The field of cybersecurity exists to keep private digital information private, and to help bring to justice those who would compromise that privacy, misappropriate information, and in some cases misuse it. Because the proliferation of information networks, especially the internet, really ushered in the need for digital information security, it seems only fitting that one be able to study it online. The question is: which students tend to thrive in an online learning environment (versus a face-to-face, classroom experience)?
Ultimately, an online degree program is often an excellent choice for students who have additional obligations, such as those with current full-time work who wish to pursue a degree during their free time. An online cybersecurity program may also be right for an individual who lives too far from a physical campus, or who otherwise cannot fit classroom attendance into an already busy schedule. Online degree programs generally allow students some amount of flexibility to complete work on their own time throughout the semester, although most often they must still adhere to the semester calendar of the institution and in some cases attend particular online classes at scheduled times.
That said, those students who require more of a hands-on experience or who need routine supervision from an instructor may wish to look to a campus-based program for their education. Indeed, an online program demands a certain degree of independence, both from instructors and other peers, which should be an important consideration for anyone interested in this type of degree.
Some individuals are concerned that the quality of the education offered in an online program may not be as high as that found in a traditional, campus-based, face-to-face program. In reality, however, there are many experienced and skilled professors that very successfully teach cybersecurity classes online, including the five listed below.
If you are planning on pursuing an online degree in cybersecurity, it is important that you know what to expect throughout the application process, and how to prepare accordingly.
Of course, the specifics of the application will likely depend on the level of degree you are pursuing; to be sure, those who are applying for an undergraduate program will be presented with different criteria than those interested in obtaining a graduate degree. For example, while an individual applying to an undergraduate bachelor’s degree program in cybersecurity may be asked to submit proof of SAT scores, those applying to graduate master’s or doctoral degree programs may be asked for GRE or GMAT scores instead.
Furthermore, those applying to a master’s or doctoral program may ask for letters of recommendation from previous professors and even employers, while those looking to obtain a bachelor’s degree may only be asked for such letters from high school instructors. In addition, an undergraduate applicant will be asked to show proof of high school transcripts, while a graduate applicant will need to show transcripts from all undergraduate institutions attended. Outside of these variances though, the applications may appear similar, and may ask for a personal statement, a resume or CV, and other related information.
In general, most programs require prospective students to apply before a certain date in order to be considered for acceptance. Many schools have a deadline of January for programs to start in the fall, or an early fall deadline for winter-start programs.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency jointly sponsor the National Centers of Academic Excellence program, which designates specific two- and four-year colleges and universities as centers of academic excellence (CAE) in cyber defense. Schools are presented with this form of accreditation based on a number of criteria, including the contents of their degree program, as well as their alignment to specific cybersecurity-related knowledge units. As of the time of this writing (May, 2016), almost 200 top colleges and universities have been awarded this designation.
It is certainly not necessary to attend an institution that has been recognized as a CAE in cyber defense. That being said, doing so will help ensure that the student has access to a top-notch education from some of the leading minds in the field.
Generally, while the specifics of a cybersecurity program will likely vary based on the program, students in this field of study may expect to take a fairly similar course load in pursuit of their degree. For example, students at both the undergraduate and graduate level will likely take classes on cyberspace and cybersecurity, ethics in cybersecurity, security policy analysis, cybersecurity management, emerging technologies, and a capstone course or project. Of course, undergraduate students may also be required to take a number of electives in order to meet core requirements, which may not be the same for graduate students
Furthermore, in some cases a student in a cybersecurity program may be able to pursue an additional specialty, although this is not a guarantee for each institution. Areas of specialty for a student of cybersecurity, particularly at the master’s level, may include cybersecurity engineering, operations, management, policy, investigation/forensics, and intelligence.
Very often, schools may present cybersecurity as a specialty itself, housed within a broader degree in information systems or computer science.
Aspiring students interested in pursuing an online degree in cybersecurity should not assume that all institutions will provide the same quality of experience and education. Indeed, each college or university has faculty that are stronger in certain areas, and uses different technology and instructional design for its cybersecurity program. In light of this, it is generally best to research each program of interest to find one where you believe you will be comfortable learning (some schools let you test-drive an online course, which we highly recommend doing), where faculty specializations align with your own academic interests. You may wish to consider one of the five following schools, known to offer strong online cybersecurity degree programs.
At Iowa State University, students may pursue an online master of science degree in information assurance, focusing largely on cybersecurity. This degree is offered 100 percent online, without ever requiring students to visit the campus.
Doug Jacobson is a professor within the information assurance program at Iowa State University. He is also the director of the Information Assurance Center at the university, and he currently works on an Internet testbed meant to study security.
George Amariucai is an assistant professor at Iowa State University. His research largely focuses on information assurance, cryptography, wireless network security, and digital signal processing.
Norfolk State University offers students the ability to pursue an online master of science degree in cybersecurity. This program is meant to prepare students to defend against cybersecurity attacks and to use digital forensics to identify the perpetrators.
Cheryl Hinds is an assistant professor of computer science at Norfolk State University, where she teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses in cybersecurity. During the summer of 2014 she conducted a cybersecurity summer camp for area high school students that was funded by the Department of Defense.
Aurelia Williams is an associate professor of computer science at Norfolk State University, where she also serves as the department chair. Her most recent research has focused on the application of digital forensics applied to cloud computing.
At the University of Dallas, students have the opportunity to pursue a master’s of science in cybersecurity. This institution has been designated a center of academic excellence, and here students may also pursue an MBA with a cybersecurity concentration.
Brett J. L. Landry is the Dean at the Satish & Yasmin Gupta College of Business and Professor of Cybersecurity at the University of Dallas. For more than twenty-five years, he has worked in information security in the public and private sectors. He has taught and consulted in the US, Europe, Asia, and South America and has published and presented numerous articles in the areas of Cybersecurity, IT Ethics, IT Management, Network Architecture, and Disaster Recovery. Landry also holds numerous industry security certifications such as Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Ethical Hacker (C|EH), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) and Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC).
Dr. Sandra Blanke joined the University of Dallas – Irving, Texas in 2005 and is an Associate Professor in Cyber Security Education. She serves as the Director for the Center of Cyber Security Education and is the Ellis Endowed Chair in Management Technology. Dr. Blanke is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), maintains a Certification in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC) and her Ph.D is in Computer and Information Systems. Dr. Blanke’s research, teaching and consulting areas of expertise include Cyber Security, Risk Management, Disaster Recovery, Emerging Technologies and Cyber Insurance. She teaches courses in Cyber and Technology within the Masters and Doctoral Programs in the UD - Gupta College of Business. Blanke is a former Verizon Executive with over 20 years in Enterprise Technology and Network Operations.
Students have the ability to pursue an online master of science degree in cybersecurity at the University of Delaware. This flexible online degree can be completed in as little as two years.
Chase Cotton is a professor of cybersecurity at the University of Delaware. His research interests include cybersecurity and high-availability software systems.
Haining Wang is also a professor of cybersecurity at the University of Delaware, where he has remained since 2014. His research focuses on security, networking systems, cloud computing, and mobile computing, among others.
Aspiring students may pursue an online bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity at Utica College. This program was developed with the college’s Center for Identity Management and Information Protection, a research collaborative dedicated to the advancement of data security, identity management, and information sharing. Note that the university also offers an online master’s in cybersecurity.
Austen Givens is an assistant professor of cybersecurity at Utica College. Prior to becoming a professor he was a fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and later worked with the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security, among other organizations.
Leonard Popyack is an assistant professor of cybersecurity at Utica College. He was also one of the first United States government research scientists to study offensive information warfare.
In some cases, students pursuing an online degree in cybersecurity may be required to visit the campus once or twice throughout the calendar year. That being said, this is not the norm; instead, many programs, such as the one offered by Iowa State University, may be completed without ever stepping foot on the campus. This should certainly be taken into consideration by those whose schedule prevents them from physically attending courses, or who do not live near a quality institution. Since campus visitation requirements are not published in a standard manner across universities, please be sure to research specific requirements for your programs of interest. It is not uncommon, even for primarily online programs, to require a campus visit for orientation, for instance, or for the presentation of a capstone project.
Finally, there are a few other considerations to keep in mind during the program selection process. For starters, you may wish to inquire about each institution’s career placement assistance, or the career success statistics of its graduates. While neither is synonymous with a job guarantee or long-term career advancement or success, it can help you get a better idea of a program’s post-degree support system. In addition, and related to the above, you may wish to get in contact with the school’s academic advising programs to learn about the advising services offered to online students. Ultimately, remaining diligent by taking these actions can help ensure success during the program and beyond.
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