What is Cyber Security?
Cyber security generally refers to the way individuals, companies, and organizations protect themselves against the risk of cyber-attacks. It often entails securing various personal devices such as computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones in residential, commercial, and public settings. Additionally, cyber security functions to prevent the unauthorized access of important personal information that is frequently stored on these items and online.
Because the use of technology, as well as attempts to exploit those who use it, has become prevalent in recent years, positions in this field are becoming more necessary than ever. People use electronic devices and the internet to conduct a wide variety of tasks, from posting on social media platforms and shopping for groceries to sending work correspondence and managing finances. Cyber security professionals play a vital role in stopping and catching criminals who seek to misuse associated accounts and data. Some of the greatest and most common threats include malware, password theft, traffic interception, phishing, social engineering, and ransomware.
The state of Alabama has several notable academic programs available for individuals interested in pursuing a career in cyber security. If you enjoy working with computers and have an interest in developing or enhancing protective measures for those who use cloud computing or social networks, this field may be a good fit for you.
It’s particularly important to consider local cyber security programs if you are planning to pursue employment in Alabama after graduation. Every state has its own stakes in various industries, with varying numbers and types of businesses involved in the technology sector. By earning a degree from the state you expect to work in, you will likely be better prepared to find employment in the area and have the most up-to-date and relevant knowledge sought by local employers.
Cyber Security Education in Alabama
There are many different positions available in the cyber security field. Some are quite specialized and require extensive formal and on-the-job training, while others can be performed successfully with minimal preparation. It’s important to realize, however, that almost all positions in this field will require some level of cyber security higher education. Possible options include associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Each of these offers its own set of benefits, career opportunities, and drawbacks. Prior to selecting a degree type and program, take time to carefully consider your personal and professional goals.
Every college and university offers different degree titles and curriculums. Carefully review all program requirements and course selections before selecting the best fit for your ambitions.
Some of the most common cyber security degree names at every level include:
- Cyber Security
- Information Assurance
- Information Security
- Information Systems Security
- Cyber Operations
- Computer Forensics and Digital Investigations
Associate Degree in Cyber Security (AS)
Students should realize that an associate degree in cyber security will rarely be enough to qualify you for employment in the field. Most technology employers expect candidates to have, at minimum, an undergraduate degree. There may be a few entry-level positions available for graduates at this level, but opportunities will be limited, and pay is likely to be low.
As a result, this type of degree is most commonly used to prepare students for further education in cyber security. The majority of associate programs are designed to provide you with an introduction to the field and help you complete some of the coursework necessary to earn a bachelor’s degree in the future. Graduates usually attain the knowledge necessary to pursue enrollment at a four-year institution and completed credits can be transferred to your next school. It’s imperative to verify that the college or university you select for an associate degree is properly accredited, however. Credits earned from an unaccredited institution may not count towards your next higher education degree.
The majority of associate degree programs in cyber security focus on introducing students to the fundamentals of the field. Areas of development often include communication, organization, project management, problem solving, and teamwork. Topics of study often revolve around safe software development, information technology and support, network security, and cloud technology. These degrees usually consist of 60 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students approximately two years to complete.
Every curriculum is different, but you should expect to enroll in both general education and major courses.
Some examples include:
- Introduction to Programming
- Instruction to Networking
- Introduction to Cloud Solutions
- Linux Administration
- Principles of Cybersecurity
Bachelor's Degree in Cyber Security (BS)
In the state of Alabama, most employers expect prospective hires to hold at least a bachelor’s degree in cyber security or a related field. This should be sufficient for many entry-level positions and provides a good starting point for long-term careers. Most bachelor’s degree programs in secondary education consist of 120 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students approximately four years to complete. Choosing to attend classes part-time, however, may extend this timeframe by one to two years.
Every institution is different but, unless you have transferred credits from an associate degree, you will likely be expected to take major courses and general education courses. Coursework generally focuses on programming and statistics, as well as ethics and computer forensics. Graduates should have the technical and analytical skills necessary to obtain employment and enjoy successful careers in the field.
Some common courses for bachelor’s degrees in cyber security include:
- Fundamentals of Networking
- Fundamentals of Information System Security
- Installing and Configuring Windows Server
- Ethical Hacking
- Legal Issues in Cyber Security
- Managing Risk in Information Systems
Master's Degree in Cyber Security (MS or MC)
While a bachelor’s degree in cyber security is sufficient to qualify for most positions within the field, earning a master’s in cyber security can lead to even more opportunities, especially in management positions. Completing one of these programs will provide you with the knowledge and skills necessary to become a sophisticated practitioner in the industry. Graduates will stand out among other candidates, are likely to begin their careers at more advanced levels, may be promoted faster, and often make higher starting salaries.
Most master’s degree programs consist of 60 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students approximately two years to complete. Programs include fewer general education courses, instead placing focus on the content that will prove most useful to professionals. This typically includes investigations of key technologies including digital forensics, cryptography, and biometrics.
Some common courses for master’s degrees in cyber security include:
- Foundations of Information Assurance
- Penetration testing and Vulnerability Analysis
- Cyber Law and Ethics
- Applied Cryptography
- Human Factors in Security
- Digital Forensics
PhD Degree in Cyber Security (PhD)
A doctoral degree is not required for most jobs in cyber security. Those who choose to attain one are generally interested in positions in management, research, and/or education. Graduates entering the workforce will qualify for better jobs and make more money. Additionally, most higher education institutions require cyber security professors to have a doctorate to teach undergraduate and graduate-level classes.
PhD programs are designed to provide students with new skills, as well as help them make networking connections with classmates, teachers, and other professionals in the field. Most range between 90 and 120 credit hours and take full-time students five to seven years to complete. In addition to the required coursework, students are expected to take comprehensive exams and write a dissertation.
Some common courses for doctorate degrees in cyber security include:
- Advanced Computer Security
- Computer Systems, Networks, and Architecture
- Law, Policy, Ethics and Compliance
- Managing Cyber Security Risk
- Theory of Computation
Become a Cyber Security Professional in Alabama
Alabama is home to many defense and aerospace industries, which are known to offer great employment opportunities for cyber security professionals. State leaders consider the field highly important and five local institutions offer fully-funded degree opportunities through the National Science Foundation (NSF).
One of the first and most important steps in becoming a cyber security professional in Alabama is determining which area of the field you are most interested in. There are a wide variety of options available and some will require more specialized training than others. Your ultimate career goals must play a role in determining the academic and professional pathway you choose.
Once you have determined what kind of professional role you hope to fill in the cyber security field, it’s time to select an academic program. Your goals will dictate the level of higher education you require – associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral. While earning a degree in cyber security specifically is generally optimal, you can choose to pursue an education in a related field, such as information technology or computer science.
It’s important for prospective students to keep in mind that some employers offer tuition assistance for current employees earning advanced degrees. For that reason, some bachelor’s degree graduates choose to find employment before beginning their master’s degree. It’s always worth checking to determine whether or not such assistance is available from your current or prospective employer.
Additionally, you may want or need to earn various certifications. There are numerous programs available that are designed to help boost specific skills. Many can be completed while working full-time, making it easy to specialize within the field and stand out among other professionals. Some jobs may also require additional security clearances. This typically applies to professionals who will be working with classified information within a government agency. If you are seeking one of these positions, expect the Department of Defense or FBI to perform a background investigation. The process generally takes several months or even a year to complete.
Top College Programs in Alabama for Cyber Security
There are numerous colleges and universities in Alabama that offer cyber security programs. Options are varied, ranging from associate-level degrees to doctorates.
Some of the most prominent programs include:
- University of Alabama at Birmingham – Cyber Security, M.S.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham offers two relevant degree opportunities, chief among them being a Master of Science in Cyber Security. After completing a core curriculum, students can choose between concentrations in either cyber-crime investigations or IT audit/fraud examinations. Internships are also incorporated into the program, offering chances to gain real-world experience in the field. Additionally, the university offers a Graduate Certificate in Cybersecurity Management, as well as an M.S. in Data Science.
- University of Alabama in Huntsville – Cybersecurity Engineering, B.S.
The University of Alabama at Huntsville offers a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity Engineering. The program prepares graduates to work in positions requiring a thorough understanding of modern computing systems. It includes general education courses, as well as a strong focus in mathematics, engineering, computer science, and cybersecurity engineering.
- Auburn University – Cybersecurity Engineering, M.S.
Auburn University offers a Master of Science in Cybersecurity Engineering. This non-thesis degree program provides graduates with the knowledge and skills necessary to protect systems against various cyber-attacks. Coursework covers general education courses, computer and network security, digital forensics, advanced operating systems, and reverse engineering.
- Columbia Southern University – Information Systems and Cyber Security, B.S.
Columbia Southern University offers several relevant degree opportunities, including the Bachelor of Science in Information Systems and Cyber Security. This degree is designed to expand graduate knowledge in systems analysis, programming, web development, networking, databases, and IT infrastructures. The institution also has a B.S. in Business Administration with an information technology concentration and a B.S. in Information Technology.
Careers for Cyber Security Graduates
Once you have earned a degree in cyber security, there are a wide variety of careers you may be qualified to pursue. Salaries and responsibilities vary, depending on the job you ultimately select.
Some of the most common options include:
- Information Security Analyst:
Information security analysts provide security solutions to companies and organizations. They generally perform research, collect data, and develop security strategies. These professionals are also in charge of ensuring the appropriate measures are implemented and that all related policies are followed. Much of their time is spent documenting, prioritizing, and analyzing security threats and incidents.
- Information Security Engineer:
Information security engineers coordinate with company employees spread over multiple locations to ensure the integrity of all data communicated, shared, and stored. It is their responsibility to develop and maintain protocols dictating the safe use, entry, transmission, and retrieval of this potentially sensitive data.
- Security Engineer:
Security engineers develop technological solutions intended to increase the security of a company or organization. These professionals are responsible for creating ways to solve existing security issues, as well as prevention protocols to address possible risks in the future. They work extensively with applications and production equipment experiencing technical problems.
- Cyber Security Architect:
Security architects create company and organizations network and computer security systems. They often take lead in planning, researching, and designing various security elements, and then delegate specific programming tasks to other team members. These professionals are also responsible for responding to problems reported within the system.
- Cyber Penetration Tester:
Penetration testers conduct cyber security assessments for companies, organizations, and government agencies. Using a variety of tools, these professionals probe networks and attempt to find areas of vulnerability. Any documented findings, as well as recommendations for mitigating future problems, are provided to management for application.
- Chief Information Security Officer (CISO):
Chief information security officers are responsible for overseeing company and organization information systems and security. In order to better protect these entities, they regularly review, report on, and recommend solutions to current threats. These professionals are also in charge of maintaining procedures, standards, and policies set in place to keep private and integral data safe.
- Information Security Analysts. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- B.S. Information Systems and Cyber Security. Columbia State University
- Master of Science in Cybersecurity Engineering. Auburn University
- Cybersecurity Engineering. The University of Alabama in Huntsville.
- M.S. in Cyber Security (MSSec). The University of Alabama at Birmingham.