic program as various types of employment may necessitate more education and training than others. Identifying your specific aspirations in the field can also make it easier to select a program concentration.

It’s worth noting that some cyber security professionals take steps to learn the necessary skills on their own or by enrolling in online classes. Bootcamp programs are also available, which often function as crash-courses to the field and provide those who finish with some sort of certification. After obtaining the needed knowledge and skills, you may be able to find entry-level work and use subsequent experience to promote in the future.

Many cyber security professionals pursue various certifications and/or licensures relevant to the field. Various information technology companies and organizations offer programs designed to boost skills in specific areas or concentrations. Some common examples include operating systems, coding languages, and software. Additional credentials often make candidates more marketable and can give them an edge over the competition when applying for jobs. Most certifications can be completed while working full-time. Some employers even pay for or provide financial assistance to those seeking relevant credentials.

Top credentials in this field include:

  • CompTIA Security+
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
  • Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
  • GIAC Security Essential Certification (GSEC)
  • System Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP)

One more factor to keep in mind is security clearances. Cyber security professionals may need to work with classified data within government agencies. In these cases, they are required to obtain all necessary security clearances. If you plan to apply to positions like this, expect the Department of Defense to perform a background investigation. The process can take several months or even a year to complete.

Careers for Cyber Security Graduates


After earning a cyber security degree and acquiring any needed or preferred certifications, you will be qualified to apply for a wide variety of positions in Illinois.

Salaries and daily duties will vary, but some of the most common career options in this field include:

  • Information Technology Manager
  • Information Security Manager
  • Network Engineer
  • Network Administrator
  • Systems Administrator
  • Information Technology Director
  • Cloud Information Security Engineer
  • Information Security Analyst
    Information security analysts are primarily responsible for providing security solutions to the companies and organizations they work for. They do this by completing a wide variety of tasks such as performing research, collecting data, and developing security strategies for implementation. These professionals also document, prioritize, and analyze security threats. Additionally, they My verify all other employees are taking the appropriate measures to keep information safe. According to PayScale, information security analysts make an average base salary of $73,150 per year.
  • Information Security Engineer
    Information security engineers are primarily responsible for maintaining the integrity of all data that is communicated, shared, and stored by company employees who may be working from various locations. They may also develop and maintain protocols to keep potentially sensitive data safe during entry, transmission, and retrieval. According to PayScale, information security engineers make an average base salary of $94,550 per year.
  • Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)
    Chief information security officers (CISOs) are primarily responsible for overseeing the security of information systems. They usually achieve this by reviewing, reporting on, and recommending solutions to current and potential threats. These professional may also maintain various procedures, standards, and policies to ensure all private data is kept safe. According to PayScale, chief information security officers make an average base salary of $165,900 per year.
  • Penetration Tester
    Penetration testers are primarily responsible for conducting cyber security assessments for the companies, organizations, and government agencies. Utilizing various tools and tactics, these professionals probe networks to expose potential areas of vulnerability. They must then report their findings and mitigation recommendations to leadership. According to PayScale, penetration testers make an average base salary of $86,350 per year.
  • Security Architect
    Security architects are primarily responsible for creating secure network and computer systems for companies and organizations. They achieve this by researching, planning, and designing various processes that lead to pertinent security developments. These professionals may also address issues within the system or delegate specific programming tasks to other team members. According to PayScale, security architects make an average base salary of $125,450 per year.
  • Security Engineer
    Security engineers are primarily responsible for developing various technological solutions meant to increase the security of the companies and organizations they work for. These professionals tend to spend a lot of time working with applications and production equipment experiencing technical problems. They may also create protocols to identify and address possible security risks and solve existing issues. According to PayScale, software engineers make an average base salary of $94,150 per year.

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