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What is Cyber Security?

Identifying a specific list of typical responsibilities for cyber security specialists can be challenging because so many different industries rely on their expertise. This makes the degree quite valuable, but also means job descriptions can vary quite significantly – often based on the size and type of employer. Graduates should review requirements and expectations carefully before submitting applications.

Despite differences in job titles and responsibilities, most cyber security specialists play vital roles in maintaining societal safety. In most cases, this means performing tasks related to protecting data, devices, and networks from criminal activity by preventing access to unapproved entities. Examples include ensuring social media platforms are secure and protecting sensitive correspondence in the workplace. These professionals may also take steps to stop and catch criminals seeking to misuse network accounts and data. Much of their time is spent 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. Other common responsibilities might include conducting penetration testing, researching information technology trends, developing security standards, and recommending potential enhancements to stakeholders. Additionally, cyber security specialists act to combat threats like malware, password theft, traffic interception, phishing, social engineering, and ransomware.

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Online Cyber Security Education in Minnesota

In some cases, cyber security professionals may qualify for entry-level employment with self-taught knowledge and/or work experience in the field. This is not standard, however, and most obtain some form of formal education prior to applying for jobs. Employers tend to give preference to candidates with degrees in cyber security, computer science, or a related subject.

Colleges and universities offer relevant academic programs at every level – associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate. Generally, professionals in this field require bachelor’s degrees. Prospective students should carefully consider their personal and professional goals in order to select the most appropriate degree option.

All academic institutions control their own cyber security program titles and curriculums, which means programs specifics can vary quite significantly.

Some of the most common cyber security degrees include:

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

Online Associate Degree in Cyber Security (AS)

Online associate programs in cyber security generally consist of around 60 credit hours of coursework, which full-time students can complete in as little as two years. Curriculums vary, but instruction generally provides a foundational introduction to computer science and technology as a field. Common class subjects include computer forensics, cyber-crime, networking, database security, and CompTIA security.

This degree type is most appropriate for individuals seeking entry-level employment related to cyber security. Graduates tend to possess a general understanding of the field and may be qualified to apply for jobs involving computer support, computer programming, and database administration. It’s important to note that those with bachelor’s degrees often compete for the same employment opportunities, which can make securing work more difficult.

Graduates can also enroll in further education and transfer the course credits earned to schools offering bachelor’s degrees. This is often a more economical way of earning degrees as community colleges tend to charge lower tuition rates than traditional four-year institutions. This course of action allows students to save money during the first two years of their education. It also gives students opportunities to explore the field before fully committing to it as a career.

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Online Bachelor's Degree in Cyber Security (BS)

Online bachelor degrees in cyber security usually consist of 120 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students approximately four years to complete. Program specifics vary, but most curriculums are comprised of general education and major-specific courses. Core topics covered often relate to networking fundamentals, ethical hacking, windows servers, and the installation and configuration of information systems. Many colleges and universities also offer students opportunities to specialize in related sub-fields by selecting concentrations.

Most cyber security professionals have bachelor’s degrees. In addition to the entry-level employment opportunities available to associate degree holders, graduates may also qualify for jobs as cyber security analysts, information security analysts, and computer forensic analysts. In general, professionals with bachelor’s degrees have more options and make higher salaries.

Some graduates also choose to pursue additional higher education. Graduate programs are available, but applicants will need to possess minimum grade point averages (GPAs) and GRE scores.

Online Master's Degree in Cyber Security (MS)

Most master degree programs in cyber security consist of 30 to 60 credit hours of coursework and can be completed by full-time students in one to two years. Program curriculums tend to be more focused on computer science subjects. Students may also be required to complete more thorough assessments of penetration testing, vulnerability analysis, applied cryptography, digital forensics, and information security strategy and policy.

This type of degree is not regularly required, but having a master’s in cyber security can greatly enhance career stability and mobility. Graduates are often more knowledgeably and skilled, making them highly competitive in the job market. Graduate degree holders also tend to make more money, promote faster, and maintain employment longer. Some of the most sought-after careers at this level include security application programmer, penetration tester, and vulnerability analyst.

Prospective students who aspire to open their own cyber security businesses may also benefit from earning master of business administration (MBA) degrees. Subjects covered typically revolve around various business fundamentals. MBA graduates are also often prepared to hold supervisory positions within the field.

Online PhD Degree in Cyber Security (PhD)

PhD and doctoral degrees in cyber security usually consist of about 60 credit hours of graduate-level coursework and take between two and three years to complete. Program specifics vary, but most colleges and universities provide instruction in advanced topics that require extensive research. Some common class subjects include security testing, advanced malware analysis, theory of computation, and advanced algorithms. Students should also expect to conduct independent research and defend dissertations prior to graduation.

While this level of education is rarely necessary in order to find employment, there are many benefits associated with this degree. Because instruction at this level helps to further develop research, analytical, and advocacy skills, graduates often qualify for some of the best employment options in the field. Resulting career opportunities are usually very technical or related to higher education, with good salaries and promotion prospects. Graduates will be qualified to apply for employment as corporate researchers, policy advisors, and university professors.

Prospective students should realize that many colleges and universities offer opportunities to select concentrations related to cyber security. Common specialties include embedded systems, cyber-infrastructure, or human-centered computing. Designating a specialization often helps students to further hone their skills.

Become a Cyber Security Professional in Minnesota

There are several ways to become a cyber security professional in Minnesota. The majority of people interested in this field start by enrolling in an appropriate higher education program. Most jobs related to information technology require candidates to have bachelor’s degrees, but there are some entry-level positions available to non-degree-holders. Prospective students should identify their ultimate career goals early to ensure they pursue the correct type of degree. This is particularly relevant for professions that necessitate more education and training than others.

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One alternative to earning a cyber security degree is learning the necessary skills via online classes that are not necessarily associated with a specific higher education program. Prospective professionals can also enroll in computer bootcamp programs. These are often described as crash-courses and generally result in certifications once successfully finished. While both of these options are viable, it’s important to realize that job candidates will be relying solely on their knowledge, skills, and experience to gain employment and advance their careers.

Once the necessary education and/or training is completed, cyber security professionals should strongly consider pursuing one or more certifications and/or licenses. While the field does not have a single credential required by most employers, there are a wide variety of helpful options available depending on what specific role or field you hope to enter. Most certifications are offered by information technology companies and organizations and can be completed while working full-time. Programs are typically meant to boost professional knowledge and skills in specific areas or concentrations, which many computer science certifications can help you with.

Some common examples include:

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

Candidates with additional credentials like these often have an edge over other applicants when competing for employment. Professionals with certain certifications may also qualify for higher salaries or be considered more readily for advancement opportunities.

It’s also important to realize that some jobs require cyber security professionals to have security clearances. Professionals working with classified data, especially those within government agencies, should expect the Department of Defense to perform background investigations. The process can take several months or even a year to complete.

Careers for Cyber Security Graduates

There are many cyber security jobs available in Minnesota. After earning a cyber security degree and acquiring any necessary credentials, you will be qualified to pursue a wide variety of careers.

While salaries and responsibilities vary, some of the most common career options in this field include:

  • Security Analyst
  • Information Security Engineer
  • Information Technology Manager
  • Information Security Manager
  • Network Engineer
  • Network Administrator
  • Systems Administrator
  • Information Technology Director
  • Cloud Information Security Engineer
  • Information Security Analyst
  • Security Engineer
  • Security Architect
  • Penetration Tester
  • Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)
  • Information Security Analyst
    Information security analysts provide security solutions for their employers. They do this by performing extensive research and collecting necessary data, then developing actionable security strategies for implementation. These professionals also document, prioritize, analyze security threats, and verify that other employees take the appropriate measures to keep information protected. According to PayScale, information security analysts make an average base salary of $73,150 per year.

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  • Cyber Security Engineer
    Information security engineers are responsible for maintaining the integrity of data that is stored, communicated, and shared within businesses and agencies. These professionals must be familiar with various methods and systems in order to ensure workers can access necessary information readily. They also develop and maintain protocols in order 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 in charge of the information security systems. This requires constantly reviewing and reporting on current threats, as well as recommending potential solutions to combat future issues. These professionals also maintain related 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 utilize a variety of tools and tactics to conduct cyber security assessments. They intentionally probe networks, exposing potential areas of vulnerability so that they can be properly addressed. These professionals regularly report their findings and mitigation recommendations to leadership. According to PayScale, penetration testers make an average base salary of $86,350 per year.
  • Cybersecurity Architect
    Security architects create secure network and computer systems and address any issues that may arise. They also research, plan, and design procedures pertinent to security. These professionals frequently 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 develop technological solutions in order to enhance overall security. This often entails working with applications and production equipment that is experiencing technical problems. These professionals are also responsible solving security concerns and creating protocols to identify and address future security risks. According to PayScale, software engineers make an average base salary of $94,150 per year.

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