Key Highlights:

  • Cybersecurity professionals and experts are in very high demand, and will continue to be so in the future.
  • Obtaining a degree in cybersecurity offers you the flexibility to choose between having a corporate career and starting your own cybersecurity business.
  • Having the right cybersecurity degrees and certifications is very important for securing the most lucrative positions for cybersecurity professionals.

Living in a world that is growing increasingly digital and online with every passing moment has its perks, but it also has its challenges. For example, cybersecurity threats have become a growing concern, affecting companies and organizations regardless of what industry they’re in.

According to a study by TechReport, about 89.7% of all organizations in the United States experienced at least one cyber-attack in 2023. In fact, 78.5% of U.S. businesses ended up affected by ransomware attacks during the same period. What these statistics indicate, apart from the scale of cybersecurity threats, is that a majority of these incidents were thwarted due in large part to well-trained cybersecurity professionals.

The growing complexity and scale of cybersecurity threats, especially in the United States, emphasizes the need for robust security measures and strategies to protect against these evolving risks. This is where a professional armed with a cybersecurity degree can make a huge difference.

Rising cybercrime is not a problem that is going to go away if simply ignored. The threat is widespread, growing, and cyber-criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated with their attacks​​.

This surge in cybercrime necessitates skilled professionals who can anticipate, prevent, and respond to these threats. A degree in cybersecurity can set you on the path to working in this crucial profession.

Here a few reasons why cybersecurity experts are in very high demand:

  • National Security: Cybersecurity is not just a corporate concern; it’s a matter of national security too. Critical infrastructure like power grids, transportation systems, and communication networks are increasingly targeted by cyberattacks. Cybersecurity experts play a key role in protecting these vital systems from disruption or espionage.
  • Data Protection: With the rise of data breaches, protecting personal and sensitive information is more important than ever. In the wrong hands, this illicitly-obtained personal data can be used to commit identity theft – something that can have life-altering consequences for the victims. Cybersecurity professionals are essential in safeguarding this personal data against unauthorized access and theft.
  • Economic Impact: Cyber-attacks can have a significant economic impact, with ransomware attacks alone costing U.S. businesses millions in losses. According to the cybersecurity experts at Varonis, the average ransomware payout in the U.S. reached over $1.5 million in 2023​​. Having cybersecurity professionals onboard can help reduce these costs by not only preventing attacks but also mitigating their impact if they do occur.
  • Compliance and Regulation: The U.S. has various regulations–like HIPAA for healthcare, and GLBA for financial services–in place to safeguard people’s sensitive data. Many U.S. states also have their own consumer data privacy laws, like the California Privacy Rights Act of 2020 (CPRA) and the Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act of 2021 (VCDPA). Cybersecurity experts ensure that organizations comply with these regulations, thus avoiding legal repercussions and maintaining public trust.
  • Awareness and Education: Many cybersecurity experts also choose to play a critical role in educating employees, as well as the public at large, about cyber risks and safe online practices. Such knowledge sharing is vital in preventing breaches that often result from human error or ignorance.

There’s a significant shortage of qualified cybersecurity professionals in America, with even government organizations like the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) facing difficulties filling vacancies. This gap means that existing cyber threats are harder to combat, and new threats are more challenging to anticipate and address.

Growing Need for Cybersecurity Experts

There are various educational paths and qualifications you can pursue to become a cybersecurity professional. Here’s a breakdown of the relevant degrees and certifications that will put you on the path to pursuing a career as a cybersecurity expert.

Types of Degrees in Cybersecurity

As the need for cybersecurity professionals has grown, so have the educational requirements for these roles. Cybersecurity was once a specialization within the broader IT context, but numerous institutions now offer degrees dedicated to the subject, letting cybersecurity majors shape their own educational and career journeys. 

  • Associate’s Degree: This is a two-year program that can be a starting point for entry-level positions in cybersecurity.
  • Bachelor’s Degree: A four-year degree in cybersecurity provides a comprehensive understanding of the field, and is often required for many cybersecurity roles.
  • Master’s Degree: For advanced positions or specializations, the in-depth knowledge and skills offered by a master’s degree program in cybersecurity are absolutely essential. Pursuing a masters in cybersecurity can be beneficial for both managerial and highly technical roles.
  • Doctorate Degree: A PhD in cybersecurity is the highest possible educational qualification a cybersecurity professional can obtain. A PhD is essential for those interested in research, academia, or high-level consultancy roles in cybersecurity.

Degrees in computer science, information technology, software engineering, or network engineering can also lead to a career in cybersecurity. These programs offer a lot of the foundational knowledge that is needed for cybersecurity roles.

Sample Courses in Cybersecurity Degree Programs

Degree programs in cybersecurity typically encompass a mix of theoretical and practical courses, designed to cover a broad range of topics within the field. Here’s an overview of common courses you might encounter when pursuing a cybersecurity degree program:

  • Introduction to Cybersecurity: This introductory course covers the basics of cybersecurity, including fundamental concepts, terminology, and the current threat landscape.
  • Network Security: Learn about securing computer networks, including topics like network protocols, firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and VPNs (Virtual Private Networks).
  • Ethical Hacking and Penetration Testing: Teaches you the skills you will need to legally breach networks and systems in order to identify and fix vulnerabilities.
  • Cryptography: Covers the principles of securing communication and data, including encryption and decryption methods, cryptographic algorithms, and public key infrastructure (PKI).
  • Information Assurance and Risk Management: Focuses on strategies to ensure that data is protected, reliable, and available, and covers risk assessment and management methodologies.
  • Cyber Law and Ethics: Deals with legal and ethical issues in the field of cybersecurity, including privacy laws, compliance, and ethical hacking guidelines. Some degree programs might require students to take this course before they can study penetration testing.
  • Operating Systems Security: Learn to secure different operating systems, address their vulnerabilities, and implement security measures.
  • Incident Response and Disaster Recovery: Dive into strategies and procedures for responding to cybersecurity incidents and recovering from them.
  • Cloud Security: Discover the unique security challenges of cloud computing environments, including data protection, access control, and secure cloud architecture.
  • Database Security: Focuses on securing databases against threats and unauthorized access, and covers topics like data integrity, confidentiality, and recovery.
  • Emerging Trends in Cybersecurity: Stay updated about new and evolving threats in cybersecurity, such as IoT security, AI in cybersecurity, and blockchain.

These courses aim to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of both the technical and strategic aspects of cybersecurity. The courses offered can vary depending on the institution, but tend to cover these topics in some form.

Apart from pursuing the right degree course, securing the right certifications is also highly recommended. Having a cybersecurity certification lets potential employers know which aspects of cybersecurity you are interested in and most adept at.

  • CompTIA Security+: This is an entry-level certification that covers the basic principles of cybersecurity.
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP): A more advanced certification for experienced professionals with a few years of hands-on experience in a cybersecurity role.
  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH): This certification is for cybersecurity experts focusing on penetration testing and developing ethical hacking techniques.
  • Certified Information Security Manager (CISM): Ideal for IT professionals looking to move into a security management role, the CISM certification is all about developing and managing enterprise information security programs.
  • Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP): This is a certification for those looking to specialize in cloud cybersecurity.
  • Network+ and Cisco’s CCNA: These certifications focus on networking fundamentals that are important for understanding cybersecurity; ideal for IT professionals just getting started in cybersecurity.

Beyond Degrees and Certifications

Cybersecurity is a field that is constantly evolving. Professionals, and students, need to stay up-to-date with the latest threats, technologies, and best practices. This is why the importance of continuous learning for you and your future cannot be overstated.

  • Bootcamps: Many organizations and educational institutions offer intensive bootcamp programs and online courses that cover the latest cybersecurity topics. These can range from beginner to advanced levels, and are a good way to gain the newest and most relevant practical skills in a short amount of time.
  • Internships: Gaining practical experience through internships, part-time jobs, or even volunteer work in IT or cybersecurity roles can be invaluable. Real-world experience helps in understanding the practical aspects of cybersecurity concepts and tools to go alongside theoretical knowledge.

Remember, along with technical knowledge, soft skills like problem-solving, attention to detail, communication, and an understanding of business processes are also important. Cybersecurity professionals often need to explain technical issues to non-technical stakeholders and make strategic security decisions that align with business objectives.

Beyond Degrees and Certifications

The cybersecurity sector offers a wide range of job and career options, catering to various interests and skills. Degree holders can pursue careers in cybersecurity covering everything from technical IT roles to strategic management and policy-making. Here’s a look at some of the more common cybersecurity jobs within organizations:

  • Security Analyst: Monitoring and analyzing an organization’s security measures, including managing security tools, reporting breaches or issues, and recommending improvements to existing security systems.
  • Security Engineer: Designing, implementing, and maintaining security solutions to protect organizations from potential threats and attacks.
  • Security Architect: Designing, building, and overseeing the implementation of network and computer security for an organization.
  • Cloud Security Specialist: Securing every part of an organization’s cloud-based platforms, services, and infrastructure.
  • Incident Response Analyst: Addressing security breaches and incidents, while working to quickly contain and resolve issues that arise from cyber attacks.
  • IT Security Auditor: Assessing and auditing IT infrastructure for potential vulnerabilities, compliance with security policies, and efficiency of security measures.
  • Network Security Administrator: Managing network security with a focus on network infrastructure, including firewall management, network protocols, and secure network architecture.
  • Regulatory Compliance Analyst: Ensuring that cybersecurity policies and practices meet specific regulations and standards set by industry organizations as well as national and state laws.
  • Chief Information Security Officer (CISO): A senior-level executive responsible for an organization’s overall security strategy, including policy development, implementation, and management.

Because of the nature of their work, cybersecurity degree holders can also choose to work freelance or start their own small businesses.  Here are some exciting career options for those looking to work on their own terms:

  • Cybersecurity Consultant: Providing expert advice to organizations on how to protect their IT infrastructure and data from cyber threats. Organizations often bring in an external consultant to ensure nothing has been overlooked from a cybersecurity point of view.
  • Blockchain Security Specialist: Working on securing blockchain technology, which underpins cryptocurrencies and other digital asset transactions.
  • Forensic Computer Analyst: Investigating cybercrimes by analyzing information from computers and data storage devices to track, identify, and even report cybercrimes.
  • Malware Analyst: Analyzing and researching malware to understand how it works, how it can be detected, and how to defend against it. The work done by malware analysts is heavily relied upon by other cybersecurity experts.
  • Cyber Insurance Analyst: Working with insurance companies to formulate cyber insurance policies, assess risks, and help shape insurance products that cover these cybersecurity risks.
  • Penetration Tester: Simulating cyber attacks to identify vulnerabilities in systems, networks, and applications before malicious hackers can exploit them. Penetration testers are more commonly referred to by the term ‘ethical hackers.
  • Security Trainer: Educating and training employees, students, or clients about cybersecurity best practices, and raising awareness to prevent data breaches and attacks.

While some high-level cybersecurity jobs require advanced degrees and years of hands-on experience, most career paths in this field are open to degree holders with a bachelors in cybersecurity. Those pursuing a cybersecurity degree should always be on the lookout for options to specialize in their chosen career path.

Career Options for Cybersecurity Degree Holders

Cybersecurity jobs in the U.S. offer extremely competitive salaries, frequently reaching six figures–depending on factors like experience, education, industry, and location. Here are some of the higher paying career options for cybersecurity degree holders to consider:

  • Cybersecurity Architect: Average salary is roughly $131,000 per year for Level I architects, and can reach an average of $221,000 per year for those at a director level.
  • Cybersecurity Analyst: Average salaries start at $91,000 per year for entry-level positions.
  • Cyber Incident Response Analyst: Average salaries start at $89,600 per year.
  • Chief Information Security Officer (CISO): Average salary for a CISO based in the U.S. is $284,000 per year.
  • Data and Cyber Security Supervisor: Average salary is about $153,000 per year​

According to industry reports, the average annual pay for a cybersecurity professional in the United States is $110,823. Do remember that these salary figures are general benchmarks, with actual earnings being affected by various factors, including:

  • Experience: While entry-level cybersecurity positions (geared towards cybersecurity majors fresh out of college) pay around $73,291 per year, mid-career professionals can earn up to $110,000 per year, and senior-level professionals can earn as much as $200,000 per year​​.
  • Industry: Securities and other financial investment sectors pay an average cybersecurity salary of $142,070, while the technology industry pays an average of $120,000. The government sector offers the highest average salary to cybersecurity professionals at $147,000​​.
  • Location: A job’s location significantly impacts the salary, and this is true for cybersecurity jobs as well. For instance, the typical salary for a cybersecurity professional in New York state is above the national average, at $122,954. Meanwhile in California, it’s $119,300, and $100,628 in Arkansas.

These salaries highlight the lucrative nature of cybersecurity careers, reflecting the increasing demand for skilled professionals in this field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand is robust and job prospects are very favorable in the cybersecurity field.

For example, the BLS predicts that the employment rate of Information Security Analysts is projected to grow by 32% in the period from 2022 to 2032, at the rate of 16,800 openings each year, on average. This is much faster than the average rise in rate of employment for all occupations that the BLS tracks.

Deciding whether to pursue a degree in cybersecurity involves considering several factors, including the current job market, future trends, personal interest, and aptitude. Thanks to the almost ever-growing demand for cybersecurity professionals, the current as well as future job markets look very secure.

If you want to make an impact in a way that truly matters while also having a lucrative career, then pursuing a degree in cybersecurity can be the right stepping stone towards long-term success.

Is cybersecurity a STEM degree?

Yes, cybersecurity is considered a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) degree. It falls under the umbrella of technology and science, as it involves the application of scientific and technological principles to protect information and information systems. Cybersecurity degrees typically encompass various STEM-related subjects, including computer science, IT, mathematics, and engineering principles. Cybersecurity education also often involves practical, hands-on training in STEM-related activities like programming, system analysis, network configuration, and security protocol implementation.

How long does it take to get a cybersecurity degree?

The duration to complete a cybersecurity degree varies depending on the level of the degree and the specific program structure. This can range anywhere from 2 years to complete an associate’s degree, to 3 – 7 years to earn a Ph.D. in cybersecurity. A bachelor’s degree generally requires 4 years of full-time study, while master’s degree programs usually take about 1-2 years to complete.

What can you do with a cybersecurity degree?

A cybersecurity degree opens up a wide range of career opportunities in various sectors, given the increasing importance of digital security in today’s tech-driven world. It also equips you with transferable IT skills, making it possible to branch into other areas of information technology. The field’s dynamic nature requires continual learning and adapting, which can lead to exciting and evolving career opportunities.