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What is Cyber Security?
Cyber security is something people know about even if they don’t know anything about it. It’s something that has been romanticized and demonized in media for years. When a company has a breach and customer information is leaked or a hacker takes over a computer network to hold it hostage or Facebook goes down and your banking app stops working, the people who fight off the attack and restore the systems are part of a cyber security team. These are specially trained information technology professionals that know how to recognize attacks and attempt the mitigate the damage hackers can cause or stop them from getting into a system in the first place. Cyber security professionals know how to think like hackers, and that helps them create systems and networks that are less accessible to hackers. And, in the event of a breach, these pros know how to track down the breach and put an end to it.
The top industries in North Dakota are farming/ranching, business, and real estate. It’s easy to understand that many of the businesses in these industries take data security very seriously, but they aren’t the only ones who use cyber security specialists. These specialists are necessary in healthcare, financial services, and a variety of other industries. Basically, any industries that handle customer information in any capacity have an obligation to keep that information safe. All branches of the government use cyber security specialists, as well, from local municipalities and state governments, up to and including the federal government. Because cyber security is far reaching, it’s not surprising that there are almost 7,000 people employed in this industry in the state of North Dakota alone. Also, since it is needed in all industries, a person can seek a career in practically any industry or area of interest. If cyber security sounds like a career that might interest you, continue reading. There is information regarding the education and certifications needed, the types of cyber security careers that are available, and the paths that people can take to start their cyber security careers.
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Online Cybersecurity Education in ND
A business collects data from a variety of sources for a variety of reasons. This data is usually stored in databases until the company needs it. However, while it’s being stored, there’s the chance that a bad actor could gain access to the information and use it in nefarious ways. For example, a hacker could steal customer’s credit card information and charge large purchases on the card, leaving the cardmember on the hook for the charges, or they could steal an employees’ personal information and pretend to be them. With these possibilities in mind, a company often employs groups of individuals to keep their information secure and track down those who might steal this information. These people are called cyber security specialists. They have specialized training that goes beyond database or network management. They know how to build systems that make gaining access to personal information more difficult for outsiders. They are also skilled in tracking and stopping bad actors in the event of a breach.
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There are several paths you can take to get started in cyber security but, eventually, a formal education will likely be required in order for you to get the certifications needed to work at higher levels in the field, especially if you want to work in cyber security rather than just getting into computer science and working in a support position. Below are some of the educational degree levels a person can pursue in cyber security.
Online Associate Degree in Cyber Security (AS)
This two-year degree in in cyber security can be obtained from community colleges or technical training schools. The degree won’t get you too far into a cyber security career, but it will get you in the door of an information technology department and, once you’ve gained employment in the field, you can continue your education so that you can achieve the goal of working as a cyber security specialist.
Courses in these programs can vary, but in general, a student can expect to take general education courses and core courses similar to the following.
- Introduction to Computers, Networking, Databases, Programming, etc.
- Network Security Architecture
- Offensive Security Exploitation
- Cloud Computing
- And More
As stated above, a two-year degree can qualify a person to work in an entry-level position in information technology, perhaps even as part of a cyber security team, but these jobs are more clerical and administrative than hands on and gaining promotions will likely require additional education.
Online Bachelor's Degree in Cyber Security (BS)
A bachelor’s degree in cyber security is the first rung on the ladder to working as a cyber security specialist. For most certifications, the minimum educational requirement is a bachelor’s degree and work experience; these are required to apply and sit for exams. For those who have already attained a two-year degree, the bachelor’s degree builds on that education and may even allow for a transfer of credits so that you don’t have to start over as a freshman. Between the additional education and work experience, positions on a cyber security team are more likely to become available once you’ve added specific certifications.
However, while still working on your four-year degree, you will study the following areas.
- General Education
- Computer Science
- Digital Forensics
- Incident Response
- Malware Analysis
- Cyber Law, Policy, and Compliance
- Ethical Hacking Principles
- And more
Online Master's Degree in Cyber Security (MS)
At the graduate level, students are choosing areas of study that are specific to their career goals. So, for someone who wants to become a cyber security specialist, the classes will be based mainly in cyber security for programming and networks. These programs tend to vary by school, so there isn’t a set curriculum to point to, but it is safe to assume that some of the courses studied previously will be revisited at a higher level and more vigorously.
At this stage, a person enrolled in a graduate program probably has several years of work experience as well as several certifications in the information technology field. In fact, many graduate programs at this level require a work history for those who wish to join the program. If opportunities to work in cyber security have not already presented themselves, enrolling in a graduate program should create additional opportunities. A graduate degree may also open up the option of teaching at local colleges and universities. Finally, many cyber security specialists that are employed in the finance industry couple their IT experience with a Master of Business Administration (MBA), which gives them an advantage since it means that they understand both the information technology side and the business side of cyber security.
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 the 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.
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Information technology and cyber security have some of the most accessible paths to success of all careers. There are different requirements to make it into the upper echelon of this field but, for the most part, each path is parallel to the others and someone could move back and forth from one area to another without derailing their career. Workers also need not start with a high-level degree if they’d rather earn an associate degree and get started working right away. While education is more consistently required in the field than it used to be, experience is still a reasonable way to move up in the field, at least to a point.
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Most people who work in cyber security start as database administrators. It is in this entry-level position that a person learns the basic parts of information technology and lays the groundwork to move into other areas of tech administration and cyber security.
- Attain a position in technology after earning an associate or bachelor’s degree
- Keep that job for several years
- Attain the certifications that are attainable at their level of education and work experience
- And then move on to the next career position
This is often a step by step progression since certain licenses and certifications require a specific amount of work experience and/or education, and many positions also require a certain educational level and specific certifications so, a career in cyber security can build on itself in an almost organic fashion. If you are continuing your education and attaining certifications as you qualify for them, it will be easier to move up through the industry.
Another perk to the natural order of attaining education and certifications is that moving from one area of security and administration to another isn’t as difficult as one might think. Each area has its own certification but, for the most part, the educational requirements are roughly the same. And, since many areas of IT crossover with each other, the required work experience is also often easy to obtain. It’s common for a database administrator to also have experience as a systems administrator or analyst. And, after all, having more than one area of expertise is a good idea because it makes you more attractive to potential employers. The more well-rounded a person can be as a cyber security professional, the better.
One of the most commonly attained certifications a professional can earn is the Computer Information System Security Professional (CISSP). This qualifies a worker to apply for acceptance into the (ICP)2 organization. After that, the next move is to work as a security engineer, security analyst, security auditor, or security consultant. At this point, one might consider adding a management information system (MIS) certification to their resume. Working in a parallel position as a specialist provides more experience in different areas of information technology and will make the worker a more well-rounded specialist when the opportunity arises.
After several years of working in cyber security, opportunities for management positions should present themselves. You may be qualified for positions such as IT Project Manager, Security Architect, and Security Manager at this point. After several years of working at that level, the position of Cyber Security Director may be within reach. If you work in this role, you will have attained one of the highest levels in the cyber security field and only report to the chief information security officer (CISO) or the chief operations officer (COO). This could also be a good time to branch out into academia if that is something that interests you, especially if you decide to finish your doctorate in information technology.
Careers for Cyber Security Graduates
There are many different career paths for someone who wants to work in cyber security or information technology. Below are some of the more popular positions a person might find.
- Security Analyst
As a security analyst, you’ll monitor computer and network systems for risks, and create and implement preventative measures to identify and prevent data breaches. Your job is to mitigate the risk level of these breaches wherever possible. This is done by running diagnostic tests to check for vulnerable areas in a system so that developers can create applications that are as safe and secure as possible for the businesses and individuals who use them.
- Security Engineer
Security engineers create the processes and protocols used to protect data. These professionals are experienced programmers and they use this skill to produce firewalls, authentication levels, and other tools that make getting to the information more difficult.
- 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 and wreak havoc. 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.
- Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)
A chief information security officer leads the information technology department. All sections of the IT department often report to CISO. CISOs reports to a VP, such as the chief operating officer (COO). A CISO has usually worked their way up in IT departments, have an understanding regarding how departments should work together, and know how to create teams that will keep a company’s information technology department running smoothly.
- Information Technology Manager
This professional oversees an information technology department. They make sure a company has all the specialists they need to keep things running smoothly and meets with other members of upper management to ensure that all resources needed are available.
- Information Security Manager
An information security manager oversees the security of the IT department. An IS manager works closely with an IT Manager to make sure the department runs without issues and as smoothly as possible. In the event of a breach, a security manager is expected to work with other specialists to locate the breach, remove the issue that allowed the breach, and repair the damage and then implement steps to prevent a future breach with the help and input of the IT manager.
Some other options include:
- Network Engineer
- Network Administrator
- Systems Administrator
- Information Technology Director
- Cloud Information Security Engineer
- Information Security Analyst
- Security Software Engineer
- Security Architect