Master’s degrees in information assurance and cybersecurity provide students with the training and technical expertise necessary to navigate and defend complex computer systems, and protect the integrity of digital data. This includes securing physical hardware components, such as servers and routers, as well as operating systems, firewalls, software applications, databases, communications technologies, and Internet and social media platforms. Professionals with the skill set to defend these assets from hackers and other cyber criminals are in high demand, and graduate schools have responded with a range of master’s programs that offer the training and knowledge necessary to pursue a career in cybersecurity.
As a concept and a concern, information assurance predates the formal introduction of the term cybersecurity, and some schools still designate separate tracks for information assurance and cybersecurity. But, for practical reasons, the compliance, auditing, and risk management functions of information assurance have largely merged with cybersecurity into one discipline that encompasses a range of cyber defense tools and strategies for risk mitigation. Training in cybersecurity includes the fundamentals of hardware design and systems architecture. It covers the defensive use of firewalls and anti-virus software. Other core areas of cybersecurity knowledge include encryption protocols, database administration, and penetration testing, And, cybersecurity professionals must cultivate a knowledge of common operating systems and applications, and of the common types of attacks, incursions, and breaches that can compromise these systems and applications.
Online master’s degree programs in information assurance and cybersecurity offer comprehensive and immersive instruction in the practical and theoretical aspects of computer system defense. Some programs may also offer an overview of information policy and governance issues and the investigative techniques used in the field of digital forensics. Although, the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies does maintain a list of programs with Centers for Academic Excellence designation in Cyber Defense and Information Assurance, there is no specific governing body for the accreditation of master’s degrees in information assurance and cybersecurity. There is also no standard naming convention for degrees in this field. The following list represents some of the more common titles for a Master’s in Information Assurance and Cybersecurity:
This lack of uniformity in designating master’s degrees in information assurance and cybersecurity reflects the relative newness of the field. It is also a consequence of how these programs have developed over time. In some cases, schools have updated existing information security degrees to address the challenges of cyber technologies. In others, computer science and engineering departments have created new master’s programs and degree concentrations that focus on proficiencies unique to information assurance and cybersecurity. This variability makes it difficult to effectively compare and contrast cybersecurity master’s degrees based solely on name and/or department affiliation. OnlineEducation.com believes the best way to identify and evaluate these programs is through the coursework and training offered by each school.
Through independent research of online master’s degrees in information assurance and cybersecurity, OnlineEducation.com has established criteria for differentiating these programs from other degrees in related fields. Our goal is to help prospective students identify relevant online master’s training in information assurance and cybersecurity, regardless of program names and/or departmental affiliations. The online Master’s in Information Assurance and Cybersecurity programs featured on this page were evaluated based on the following requirements:
Note: Online master’s degree programs in criminal justice with a specialization in cybersecurity were not include in our list of programs if their core curricula only included non-cybersecurity courses such as criminology, white-collar crime, criminal justice administration, and victimology. This is true even for programs that might offer elective coursework in cybersecurity.
While OnlineEducation.com does its best to maintain the most current information about the online degrees listed on this site, cybersecurity is an evolving field, and programs can and do change. Students considering Master’s in Information Assurance and Cybersecurity programs should visit prospective schools’ websites for the most up-to-date information.
Readers can also visit OnlineEducation.com’s program pages on Information Security Policy and Governance, and Digital Forensics to learn more about other online master’s degree program in cybersecurity.
The following courses are sampled from actual online master’s degree programs in information assurance and cybersecurity:
|Course Title||Course Description|
|Foundations of Information Assurance||An introduction to the computer, data communications, Internet, and database skills necessary to work in the field of cybersecurity.|
|Malicious Software||An overview of common cyber weapons and attack vectors, including viruses, worms and Trojan horses, logic bombs, and malicious CGI scripts, as well as tools and methods used to detect malicious software, common anti-virus technologies, and other applied technologies for malware remediation.|
|Information Security Management||A survey of the technical concepts and policy concerts central to cybersecurity, including cryptography; program, data, and operating system security; security of user-web interaction; safeguarding the Internet of Things; cyberwarfare; securing virtual, cloud, and mobile environments; network concepts and network security; incident management and IT auditing processes; security risk management; and the legal and ethical issues of security and privacy.|
|Threat and Vulnerability Analysis||Covers the classification of various cyber threats and vulnerabilities, penetration testing techniques to uncover and exploit those weaknesses, and the methodology for technical analysis of these issues.|
|Operating Principles and Coding in IA||The UNIX operating system, shell programming, processor management, storage management, scheduling algorithms, resource protection, and system programming using C and Python programming languages are covered in depth.|
|Applied Cryptography||An exploration of classical cryptography (codes, monoalphabetic and polyalphabetic substitution ciphers, transposition ciphers), modern block ciphers (such as DES, AES), and public key cryptography (such as RSA), and other encryption systems, including zero-knowledge protocols, information theory, error-correcting codes, steganography, stream ciphers, hashing algorithms, quantum cryptography, and elliptic curve cryptography.|
Admissions requirements for online master’s degree programs in information assurance and cybersecurity vary from institution to institution. Applicants are generally required to have a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited four-year college or university. Some programs may also specify a minimum grade point average, and/or require GRE scores. Programs may require technical knowledge of computer programming and/or operating systems, while others may only recommend (or favor) candidates with this experience. In addition, it is common for programs to ask for up to three recommendations, as well as a personal statement in the form of an essay that details the applicant’s interest in the field of cybersecurity.
Another variable that can be important when weighting various online master’s degrees is the structure of the program. Convenience and flexibility are two notable advantages of online learning. But, not all programs are alike. Some may be less flexible than others in terms of when and how courses are taught, course-per-semester requirements, and time to graduation.
Course Load and Time to Graduation: Students in online master’s programs often have the option of full- or part-time enrollment. Online information assurance and cybersecurity master’s degrees generally encompass between 30-36 credit hours of instruction, which breaks down to 10-12 courses. Some of these courses – usually four to eight of them – will be core requirements, and the rest are typically chosen from a list of electives. In addition, some programs may include a capstone project or master’s thesis as an option or a requirement. Degrees are generally designed around a 20-24 month enrollment period, although some programs offer a shorter path to completion, depending on the number of courses taken per session. The following table presents real enrollment options and credit requirements from three different online information assurance and cybersecurity programs.
|School||Enrollment||Avg. Courses Per Semester||Time to Completion*|
|Full-time||1 courses/8-week session||20 months|
|3 courses/semester |
|* Schools’ estimated time-to-completion for students who maintain suggested course load throughout their programs.|
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: Online courses can be taught in real time, through synchronous live lectures and discussions, or they may employ pre-recorded lectures that can be accessed anytime (asynchronous instruction). Depending on scheduling needs, this can be a crucial factor in choosing a master’s program. Asynchronous instruction offers greater flexibility: students can schedule their own viewing time for lectures, communicate with teachers and classmates online, and remotely download and submit assignments as required. Synchronous instruction more closely resembles traditional campus-based programs: it involves being present online to participate in live lectures and discussions groups at designated times.
Internships and Campus Visits: Online master’s degrees in information assurance and cybersecurity tend not to include internships as part of their curricula. Instead, they may require one or more campus visits, or immersion sessions, which offer students the opportunity to meet directly with faculty, classmates, and professionals working in the field of cybersecurity. Not all schools have an immersion component, but it is yet another variable that should be considered when weighing the costs and benefits of an online program.
OnlineEducation.com classifies online information assurance and cybersecurity programs as those that require no more than two campus visits per year. Programs that require more than two visits per year are classified as hybrid programs and are not included on the site.