Question: What is a Degree in Cybersecurity?

Answer: Cybersecurity degree refers to an academic program, typically at the bachelor’s or master’s level, that provides technical training and instruction in the knowledge and skills necessary to maintain and defend the integrity of computer networks and data systems. While there are general cybersecurity degree programs that cover a range of subjects related to protecting digital communication and information technologies, there are also specialized cybersecurity programs that focus on cybersecurity policy, information governance, and digital forensics.

What is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity encompasses a broad range of activities and professional responsibilities vital to the defense of computer networks, telecommunication systems, data technologies, and mobile devices. On the technical side, this involves engineering hardware and software systems to be resilient, reinforcing existing systems with stronger encryption protocols, testing new systems for undiscovered vulnerabilities, and deploying a range of defensive measures to deter intrusions, mitigate damage, and identify attackers. At the organizational level, this includes instituting protocols that reduce the risk of an attack, protect sensitive data, and allow for swift and coordinated response to cyber threats and incidents.

There are other aspects of cybersecurity, from the laws that regulate the use of digital technologies and the professionals that enforce those laws, to the psychological principles that influence our understanding of computer systems and our interactions with networked devices. But at its base, cybersecurity builds upon the same foundation of technical knowledge in computer science, programming, and engineering that has produced the digital information and communication systems it aims to protect.

Cybersecurity Degree Programs

As a discrete discipline, cybersecurity is relatively new to academia, where it gained its earliest traction in master’s programs offered by schools and departments of computer science and engineering. There are an emerging number of bachelor’s in cybersecurity programs, which cover fundamental aspects of data and operating system design, basic scripting and programming proficiencies, and concepts of cryptography, security design, and network defense. But the majority of cybersecurity degree programs are master’s programs, which offer a more advanced and comprehensive version of this foundational curriculum. There is no formal naming convention for these programs, but their designations include:

  • Master of Science in Cybersecurity
  • Master of Engineering in Cybersecurity
  • Master of Science in Information Assurance
  • Master of Science in Information Security
  • Master of Science in Computer Science – Cybersecurity Concentration
  • Master of Science in Information Technology – Information Assurance Track

The Core Cybersecurity Curriculum

The National Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security have actively promoted a framework for cybersecurity training at the college and university level through the National Centers for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense, which maintains a glossary of “knowledge units” central to education in the field of cybersecurity. This includes many of the subjects typically covered in cybersecurity/information assurance master’s programs. While individual program curricula vary, the following areas of study are typical of master’s programs:

  • Operating Systems Design
  • Computer Networking
  • Algorithm Design & Analysis
  • Network Security Applications
  • Information Security Management & Governance
  • Applied Cryptography
  • Penetration Testing & Vulnerability Analysis
  • Cybersecurity Operations & Incident Response
  • Secure Software Design & Development
  • Wireless Networking & Mobile Computing
  • Object-Oriented Programming

Additional Cybersecurity Specializations

In addition to programs that focus on general advanced training in cybersecurity, there are also programs at the master’s level that offer more specialized curricula in two areas: digital forensics and information policy and governance. These programs fall under the general heading of cybersecurity degree programs, but the focus of the training they offer is different. A master’s in digital forensics curriculum introduces students to the same technologies as a master’s in cybersecurity program, but includes coursework in areas related to investigating cyber threats, cyber attacks, and cyber crimes. Master’s in information policy and governance programs are somewhat less technical in nature and provide students with instruction in IT management, enterprise resource planning, cybersecurity compliance, and the human and organizational aspects of cybersecurity.