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What is Cyber Security?

A cyber security specialist is a high-tech professional who works exclusively on protecting the networks and databases under their watch. There are many sub-specialties within cyber security such as cryptography, network security, database encryption, security architecture, and more. There are also so-called white hat hackers who put systems to the test when they attempt to hack them.

Cyber security experts are found working in a variety of workplaces and many go to work for state or federal law enforcement agencies. The Department of Homeland Security and National Security Agency even team up to accredit cyber security degree programs at the community college and university level. There are also cyber security specialists who work for private enterprises. Since hackers are now sometimes holding medical records hostage, healthcare systems are in dire need of cyber security experts at every level.

The cyber security world is also full of independent consultants. Penetration testers, also known as white hat hackers, are known to work as consultants since this outside approach best mimics how cyber-criminals operate.

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Online Cyber Security Education in Maryland

Maryland is the home to many vital government agencies and commercial interests; the state is constantly searching for the most talented, best educated individuals available. Since all of these agencies rely heavily on their networks and databases, each needs a strong team of cyber security professionals who can ward off nefarious actors. Indeed, if, for instance, the National Institute of Health, NASA, or any part of the Department of Defense were to fall to hackers then the nation would be in dire trouble.

To help bolster these agencies, and the nation, Maryland's colleges and universities have been hard at work preparing the very best cyber security professionals. In fact, the state is dotted with programs that boast the best cyber security accreditation, as created by a partnership between the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency. These top programs are dubbed centers of academic excellence, and a degree from one of these indicates that the holder is one of the best prepared cyber security candidates in any stack of resumes.

All across the great state of Maryland, computer science departments are clamoring for top talent in the field. Since the state is home to many top federal law enforcement agencies, their colleges and universities are able to attract some of the best cyber security professors and instructors available. Even students who want to start their cyber security careers with a non-academic bootcamp certificate are able to find seasoned information security professionals teaching their classes.

The state of Maryland is uniquely positioned as an incubator for some of the very best information security professionals in the nation. Since so many graduates stay in the state to work in top law enforcement or industry positions, they are likely to stay in the beautiful Chesapeake State to teach the younger generations. Thus, the cycle of cyber security excellence self-perpetuates to the benefit of us all.

Online Associate Degree in Cyber Security (AS)

A two-year cyber security degree is a terrific way to launch a career in one of the hottest tech fields out there. Some community colleges in Maryland are designated as Centers of Academic Excellence by the DHS and NSA. This credential proves that their cyber security degrees are of the highest caliber. Given that much of the DC metro area is in Maryland, students who graduate with these degrees are sure to find internships and entry-level positions with their associate cyber security degrees.

The two-year option is also a shrewd choice in that community college course credits are far cheaper than those from four-year colleges and universities. Students who move on to complete their bachelor’s degree in cyber security will end up with far less debt than those who spend all four years in a university. Since associate degree curricula includes the core college curriculum, students who choose to work for a few years before enrolling in a bachelor’s cyber security degree program can dive straight into their major without needing to take other courses.

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Online Bachelor's Degree in Cyber Security (BS)

This is probably the best cyber security degree to launch a career with. During a four-year degree program students will have support from their department to find internships and other academic ways to enhance their education. For example, students in a four-year college or university can take additional courses in mathematics or other areas of computer science. These other courses will help them earn a well-rounded education.

There are also more Maryland bachelor’s cyber security degree programs that are certified by the CAE, the nation's top standard for cyber security degrees. There are surely Maryland colleges and universities that have computer science departments that boast ABET accreditation. This is a general STEM credential, but it proves that the cyber security degrees they offer are of top quality.

Bachelor’s degree programs also are known for providing students the opportunity to study abroad. This way, cyber security students can expand their perspectives regarding information security. The degree will also enable students to pursue professional certifications that will set them apart in the job market.

Online Master's Degree in Cyber Security (MS)

A master’s degree in cyber security is a terrific way to boost a career to the next level. While some may stick to an MS in cyber security or computer science, there are other options. One popular option is to pursue an MBA with a concentration in cyber security or information security. The business courses will be helpful for those who wish to move up in corporate management or even for those who are interested in forming their own consulting firms. Yet another option is a dual MBA where students can complete an MS in cyber security along with their MBA. This option takes a mere three years for the two graduate degrees while softening the financial blow, as well.

For this degree, many students these days are opting for online graduate degree programs. Since cyber security professionals are already acclimated to doing most of their work on computers, this is a natural step. Those who are interested in an MBA degree may choose a hybrid degree program so that they get some face time with their cohort. After all, an MBA is as much about forming relationships and a professional network as it is about academics.

PhD Degree in Cyber Security (PhD)

A PhD used to be a degree reserved mostly for academics. While a doctorate is vital to long-term success as a college professor, it’s also increasingly prevalent in computer science circles, including cyber security. Students who are interested in cyber security can pursue PhDs in related fields such as data science and mathematics.

There are many high-paid job openings for PhDs with a variety of specialty areas. These openings are looking for researchers in cryptography, among other disciplines. Thus, a cyber security expert might continue the work that fueled their dissertation while enjoying top pay and benefits. The trade-off is that their innovations and discoveries will be the property of their employer, though each employment contract treats intellectual property differently. Nevertheless, with a PhD, cyber security professionals are able to land the best jobs and do the most innovative information security work in the field.

Become a Cyber Security Professional in Maryland

Cyber security is one of the fastest growing fields in the nation. Since nearly everything we do is tied to computers, securing those systems is of vital importance. Indeed, nearly every month (or more often) the news features a dramatic cyber-attack on a government agency or private business, so the need is only growing. However, it's not always clear how one goes about becoming a cyber security professional in Maryland.

The process begins with a love of computers and technology. Future cyber security professionals are often inquisitive youngsters who may dive into learning computer programming languages at an early age. Given the plethora of free and affordable online resources for learning code, this is a terrific first step on the road to becoming a cyber security professional. Some start learning languages such as Python or JavaScript as early as eight years old.

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During high school, technology lovers will start to formulate more focused ideas about what they want to do for a career. Those who choose cyber security should investigate academic and other opportunities to learn more about the subject. In fact, Maryland may have special STEM high schools for these focused individuals. These students should start looking for the best cyber security degree programs in Maryland starting in their third year of high school.

One of the best criteria for cyber security degree programs is their accreditation credentials. The best program-specific accreditation is the CAE designation, or center of academic excellence. Community colleges and four-year institutions alike are eligible for this distinction which is bestowed by a partnership between the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency. Students with degrees from these program are sure to have a choice of well-paying jobs upon their graduation.

Upon entering the work force, cyber security professionals need to keep learning. There is a nearly endless stream of professional certifications especially designed to sharpen cyber security skills in specific areas. Most have degree requirements but even those with an associate degree can find plenty to choose from. These certificates require that holders maintain the credentials with continuing education courses so employers can easily see that an applicant's learning and growth didn't end at college graduation.

Many build terrific careers based on a two- or four-year degree and certificates, but there is always the option of pursuing a graduate degree. For those who are interested in climbing the corporate ladder, an MBA is a great choice. Those who love the subject and a life of intellectual inquiry may go as far as a PhD and then work as a professional cyber security researcher.

Careers for Cyber Security Graduates

  • Security Analyst:
    Every cyber security system needs a security analyst to help assess and develop it for maximum effectiveness. Analysts may work for a corporation where they constantly evaluate that firm's cyber security systems and protocols, but they may also be part of a consultancy. Consultants may work from a remote location where they access the client's network and evaluate it for any needed upgrades or amendments.
  • Information Technology Manager:
    IT professionals with at least five successful years of work in an IT department are often good candidates for this position. Management positions may also go to those who have earned an MBA with a concentration in IT, but experience is often a prerequisite for these jobs. IT managers oversee a team of IT professionals including database managers, network technicians, and hardware specialists.
  • Information Security Manager:
    Cyber security experts who are skilled at leadership and management may rise into this position. A comprehensive knowledge of cyber security issues is certainly a prerequisite, but managerial skill is also necessary. In fact, it may be more important for an InfoSec manager to focus on their management skill than their technical abilities.
  • Network Engineer:
    This is a vital IT position that involves maintaining and developing a firm's networks. Network engineers most often need to have an associate or greater degree but it's possible to earn this position by attaining a certificate. Two popular networking certificates come from Microsoft and Cisco. Thus, a person can become a network engineer without a single college credit to their name.
  • Penetration Tester:
    This is a high-level cyber security profession that involves constant research, deep knowledge of coding and systems, as well as the ability to think like a criminal. That's because penetration testers are white hat hackers who will perform cyber-attacks on a client's system for the purpose of finding its weaknesses. Once they've identified those weak points, penetration testers help the information security engineers formulate a plan for bolstering the network from real cyber-criminals.
  • Chief Information Security Officer (CISO):
    This may be the proverbial brass ring for many cyber security professionals. The CISO sits in the C-suites and oversees the cyber security systems and protocols for their entire firm. They may evaluate new cyber security hardware and software to be implemented by their employees. They are also bear ultimate responsibility for maintaining the integrity and security of their firm's networks and databases.
  • Security Architect:
    These cyber security professionals design and implement information security technologies and protocols for their firm. They must be constantly aware of new technologies arising in the marketplace and be able to assess them for possible implementation in their systems. It helps to earn and maintain multiple, relevant cyber security certificates to stay on top of the field. Since cyber-crime is constantly evolving, so must security architects be constantly apprised of new developments in the field.
  • Security Software Engineer:
    This position is essentially that of a computer programmer but with a distinct focus on information security software. Security software engineers strive to create and upgrade software such as firewalls to ward off cyber-criminals. They may design wholly new software for their firm or may make amendments to pre-bought packages that they deem as particularly helpful in warding off black-hat hackers.

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