What is Cyber Security?
A cyber security specialist is a computing professional who works to safeguard databases and networks from hackers. They create security software that is designed to thwart these bad actors and they help create protocols so that end-users in their firm maintain security for themselves and everyone. This software can include things such encryption applications, password protocols, and firewalls.
Technology has opened up whole new worlds of possibility for us. Not so long ago, hardly anyone had a computer at home, much less an internet connection. Now we carry on our social, financial, and entertainment business with devices that amount to supercomputers that can fit into a pocket. With this reliance on complex computer systems comes real risks from nefarious persons on the web.
Hackers are all too eager to reach out from anywhere on the globe. They enter bank accounts, corporate databases, and more for the sake of enriching themselves. Some of these events have made headlines, like when hackers attacked an oil pipeline company and held their billing systems hostage. There have also been numerous incidents of persons holding hospital databases for ransom. Then there are the ordinary cyber security breaches, as when friends on social media have their accounts hacked or spoofed or when people have their identities stolen.
Cyber Security Education in Iowa
There are also cyber security experts who don't create wholly new software packages but who decide which products provide the best solution for their databases and networks. They may customize software so that it is a perfect fit, but they don't develop the application from scratch. Then there are experts who test cyber security systems. They act as nefarious hackers would and then write reports that critique the strengths and weaknesses of the system.
Ultimately, all cyber security specialists work at computer terminals either in an office environment or from home. Penetration testers work remote from the site they are testing, and many other cyber security professionals work from home as well.
Iowans are just as susceptible to cyber-crime as anyone, so the state has responded by supporting its cyber security infrastructure with degrees and certificates that ensure highly qualified professionals can respond when bad guys strike. Iowa's colleges and universities have expanded their computer science departments to include cyber security courses and degree options. Some even carry credentials from the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency which designate them as Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE).
Students may also find cyber security degrees in departments accredited by ABET, which focuses on the spectrum of STEM subjects. These graduates will find an employment marketplace that is dying to have them protect their networks and databases. Given that Iowa is increasingly important as part of the Silicon Prairie, the need for cyber security within the state grows all the time.
Associate Degree in Cyber Security (AS)
An associate cyber security degree can launch a cyber security career well enough that you may not need to worry about earning any more education but can rather rely on your experience and certifications moving forward. Those who are interested in the very best associate cyber security degree should look for a community college that has a program that's been accredited by ABET or is a CAE (Center of Academic Excellence). CAE programs have received their credential from the Department of Homeland Security and the NSA, so they are often the most well-respected degree programs. If there is no such accredited program nearby, many community colleges support online cyber security degree programs.
An associate cyber security degree has many other inherent advantages. The most obvious advantage is the fact that students can graduate in two years and land an entry-level position. This is also the more affordable route since the cost of community college credits tend to be far below those of their four-year peers. Finally, the small class sizes and high-quality instructors who work in community colleges make for a stellar student experience.
Bachelor's Degree in Cyber Security (BS)
With a cyber bachelor’s degree, students will be on very strong footing for launching a career in cyber security. Information security students who complete a full four-year bachelor’s cyber security degree from a fully accredited program will have covered the topic in depth and detail. During that four-year span they will also have had the opportunity to complete internship programs, minor concentrations, and more.
Prior to enrolling in a bachelor’s cyber security degree program, students should evaluate the accreditation credentials for each of their top choices. All programs should hold regional accreditation as a minimum standard. It will be optimal to find a program that has a specialized accreditation, such as one from ABET, which accredits STEM programs, or the CAE. The latter credential is specialized to cyber security degree programs and is a stamp of approval from the Department of Homeland Security in conjunction with the National Security Agency. Another option for technology students is to obtain a computer science bachelors with an emphasis in cybersecurity.
Master's Degree in Cyber Security (MS or MC)
Because cyber security is such a deep subject, it can be helpful for cyber security professionals to consider returning to school for a master’s cyber security degree. These programs can also receive either ABET or CAE accreditation, which should be sought. In fact, professionals who work in a company with a tuition reimbursement program will find that those programmatic accreditations will result in a higher percentage of repayment.
Some cyber security professionals may decide to pursue an MBA for their graduate work. This is a great choice for those who desire a move into upper management or the C-suites. Many MBA programs provide a cyber security concentration for students' second years. Barring that, many also have concentrations in computer science or information technology, which may also be suitable, depending on the curriculum. Yet another option is a dual MBA that pairs business training with cyber security as a second master’s degree. These programs enable students to complete both master’s degrees in three years, but it may be impossible to work while enrolled in such an intense program.
PhD Degree in Cyber Security (PhD)
While not a necessity, cyber security professionals who complete a doctorate degree find that their education helps them rise to new heights. While they work on their doctorate degree, students can focus their energies on very specific topics. Indeed, the final project for the PhD is a dissertation paper that allows students to pursue their own passion, provided that their dissertation proposal is approved by their faculty advisor. This dissertation topic should be chosen wisely since it is likely to guide the rest of their careers.
Upon graduation, doctors of cyber security are in high demand. They might find top positions within government law enforcement agencies or with financial institutions who need the best security possible. Another option is to continue with research while working for either a university or even a private, non-academic concern who is developing cyber security solutions for the future. University workers can land a tenure track position if they have their PhD and a proven track record as an educator or researcher.
Become a Cyber Security Professional in Iowa
Iowa may be famous for hog farms and food manufacturing, but it's also known to produce top notch cyber security experts who help protect everyone from cyber-attack. In fact, the rise of the Silicon Prairie means that there is an increasing number of jobs available for those trained in the information security space. Furthermore, the field is increasingly in demand from all industries, including even hog farms and chicken processing plants.
Still, Iowans need to know how to become a cyber security professional in Iowa. While there are many roads they can take to this esteemed profession, there are guidelines they can follow to find success. One of the first steps is to determine whether they have the innate talent and inclination needed to succeed in infosec. Those whose early years were punctuated by new computers, mathematical prowess, and a deeply inquisitive mind may be great candidates. As a youngster, many budding cyber security experts were known to dabble in computer programming, and they were typically strong in mathematics and science courses.
During high school, future cyber security professionals may even start taking on larger programming projects or working on computer games in their spare time. Those who are already concerned with cyber security might start dabbling in cryptography. These days, they could even take affordable, non-credit cyber security classes online. Many of these even confer their own certificates or prepare students to pass professional certification exams.
High school students should also try to enroll in schools that support their long-term goals. There are many STEM schools popping up all over which offer a more focused approach to computer science, including cyber security. Barring that, students can take extra-curricular online computer courses and join the school's computer club, where they will meet other like-minded tech whizzes.
When it comes time to seek out a degree, those who desire a career in information security should seek out programs that are either ABET or CAE accredited. While many can achieve great success from a school with regional accreditation, those nationally recognized accreditations will go farther in the job market. Along the way to a cyber security degree, students should seek out student memberships in professional cyber security associations.
Careers for Cyber Security Graduates
- Cybersecurity Analyst:
These cybersecurity professionals spend their time assessing networks and databases. They seek out flaws or weaknesses in the infosec systems and they keep an eye on current trends in hacking and cyber security in general. They may perform regular tests of the system and periodically contract a penetration tester to attempt a system breach. Those who work as consultants often evaluate their client's cyber security systems and offer a report including recommendations for upgrades.
- Security Engineer:
These cyber security experts work to create infosec systems that cannot be breached by hackers. They may lead teams of software developers and programmers to bring their vision to life. They need a lot of experience in programming, cryptography, as well as general database and network knowledge. Very good security engineers can easily make six figure incomes.
- Information Technology Specialist:
After a number of years as an IT worker, many move up into management. Those who desire this position should consider an MBA with a concentration in information technology, leadership, or management, depending on individual need and long-term goals. IT managers can rise into the C-suites where they could earn the CIO title.
- Information Security Manager:
This position is often found in larger organizations where large teams of cyber security professionals need a central leader to coordinate everyone's effort. The information security manager may answer to a regional manager or the CIO of their company. Cyber security managers might benefit from an MBA that will help them become a CIO one day themselves.
- Chief Information Security Officer (CISO):
This top-level cyber security position is often the crowning achievement of many cyber security professionals. To earn this high status, it's nearly imperative to have an MBA with a concentration in cyber security or even a dual MBA paired with an MS in cyber security. Depending on the size of the organization, a CISO may oversee hundreds of technology workers.
- Penetration Tester:
These cyber security professionals are often known as white hat hackers in the industry. That's because their job is to crack cyber security systems in order to evaluate them more than to abscond with funds or data. These workers most often operate as independent contractors who come to a cyber security system with no prior knowledge. In this way, they can best mimic what a real-life bad guy does to crack a system. Penetration testers are very well paid and are invaluable when cyber security engineers are completing a project.
- Security Architect:
Cyber security architects operate much like those who build real-world structures. They design systems and research the very best tools to implement along the way. They may be charged with finding the best programmers and cryptographers while not writing any code themselves. Architects may work alongside penetration testers and security analysts to ensure the long-term viability of their security systems.
- Network Administrator:
This is often an entry-level position that may or may not require in-depth knowledge of cyber security. Network administrators can get their start with an associate information technology degree, if not a bachelor’s information technology degree. It's advised that they seek out as many cyber security courses and certifications as possible if they wish to advance further in the field.