Two of the hottest choices for an advanced degree are a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and information security. Future business leaders started seeking the MBA in droves during the 1980s and the trend has yet to reach its peak. Now that the internet and computing generally has overtaken every aspect of human life, information security has arisen as a vital issue for everyone, including businesses. Thus, the perfect storm of graduate degrees might be an MBA in Information Security.
Though each Master of Business Administration degree program is unique, most will provide a thorough grounding in business, covering topics such as finance, marketing, and leadership. Once those core courses are completed, students can focus on a concentration, such as information security, among others. This page is all about the MBA in Information Security. Degree-seekers will find the information below insightful and illuminating with regards to this exciting degree option.
What is an MBA in Information Security?
An MBA in Information Security is a degree that provides a thorough business education and also trains students to protect their firm’s digital interests. Students take courses in finance, marketing, logistics, and more to complete their core business curriculum. From that point, most programs move students into their concentration.
Depending on the individual program, information Security students study many different things. Some courses cover system networking while others delve into databases, penetration testing, or legal issues such as privacy. The curriculum might also include coursework in computer forensics, enabling students to investigate data breaches and track down the hackers. Students might also study topics such as ethics in computing, cryptography, and risk management.
Ultimately, MBA students who pursue information security as their concentration will take on the field from the perspective of a businessperson. Where managers in the past were somewhat separate from the IT world, an MBA in Information Security bridges managers with technology whizzes in the context of cybersecurity. Thus, these professionals will learn to arm their firms against cyber-attack and then respond with maximum efficiency if a black-hat hacker is successful. When students understand the main issues involved in business and information security, they can provide the maximum safety for the firm, its employees and be part of developing a strategic plan to safeguard the company.
What Can You Do With an MBA in Information Security?
Information Technology Supervisor
An MBA that focuses on information security, also known as cyber security, can help land a position overseeing a firm’s information technology department. For those with a background in general information technology operations, the added graduate work in business and security will lend an extra layer of skill and insight to the position. A professional who understands business and technology on such a deep level will prioritize security protocols, software, and hardware in order to maintain the integrity of the firm’s finances and intellectual property.
Senior Project Manager
Project managers assemble teams of IT professionals to tackle difficult problems either within a corporation or for a paying client. They must have a full working knowledge of both the IT and business issues involved. An MBA in Information Security provides a professional the ability to communicate freely with both those focused on technology and those focused purely on business operations. With such communication barriers eliminated, the project manager can best facilitate the job and bring their projects to a conclusion in a timely, efficient manner.
Cyber Security Consultant
Since every firm in the world is facing threats from cyber-criminals, they all need to learn how to update and improve their technology and protocols. While not all firms can bring on a full-time cybersecurity professional, they can hire a cyber security consultant who comes armed with an MBA plus an information security certificate. The consultant can then work with a firm’s IT professionals to arrive at security solutions that best meet the business needs of the firm. Ultimately, a firm’s upper management will appreciate working with someone who understands the language of business but who can also implement high-technology solutions.
Chief Information Officer
In order to make it to the C-suites, a professional will surely need an MBA. A technology focused MBA will give them a better chance of landing a job as the chief information officer (CIO). In this position, they can address the business issues related to technology, such as budgets and expenses, but they can also be instrumental in hiring technology professionals and rolling out new cybersecurity protocols for the firm. A professional who understands key technology issues such as big data, databases, and networking will be a vital part of any firm’s top leadership. This is doubly true when they also understand finance, marketing, and management.
Vice President of Information Technology
This position will require that you have a solid background in IT so that you can help address everyday technology concerns while also providing solutions to security problems. All of this will come under the greater context of business and management. A well-rounded VP of IT addresses the business issues alongside those that pertain to the firm’s long-term security. They can also engage in open communication with various departments such as marketing, finance, and human resources and thus maximize the firm’s overall efficiency.
Online Vs. On-Campus for an MBA in Information Security
Working professionals who wish to get ahead often fret that it’s difficult to take two years away from their careers to complete an MBA. It might also be difficult to schedule night or weekend classes since their duties might entail late hours, not to mention the unexpected problems that arise in the course of doing business. Thus, online MBA programs have arisen to provide the flexibility and expanded opportunities that working professionals need. Further, if they want a specific specialty such as information security, it might be hard to find such a degree in their local area. When students are able to remove themselves from the problems associated with traditional campus MBA degrees, they find more diverse opportunities and flexibility.
However, MBA students are also likely to find immense benefit in the networking opportunities they receive in a traditional campus program. While such networking is very difficult, if not impossible, for online-only students, there is a third option. Hybrid programs integrate limited, but vital, time on campus so students have time to work with their classmates in person. Though travel is often involved in these campus sessions, the burden is slight relative to a full-time, on-campus schedule. For instance, some hybrid MBA programs only require a few brief campus visits out of the entire program.
Types of Information Security MBA Degrees
Postgraduate or Post-MBA Certificate in Information Security
A certificate program in information security is a terrific opportunity to gain new skills and credentials. These programs often take a year or less to complete and they provide immense benefits to the students. A professional with only a bachelor's degree can gain graduate school credits and a new line on their resume without having to enroll in a full degree program. Those who already have an MBA can use a certificate program to add yet another specialty to their toolkit. Given that cyber security is vital to every firm, this certificate will undoubtedly pay off in terms of enhanced security, but also an enhanced salary.
MS in Information Security
Professionals who complete their MS in Information Security are currently averaging $96,000 or more per year in base salary. They’re highly likely to add to that with bonus pay, benefits, stock options, and more. For those who study full-time, it takes approximately two years to complete this degree. Since these degrees are readily available online, it should be relatively easy for a working business or IT professional to fit classes into their schedule. Possible titles for these degree holders include security engineer, information security analyst, and cybersecurity engineer, among other possibilities.
MBA in Information Security
This degree bridges the gap between those with a traditional business focus and the IT department. Upon graduating with this degree, professionals average over $82,000 per year in base salary. Others, such as information security managers, reap an average base pay of $139,000. However, those professionals also have a few years of post-MBA experience in business, IT, or both. Since it takes a mere two years to complete this degree, and many employers will help foot the bill, returning to school seems like a no-brainer.
Executive MBA in Information Security
An Executive MBA in Information Security is an accelerated program that targets working professionals who have at least five years' worth of experience. These programs are often paid for by the student's firm and are conducted at times, or via media, that are conducive to a working professional. In the past, E-MBA programs were designed for night and weekend classes. These days, they might include a significant number of online classes so that executives needn't schedule time to make it to campus.
Sample Curriculum & Courses for Information Security
- Information Security Ethics and Policy:
Cyber security involves more than coding, databases, and secure passwords. Since security professionals often have access to highly sensitive databases, it is important that they be versed in the ethical and legal ramifications surrounding their responsibilities.
- Computer Forensics:
After a system has been hacked, the cyber security professionals need to ascertain how it happened, who perpetrated the breach, and track them down. This is a type of investigatory work that can help security professionals learn how to bolster their company against future attacks.
- Information Security and Risk Management:
This course helps students prioritize their firm's assets according to their relative value. They can then ascertain the level to which each asset should be protected.
This course covers the art and science of encrypting data so that it cannot be accessed by the bad guys. These days blockchain is a huge topic in cryptography, but its use in the digital realm dates before Alan Turing cracked the Nazi code in WWII.
- Penetration Testing:
There are professionals who make their livelihood as penetration testers, often known as white-hat hackers. These technology professionals hack into systems for the purposes of testing and strengthening, not theft.
Frequently Asked Questions
What certification should I get in addition to an MBA in Information Security (Cyber Security Emphasis)?
Though an MBA in IS may seem like a terminal degree, there is still much learning you could do. A professional certificate in cybersecurity, such as (ISC)2’s Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) credential, verifies knowledge with a comprehensive examination and then requires continuing education to keep the credential up-to-date. Thus, a long-time certificate holder can easily demonstrate not only a dedication to the field, but a deep knowledge that includes years of experience.
Other certificates include, but aren’t limited to:
- (ISC)2’s Certified Cloud Security Professional
- ISACA’s Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control
- (ISC)2’s Certified Information Security Manager
- ISACA’s Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT
What are the differences between an MBA in Information Security and a regular MBA?
A regular MBA is a degree that focuses solely on business operations and issues. Courses may include an introductory class in information technology, but the focus of a general MBA will be on matters such as finance, marketing, human resources, leadership, and management, among others. A general MBA is a terrific option for a student who has recently completed their undergraduate degree but who does not yet have a specific career focus. Though the knowledge they attain in their general MBA program is broad-based, it is deep and will help them land a terrific job. These students can always return to school and complete a certificate in information security or cyber security at a later date.
On the other hand, an MBA in Information Security is a focused curriculum for students who are excited by technology and cyber security. Though employers appreciate such focus and specialization, it may be difficult to land a job with the degree without much experience.
Who Should Consider Getting This Degree?
An MBA with a focus on information security or cyber security is a great choice for an IT professional who desires a move into upper management. It also offers an opportunity for those in non-technical jobs to not only enhance their business knowledge but to gain a credential that will focus their work on technology and security.
When ambitious professionals complete such a focused MBA degree, they will find that the C-suites are now available. This focused MBA is also a terrific option for an entrepreneur who needs to enhance their business skill and knowledge while also learning a lot about technology.
How to Choose the Right Program
Do You Have to Go Back to School?
This is a key issue for students considering graduate school. While an MBA degree undoubtedly presents a benefit to professionals, it also requires a sacrifice of time and energy. If you intend to remain at work while in pursuit of the degree, discuss this with your employer. They might be able to accommodate your need for study time and they might even be able to offer tuition reimbursement.
Working professionals also need to consider their families. It’s important to examine one’s ability to take care of children while attending classes. Thus, discuss this matter with your spouse or other supporters. These new burden on you and everyone’s time needs to be understood and accommodated for. With the proper balance of responsibilities, you can complete your degree and maintain a happy household.
Is This a Long-Term Career Path for You?
Before embarking on a specialized MBA such as one that concentrated on information security, it’s vital to be dedicated to that path as a long-term career. First assess your own desires, talents, and long-term ambitions. For instance, can you see yourself working 60-hour weeks as a chief information officer (CIO) or fending off hacker attacks late into the night? Look beyond the salary and status rewards that the degree will bring and consider your personal and familial values, too.
If you are not 100% dedicated to working in information security for the long-haul, you might then consider a general MBA or some other specialty.
What Kind of Networking Opportunities are Available?
MBA students learn a lot and gain many new skills while in pursuit of their degrees. Perhaps more importantly, they are presented with terrific networking opportunities. During your core MBA coursework, your entire cohort will be in class with you. You’ll meet marketing experts, human resources specialists, and finance wizards. These people might become the CEOs of tomorrow, or they may be the professionals you call on when you need to fill a position in your firm. The networking opportunities available to MBA students are often worth as much as the degrees themselves.
Does Earning this MBA Provide a Significant Return on Investment (ROI)?
There are no guarantees when it comes to earnings an education. However, an MBA more often represents a solid education investment. That is, graduates are able to convert their degrees into long-term earnings and high-status positions. Most firms highly value an MBA degree and look for them when they staff their departments. Thus, you should seek out the best MBA program that you can get into. Look for one with national accreditation and high name recognition. Those degrees will stand out from the pack and could make a significant difference in your career’s trajectory.
Consider the Student Outcomes for Each Program
Prior to enrolling in an MBA program for cyber security, make sure that the program is rock-solid. Ask about the program’s retention rates and graduation numbers. The retention rate will show you how many students stick around for a second term or year after completing their first. If a graduate program posts low retention numbers, that could be a red flag. When students return after a term or two, they are thought to demonstrate satisfaction with the program’s faculty, curriculum, and even student body.
Make Sure the Program is Accredited
Accreditation is a vital credential to check for every program you research. While every program is sure to tout some form of accreditation, look for accreditation from a national agency. Two of the biggest accrediting agencies for business schools and programs are the AACSB and the ACBSP. The AACSB dates its existence to the early 1900s and is perhaps the most well-recognized accrediting agency in the business community. The ACBSP, on the other hand, was formed in the late 1980s, when MBA programs were starting to proliferate on college campuses.
The fundamental difference between the two is that the AACSB focuses its accreditation on pure academic measures. They are more concerned with a program’s record of research. The ACBSP, on the other hand, focuses its ratings on metrics related to teaching and other matters more specific to the student experience. Both are excellent, so consider these when assessing your choices of an MBA program.
With eight professional certifications, loads of continuing education opportunities, and a strong community of cyber security professionals, this association is one of the best. They also offer scholarships, leadership opportunities, and the chance to network with others in the security realm.
This organization offers cyber security professionals six top-level certifications. They operate over 200 chapters worldwide as well as offering various levels of training, stimulating conferences, and networking opportunities, too.
- SANS Institute:
This institute trains, certifies, and educates computer security professionals. The organization maintains the largest free repository of cyber-security research and also operates the Internet Storm Center, which serves as an alarm in the event of a massive cyber-attack.
This professional association brings cyber security professionals together for education, conferences, and enhanced credentials. The international scope of the association helps build your network beyond the borders of the USA.
The National Cybersecurity Alliance's mission is to educate the public on issues related to information security. IT professionals might join in order to help create a safer computing environment for everyone.
Potential Scholarships to Consider
In an effort to bring more women back into the information technology industry, the (ISC)2 offers them special scholarships. Each award provides a student with between $1,000 and $6,000 for their education and is available for students of all levels, from high-school graduates to doctoral candidates.
This scholarship is designed to help Black Americans complete their cyber security training and join this booming industry. The award is $10,000 which may be paid as a lump sum or spread over multiple terms.
This award is for undergraduate students of cyber security who need help financing their degrees. Awards range from $1,000 to $5,000 and applicants can be high school students headed into a cyber security degree program or current college students. Applicants are judged on the basis of their passion for cyber security, their scholastic merit, and their financial need.