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What Can I Do with a Degree in Cybersecurity?

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Obtaining a degree at the associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, or even doctorate level, opens up a opportunities. A growing number of people are turning their sights toward cybersecurity, a field fueled by the astonishing sophistication of today’s cyberattacks. Notably, the Norse Corporation created a real-time map of these activities across the globe, underscoring the fact that many companies, organizations, and governments worldwide are ill-prepared to deal with these threats. By illustration, Forbes (2017), relying on data from non-profit ISACA, reported that there’s expected to be a global shortage of two million cybersecurity professionals by 2019. Furthermore, 40,000 information security analyst positions across the U.S. already go unfilled annually. In short, it’s a very in-demand career field and can prove lucrative, as well.

The United States Department of Homeland Security asserts that a “range of traditional crimes are now being perpetrated through cyberspace”—including theft, coercion, bribery, and data destruction—highlighting the importance of professionals who fight web-based crimes by examining the digital fingerprints of attackers, tracing illicit activities, and even serving as expert witnesses in court cases.

This guide explores what to do with a degree in cybersecurity at any level, providing information about the typical education, responsibilities, and salaries for well-paying, high-growth careers.

Cybersecurity Analyst

Level of Education: Cybersecurity analysts typically have at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science, cybersecurity, or a related field, although extensive experience or a demonstration of exceptional competencies may qualify someone for employment. A master’s degree may be required to take on a leadership role or to secure a job at the most competitive corporations.

What They Do: Cybersecurity analysts are largely responsible for preventing cyberattacks using their knowledge and overall expertise in hardware, encryption, firewalls, databases, and other realms. They help to ensure computer systems are running properly; thwart the cybertheft of important information; and prevent intruders from gaining access to proprietary data. A cybersecurity analyst may review any developing technology to determine whether or not it may be useful for the project at hand.

Expected Salary & Job Growth: The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2016) reported that the 96,870 working cybersecurity analysts in the U.S., also referred to as information security analysts, made an annual average salary of $96,040 with the following percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $53,760
  • 25th percentile: $69,840
  • 50th percentile (median): $92,600
  • 75th percentile: $119,020
  • 90th percentile: $147,290

Also, according to the BLS (Dec. 2015), openings in this field were expected to grow 18 percent nationally between 2014 and 2024—nearly triple the anticipated growth across all fields during that time (6.5 percent)—adding 14,800 positions.

Cryptographer

Level of Education: Similarly, cryptographers generally have at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science, math, computer engineering, software engineering, or a related field. In some cases, an individual with an associate degree or non-CS degree may obtain a position as a cryptographer; however, he or she must have proof of significant accomplishments or work experience.

What They Do: Cryptographers help protect private data by creating algorithms and code to encrypt sensitive information. These cybersecurity professionals are also responsible for the analysis and decryption of information within currently hidden systems. In addition to the encryption and decryption of data, cryptographers may also develop and update various methods of handling cryptic processes; analyze any weaknesses within lines of communication to ensure that data is protected; evaluate the efficacy of encryption systems currently in use; and provide technical support to those utilizing the same programs. In some cases, a cryptographer may even be required to train colleagues on a system and its applications.

Expected Salary: While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track cryptographers specifically, it does track mathematicians, who are increasingly being asked to make and break codes. The BLS (May 2016) found that the 2,730 mathematicians in the U.S. earned an annual average salary of $105,600 and these percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $54,890
  • 25th percentile: $72,440
  • 50th percentile (median): $105,810
  • 75th percentile: $129,730
  • 90th percentile: $160,310

Furthermore, PayScale (2017), a site relying on self-reported data, showed that senior software engineers with cryptography skills earned a median annual salary of $140,000. Also, there are no reliable figures on job growth for cryptographers, although they’re expected to be in demand, similar to all other cybersecurity professionals.

Computer Forensics Analyst

Level of Education: As with other positions in the field of cybersecurity, computer forensics analysts, also referred to as digital forensics investigators, are expected to have at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science, digital forensics, computer engineering, software engineering, or a related field.

What They Do: Computer forensics analysts are the detectives of the digital world, gathering and examining data from various computer systems to investigate cyberattacks or other cybercrimes. On a routine basis, these analysts may perform security incident investigations or analyze recent data breaches; dismantle and rebuild compromised systems to gather evidence and ensure data is retrieved; determine the scope of cyberattacks; gather evidence to be used in court; and stay aware of any emerging technologies that may be used to perpetrate (or prevent) a cyberattack. Digital analysts may also be asked to train others in this field, including law enforcement and other government personnel.

Expected Salary & Job Growth: PayScale (2017), relying on data from 218 respondents, found that forensic computer analysts made a median annual salary of $68,236 with the following percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $43,000
  • 25th percentile: $52,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $68,236
  • 75th percentile: $95,000
  • 90th percentile: $120,000

The BLS (May 2016) had much higher figures for computer system analysts, a related profession. The 568,960 working analysts in the U.S. earned an average salary of $91,620 and these percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $53,110
  • 25th percentile: $67,460
  • 50th percentile (median): $87,220
  • 75th percentile: $111,040
  • 90th percentile: $137,690

Also, the BLS (Dec. 2015) anticipated a 21 percent increase in positions for computer system analysts across the U.S., adding 118,600 jobs; again, this is much more robust than the average growth anticipated across all occupations during that period (6.5 percent).

Security Software Engineer/Developer

Level of Education: A security software engineer—also referred to as a security software developer or a cybersecurity software engineer—typically needs at least a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree, especially in leadership or managerial positions. It’s important to add that candidates with associate degrees and significant experience or certifications in software development may also qualify.

What They Do: Security software engineers develop software used to mitigate the damage from cyberattacks or prevent them, often integrating their software into an existing project to help deter attacks. The software they build serves many functions, including virus and malware detection, traffic analysis, and other cybersecurity initiatives. Professionals who utilize existing software are responsible for ensuring its security.

Expected Salary: The BLS (May 2016) reported that the 409,820 software developers (systems, not applications) earned an average annual salary of $110,590 and these percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $64,650
  • 25th percentile: $83,270
  • 50th percentile (median): $106,860
  • 75th percentile: $133,970
  • 90th percentile: $163,220

Notably, the BLS (Dec. 2015) projected a 13 percent increase in software developers (systems) between 2014 and 2024.

Cybersecurity Auditor

Level of Education: Similar to other cybersecurity occupations, these professionals typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in the field of computer science or a related subject, although an associate degree and extensive experience may be substituted in some cases.

What They Do: Cybersecurity auditors analyze the safety and effectiveness of specific computer systems, as well as their components as they relate to security. Upon performing a security audit, cybersecurity auditors create a report of their findings, which subsequently are used to help develop a stronger system or create improvements. A cybersecurity auditor collaborates with an IT department in order to gather and analyze information and crafts company-wide recommendations of best practices to ensure the prevention of a cybercrime or the mitigation of any damage.

Expected Salary: According to PayScale (2017), IT technology auditors (i.e., cybersecurity auditors) earned a median annual salary of $65,272; the analysis is based on data from 510 respondents and yielded the following percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $50,000
  • 25th percentile: $56,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $65,272
  • 75th percentile: $77,000
  • 90th percentile: $92,000

Penetration Tester

Level of Education: Penetration testers generally have at least an associate or bachelor’s degree in computer science, cybersecurity, computer forensics, or a related field, although former hackers with significant experience and knowledge may qualify.

What They Do: A penetration tester is what the public may refer to as a “hacker,” one who searches for and acts on any vulnerabilities that exist within a computer system. In this case, however, the penetration tester is hacking into a system owned by its employer; indeed, the penetration tester is searching for these vulnerabilities to help the firm understand the scope of its weaknesses, as well as what it can do to improve. A penetration tester may simply be asked to provide a report of his or her actions and findings; or, in some cases, develop recommendations for solutions, as well.

Expected Salary: Although expected salary varies, data from PayScale (2017) reported that the median annual salary for the 352 penetration tester respondents was $78,936 with these percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $50,000
  • 25th percentile: $62,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $78,936
  • 75th percentile: $100,000
  • 90th percentile: $120,000

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