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What is Cyber Security?

In all likelihood, you have heard the term cyber security a few times in your life. Whether it was a report about a data breach at a company or if you’ve received a notice that your data was compromised, most people have had a run in with a cyber security issue. Even the notice that it’s time to change your password is a form of dealing with cyber security. But there are people behind these notices and activities, and they are the cyber security specialists who work to keep data secure.

That bank app that you use several times a day is protected by the work of a cyber security specialist. So is the computer in your car, the badge you use to get into your office, and a thousand other pieces of technology you use every day. If there is a way to get to data, you can believe there is a specialist that has created a protocol to keep that data safe. And there are others who are monitoring that technology to make sure that, in the event someone does breach the safety features, they can be handled quickly and with as little damage as possible.

In the state of Montana, there are 15,000 people employed in in some sort of computer or information technology field. That means there is a lot of date being stored. It all needs protected, whether it’s your grocery store membership information or your credit card’s spending limit. Cyber security professionals help to keep that information safe and out of the wrong hands.

Cyber security specialist is the title for a person that spends their workday keeping things safe. Customer data, the government, the state, students, healthcare professionals, patients, and many others depend on these professionals to do their jobs and keep their information safe from bad actors. This is because there are people in the world who are constantly looking for ways to get an innocent person’s information and use it for nefarious purposes. Cyber security specialists are tasked with finding ways to keep that information safe. They work in every area of information technology and work with teams from each area to create and maintain cyber security measures for companies and the government.

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Online Cyber Security Education in Montana

Montana’s two top industries are real estate and farming/ranching. Both industries collect sensitive and personal data from their customers and clients and it is imperative that this information is kept as secure as possible. A solid information technology department with top notch security professionals is a must. And there are even cyber security professionals who are dedicated to attempting to breach these systems so stronger ones can be created.

If this sounds like a career you might enjoy, keep reading. There is information below on the educational requirements, how to break into the field, the types of jobs available in the industry, and more.

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A person can, technically, begin a cyber security career without any formal education. Some of the best specialists back in the day started out as hackers that never went to college. However, for those who want to rise into the ranks for management, a formal education will be required. And, as the role becomes more and more common, and education in this area also becomes more common, employers are going to be expecting more in terms of formal education. Even in this sector, it’s true that the more education a person has, the further they can advance in their career. Below we have detailed what a person will learn at each educational level.

Online Associate Degree in Cyber Security (AS)

A two-year degree in cyber security can get a person a position on the ground level of an IT department but may not get them much further than that without extensive experience. However, it’s a good start and a solid way to determine if a person is truly interested in the career field.

Some of the classes included in an associate degree in cyber security include:

  • Intro to Computers (Computer Science)
  • Intro to Databases
  • Networking
  • Information Systems
  • Security Vulnerability Analysis
  • Cloud Computing
  • And More

Online associate degrees typically take four semesters and two to three years to complete. If a person decides that cyber security is a viable career option, then their associate degree credit hours can be transferred as part of a four-year college program at another school. However, it’s very important that you attend a school that is accredited if you hope to have your earned credits transfer.

Online Bachelor's Degree in Cyber Security (BS)

An online bachelor’s degree in cyber security is the most common degree that a person who wants a long-term career in cyber security achieves. While an associate degree can get your foot in the door, a bachelor’s will prepare you to succeed and earn promotions in the field. At the bachelor degree level graduates can vie for entry-level cyber security positions or other information technology positions in small and midsize companies. It is also with a bachelor’s degree that graduates can begin to earn certifications in information technology and cyber security.

Some of the subjects covered in a four-year cyber security degree program might include:

  • Networking and System Administration
  • Coding and Programming Languages
  • Statistics
  • AI and the Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Digital Forensics, Incident Response, and Malware Analysis
  • Cyber Law and Policy
  • Ethical Hacking Principles
  • And More

Online bachelor’s degrees typically take eight semesters, or four to six years, to complete. The amount of time needed to complete a program will vary depending on the students of their personal responsibilities outside of school. Any student attending part-time should expect their education to take longer than usual. An internship with a local company in their IT department is often required, but some schools have in-house programs for hands-on learning.

Online Master's Degree in Cyber Security (MS)

At the graduate level, students choose specific areas of study for their career goals. For example, someone who wants to become a cyber security specialist will take courses framed around programming and/or network management. Graduate programs in cyber security vary by school, so there is no set curriculum to pinpoint, but it's safe to assume many of the courses that were studied in a four-year program will also be revisited at the higher level, only more vigorously.

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Most people enrolled in graduate degree programs have been working in information technology or cyber security for several years and have started to accumulate the required certifications to advance in their careers. A graduate degree will help them further advance, as well as opening up other opportunities such as teaching at a community college or technical school. Graduate degrees take roughly three to five years to complete and either a capstone or comprehensive exam may be required for completion.

Online PhD Degree in Cyber Security (PhD)

For the most part, a cyber security specialist does not need a doctorate degree to advance to the top of their field. However, if you plan to transition to the classroom and teach full-time, a doctorate will make you eligible for tenured positions at colleges and universities or to run research labs at a college. This terminal degree can take up to seven years to complete and a dissertation and the successful defense of it are required to complete the degree.

Become a Cyber Security Professional in Montana

The path to becoming a cyber security professional is rather linear, even though the starting point might be different depending on the career focus. Most people who become cyber security specialists start out in information technology, in positions such as a database administrator or in network administration. While working, most of those in these positions continue to earn education is other areas as well, either attaining an advanced degree or pursuing certifications. It’s important to note that, in order to gain certification, a minimum of a bachelor's degree is required by many of the organizations that offer certifications. After several years of working in the field, you might choose to take the Computer Information System Security Professional (CISSP) exam and/or apply for acceptance into the ISC2 organization.

Once a worker has gained additional education and work experience, they can prepare to apply for jobs as security engineers, analysts, auditors, or consultants This is also when many attempt to certify as a management information system (MIS) specialist. This will give a worker an advantage because it means they are well-versed in several different aspects of information systems. Well-rounded workers that hold both CISSP and MIS certification meet the need for high-level qualifications and are extremely attractive to prospective employers.

At this level, workers are qualified to work as IT project managers, security managers, security architects, and more. Workers must be willing to gain work experience and either wait for management positions to present themselves or go out and find them. After several years of experience in the industry, director positions may start to open up. This would be the best time to pursue a chief information security officer (CISO) or the chief operations officer (COO) positions.

Careers for Cyber Security Graduates

There are a lot of career options for those who want to work in cyber security or information technology. We have listed some of the more common positions below but keep in mind that this is far from an exhaustive list of career options.

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  • Security Analyst
    A security analyst examines a company’s security system and looks for flaws or possible breach areas in security systems and computer programs, then they assist the company in creating solutions that address the problems found. They can also help companies create more secure solutions from the start so that there are less chances of breaches going forward.
  • Security Engineer
    A security engineer keeps a company’s security systems up and running, as well as updating them when necessary. Engineers may be tasked with creating and implementing a security system for a new network, as well as computer hardware and software systems. They test for errors and inaccuracies, and in the event that there is a problem, the engineers are the ones who identify the issue and create a fix. If it needs built, troubleshot, or fixed, you might need an engineer.
  • Information Technology Director
    An information technology director manages, strategizes, and executes the IT infrastructure of an organization. They oversee the creation, implementation, and maintenance of the IT infrastructure and lead teams when there are issues and needs, such as the need for disaster recovery is there are catastrophic failures in the system.
  • Information Security Analyst
    While a security analyst secures and protects a company’s hardware, an information security analyst does the same thing with the incoming data. They make sure that data has the proper encryption, is formatted properly, and is housed in a safe and secure environment. You can thank information security analysts for captchas and other hoops you have to jump through to log onto your banking app or even your Facebook account.
  • Penetration Tester
    If you’ve ever wanted to become a hacker but were afraid of breaking the law, then a career as a penetration tester could be right for you. Also referred to as pen testers, these individuals deliberately attempt to hack into a business’ computer and network system. The point of this sanctioned hack is to look for weaknesses in the system and correct them so that a bad actor hacker cannot gain access. Believe it or not, many former hackers actually become penetration testers.
  • Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)
    A chief information security officer, or CISO, is the head of the entire information department. All of the directors and analyst report to them and a CISO has to have the entire vision if the information systems department and be aware of the needs of each department attached to it. They track the progress and performance of each department (networking, IT, database management, etc.) and makes note of any issues that are brought to them by the directors, analysts, or architects and attempt to find solutions. If you want to reach the top of the information technology ladder, this is the position to strive for.

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