Is it Worth Getting a Degree in Cyber Security?
According to Norton, in 2019 alone, there were about 4.1 billion reported cyber security incidents. As hacking is so huge an issue, it’s reason to wonder is a cyber security degree worth it? After all, it might help you join the growing team of tech savvy pros fighting all types of cyber crime. But you also need to factor in the cost of earning a cyber security degree.
Whether there may be jobs waiting for you when you graduate. What type of salary you might start with? And if it will provide you a return on your investment. We’re here to help you decide: is a cyber security degree worth it for you.
1. Return on Investment (ROI)
Superhero powers aside, the ROI on a cyber security degree appears positive. But let’s do the math. You need a bachelor’s degree in a computer focused major to enter the cyber workforce. As per DataUSA, on average, this costs $6,826 at a public college. Or about $28,890 if you choose a private school, out of state.
Current salaries (as per BLS) for Information Security (Info Sec) pros are above the norm for all occupations. Latest figures show an Info Sec analyst earns an average of $98,350. To be fair, the lowest 10% earned less than $56,750. But the highest 10% of earned more than $156,580. Either way, if you choose a college that is affordable, a starter salary might do more than offset your costs.
2. High Demand, Short Supply
A national priority, there were 54% more cyber attacks in 2019 than in 2018, according to DHS. Cyber attacks happen in all sectors too. Finance, gov’t, entertainment, health care, education, business. Let’s not forget about credit card hacks and identity theft either.
But cyber security workers with the skills to meet this alarming trend are in short supply. Experts at CSIS now say that 82% of employers report a shortage of skilled cyber security talent. And, that 71% of them know this gap causes damage to their company.
3. Bright Future
Let’s say you enroll ASAP in an online cyber security degree, attracted by the rolling admissions. And excited at the prospect of earning a salary (buying a condo etc.) Will there be cyber jobs four years from now?
While a degree is no guarantee, and no one has a crystal ball, the answer is a likely YES. There is high growth in the industry and reports predict it will continue.
Recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Statistics backs this up. They forecast 32% more Info Sec jobs to 2028. Given that most jobs expect a 5% growth spurt, the future in cyber security looks bright.
4. Fill the Global Gap
If a job outside the U.S. appeals to you, prospects appear positive. There are not enough skilled people to counter cyber threats and mega breaches across the globe. This includes North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific.
In fact, per ISC2’s Cybersecurity Workforce Study there’s a global shortage of about 4.07 million skilled cyber security pros. And to keep up with demand, the worldwide workforce needs to grow by 145%.
5. Get Head Hunted
According to ISC2, each week, 46% of current cyber security pros report that a recruiter made contact. And 28% of recruits are recent graduates. Active job seekers receive calls from recruiters often, with 31% reporting they are contacted once a week. While 19% say a few times a week and 6% say recruiters find them daily.
6. Variety of Cyber Jobs
Cyber security jobs encompass many niche areas and work roles. So, you may be able to match a job with your interests and skill sets. Take a look at seven possible job titles and what these roles tend to involve:
A white hat hacker is an ethical hacker. These pros try to beat illegal hackers at their game. They do this by trying to penetrate systems to expose the weak areas. This helps a company fix holes in their security system to stave off breaches.
Network or security architects design and build secure systems. They also oversee these systems and know how to analyze threats and risks.
Cyber criminals may leave a trail. It is the job of digital forensics experts to track this evidence down. This entails an understanding of the audit process and critical thinking. Plus, after finding a perpetrator, the work may continue. Some experts also team up with law enforcement to ensure prosecution.
Security Software Developer
If you want to write safe computer job, a software developer role may suit you. These pros develop tools that watch for potential threats. Like viruses, worms, and other kinds of malware. Another thing they do is come up with improved antivirus software. And may create tools that prevent, detect, lessen and rebuild systems.
An info sec analyst has a finger on the pulse of their employer’s computer networks. This is so they can plan and put into use security measures. Firewalls for instance, and data encryption. Many also conduct penetration tests that simulate attacks and find risks to deter attacks. Analysts may also work on disaster recovery plans and need to keep abreast of IT trends.
Cryptography is the practice of converting readable data into a masked code. And keeping data safe, intact and private is the task of a cryptographer. As such, the work involves writing algorithms that protect sensitive data. It may be a perfect way to use math skills to solve problems related to security in a wide range of industries.
IT Security Manager
You may prefer an administrative role like IT security manager. These pros are in charge of a company’s network and security systems. Some of what they do involves planning security policy and promoting these policies in the workplace. They also oversee the investigations if a breach occurs.
7. Lucrative Salaries Across the Board
Salaries for cyber security pros vary by location, sector and job title. But in general, are higher than the average job which pays about $38,640.
Take a look at recent figures for the 7 jobs referenced above.
|Cyber Security Job Title||Average Annual Pay|
|White Hat Hacker||$84,000|
|Digital Forensics Expert||$98,350|
|Security Software Developer||$73,232|
|Info Sec Analyst||$98,350|
|IT Security Manager||$107,715|
8. Gain Must Have Skills
One of the basic reasons to pursue a cyber security degree is for the technical education. Many colleges offer programs that cater to cyber operations. So, may help you hone skills used by workers on a daily basis.
These are seven of the most popular skills for cyber security careers that you might learn in college according to Cipher.
#1 Data security
This means knowing how to handle incidents that violate security policies. Like malware, ransomware, phishing, Advanced Persistent Threats, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, etc.
#2 Security risk management / assessment
As a security practitioner you need to know how to assess and manage risk. This means learning about SIEM (security information and event management) tools and services.
#3 Audits and security compliance
A vital skill in cyber security is knowing how to conduct a security audit. It finds flaws, holes and risks so someone can fix them ASAP. Also, you must know about regulatory issues and how to comply.
#4 Analytics and intelligence
This is all about threat detection and ways to remediate issues. You usually need to know how to write up reports which also entails data collection.
#5 Network security architecture
Building a safe network often uses Firewall/IDS/IPS skills. Filtering network traffic to prevent unauthorized users for example.
#6 Intrusion detection
Security pros need to watch out for suspicious activity. You need sharp skills in intrusion detection for this.
#7 Support and trouble shooting
Many cyber jobs call for an ability to problem solve. Being able to find weak areas, fix them and prevent attacks is vital. You may need to master the app development life cycle too.
9. Degree Required
As per the BLS, you need at least a bachelor’s degree (and sometimes a master’s / MBA) for jobs in cyber security. In fact, ISC2 says that 38% of cyber pros have a bachelor’s degree. And 28% of workers in the field have a master’s, doctoral or post doc degree.
Most people (40%) in the field get their degrees in computer and information sciences. And others earn degrees that are not IT focused, such as engineering (19%) and business (10%).
10. There are Scholarships
A scholarship aims to offset the cost of a cyber security degree. Unlike a loan, you do not repay the money if you keep to the terms. Some cyber security scholarships come from the schools that offer the degrees. While others come from private sources, agencies and other groups.
To apply, you may need to have good grades and show financial need. There are also easy to enter scholarship contests where all you do is write an essay to win.
Weighing the Pros and Cons of a Cyber Security Degree
So, is a cyber security degree worth it? The lack of experts, growing threats, good pay and industry growth are a few points in favor. To help your degree “payoff” you may want to tailor it to line up with your career goals. This means choosing your perfect major (e.g. is comp sci vs. cyber security).
Then also do some homework about cyber certifications. Industry certifications may add value to your studies and CV. Which, in the end, may make you a more attractive hire (and glad you earned your degree!).