Cyber security, or online/IT security as it is often called, is a hot topic these days. In the past few decades, the internet has rapidly grown and evolved, making network security a prime concern. With more and more people, businesses and services migrating to the web, threats like hackers and cyber criminals have reared their heads. The recent 2016 election campaign has only further underlined the threats posed by hacking. The cost to the economy from cyber crime is increasing with each passing day, with a projected loss of $2 trillion expected by 2019. As a result, cyber security has become a highly sought after career.
As a profession, Cyber Security is still in its growth stage. It only rose to mainstream prominence in the last two decades. A Cyber security professional’s job is to ensure network security and integrity, and protect online systems against threats like hacking, cyber terrorism, and other network and technology related events and contingencies.
Career prospects in this field are bright both in the private sector as well as with the government. Federal agencies like the FBI and NSA, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Justice Department all require talented cyber security professionals to protect US citizens, businesses and other assets and services online.
At the enterprise level, businesses of all sizes need to protect their online services and data against cyber criminals and hacking groups. While the larger companies maintain their cyber security divisions, even SMEs seek the help of cyber security experts as consultants. There are also numerous software and IT companies specializing in network security, all of who are in acute need of qualified cyber security professionals.
In fact, the shortage of skilled labor in this field in the US so acute, it is estimated that nearly 200,000 jobs remained unfilled in 2016. A report by tech giant Cisco estimates that globally, there are around 1 million job openings in the field. This number is projected to rise six-fold by 2019, with at least 1.5 million jobs expected to remain unfilled due to the shortage of labor.
There is absolutely no doubt that this is the perfect time to consider a career in this challenging, lucrative and ultimately fulfilling field.
How to become a Cyber Security Professional
The first step towards a career in cyber security should begin at the college level. A Bachelor’s degree in Cyber Security, or a closely related field, is the minimum requirement for an entry level job in this industry. Those that want further specialization/qualifications can opt for Master’s level courses. High school students and adults looking towards a college degree can consider these courses.
Many top universities in the US offer dedicated courses in the field of cyber security, both at the Bachelor’s and Master’s levels. There are two main options for aspirants looking at getting a cyber security degree. One involves enrolling in majors that involve a specialization in cyber security. Examples of such courses include criminal justice and IT. Another attractive alternative is to look at a standalone cyber security Bachelor’s course.
Universities offer both regular as well as distance education based courses in cyber security. An online cyber security degree may be a better option for individuals who do not have an interest in pursuing a full-time course. These courses are also perfect for employed people looking for an entry-point into the field of cyber security.
How viable is an online course in Cyber Security?
From a career perspective, an online cyber security degree is just as good as a regular degree in the subject, as long as they are from reputed and certified institutions. Such courses provide a fundamental understanding of the field of cyber security. The students are trained in the advanced aspects of programming, IT networks, and digital forensics.
Skills imparted during these courses will enable the students to learn the basics of cyber crime, analyze network safety and security, and monitor and track illegal online activities. The latest courses will build awareness about the strategies, best practices, and the latest platforms and tools in the arsenal of the modern cyber security professional.
The University will provide all the course material and lectures online. Students have the freedom of flexibility in choosing their hours of study. The professors can also be reached online for further guidance, as well as submission of assignments and even tests and exams. This type of course enables studying on-the-go, using laptops/mobile devices + WiFi.
What are the career options after an online degree in Cyber Security
With a basic bachelor degree in Cyber Security, a graduate is eligible for most entry level positions in the field. These range from analysts, to security software developers, junior network administrators, and data analysts. To become eligible for more senior level posts, further qualification is necessary. Typically, a minimum of four-year education in security related courses is essential for such jobs.
8 Best Universities for an Online Cyber Security Degree in the US
Several factors have been considered when shortlisting the following universities as the best for an online course in cyber security. The chief among these are:
- Low tuition fees and expenses
- Low student to faculty ratio
- High pass percentage/graduation rate
Best Online Cybersecurity Degrees – 2018
Based on the criteria mentioned above, the following are among the Best Online Colleges for an online bachelors degree in Cyber Security:
1. Pennsylvania State University – College of Information Sciences & Technology
This is one of the top tier universities in the US, and holds its rank among the so called “Public Ivies.” It has a very active online wing, along with over 24 campuses located statewide. It holds several distinctions in online education, especially in IT degrees. The WSJ also rates it as one of best when it comes to recruitment rates.
Course: Bachelor of Science in Security and Risk Analysis – Information and Cyber Security
- The degree is taught online by very experienced faculty at University World Campus.
- It has the recognition of the main government agencies like the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security.
- The graduation rate is also pretty high at around 46%.
- The tuition fees are around $13,500, approximately at $584 per credit.
2. University of Maine at Augusta – Augusta, Maine
Besides being one of the most affordable courses in the shortlist, the online cyber security course at the University of Maine is also highly accredited and acclaimed. The University already holds the distinction of being one of the best regional education centers in the North. Its cyber security course holds the distinction of being the first ever to receive the accreditation of NSA and Homeland Security.
Course: Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security
- The first ever to receive the Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance/Cyber Defense program (CAE IA/CD)
- The course has excellent student-teacher ratio
- The average graduation percentage is around 47%
- The course fees are quite low at $7,500, averaging around $271 per credit hour
3. Wilmington University – College of Online and Experimental Learning
As one of the top universities in Delaware, it has a national reputation as a top purveyor of online courses. Nearly 40% of its students receive their education online. The course requirements are pretty high and have a consequently lower than average graduation rate. But on the plus side, it is highly affordable and has the coveted accreditation of NSA and Department of Homeland Security.
Course: Bachelor of Science in Computer and Network Security
- The course has the CAEIA/CD certification
- the 120 credit curriculum covers all the basics, from digital information security, forensics, cyber law, networks and communication, electronic discovery, to algorithm applications and much more
- Average graduation rate of around 27%
- Costs are also low, at around $360 per credit
4. Dakota State University – College of Computing
This is another well recognized University with a course that is certified by the NSA in cyber security. The university is based in Madison, South Dakota, and has an extensive online curriculum. The online course here is eligible for a full scholarship and a large stipend ($20,000), making Dakota State a very enticing prospect for talented young programmers. Internship opportunities at the Los Alamos Laboratory are also available for the students.
Courses: Bachelor of Science in Network and Security Administration, and a Bachelor of Science in Cyber Operations
- The topics covered include networking, business management, malware analysis, online forensics, and data structure management
- Has a unique virtual lab for learning
- Course is taught by the same professors who teach in the university’s regular classrooms
- Has a high pass percentage of over 65%
- The tuition fees are low, at less than $8000, or around $335 per credit
5. The University of Illinois at Springfield – College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
This public institution in the Great Lakes Conference has the distinction of being among the best online centers of education in the US. It is the largest online education portal in the state of Illinois. With quite low fees and numerous scholarships on offer, UIS is a great destination for students who need some form of financial assistance during the course. Though it lacks the NSA certification, the online school at UIS is well known for its computer science courses and has a CISCO accreditation.
Course: Bachelor of Science in Information Systems Security
- Covers topics like computer security and ethics, information assurance, secure systems maintenance and networking
- The course integrates JAVA programming and discrete mathematics
- Students are also allowed to join Computer clubs and seek internship opportunities
- The course costs around $11,400, averaging $350 per credit
- The graduation rate is quite good at 43%
6. Kennesaw State University – College of Computing and Software Engineering
Part of the Georgia state Universities system, Kennesaw State is a public co-ed institution in the Big South Conference. Along with a vast campus in Atlanta, GA, KSU also has a well developed online education infrastructure that ranks within the top 50 in the US. The technically focused online cyber security course has 120 credits and provides a thorough understanding of cyber crime. Qualified students can hope for internships at the Georgia Technology Authority, and take part in Cyber Defense competitions.
Course: Bachelor of Science with major in Cyber Security
- Courses include UNIX administration, server systems security, cyber defense, crisis preparedness and much more
- Courses are taught online by the same professors that teach regular courses
- Tuition fees are incredibly cheap at around $6000 for the entire course.
7. Franklin University – College of Arts, Science, and Technology
With a history that stretches back to more than a century, Franklin University is one of the top educational centers in Ohio. Located in Columbus, OH, the University has the distinction of having all its regular courses available online for distance learning. The tuition rates are quite affordable, and the student to teacher ratio is also kept at a reasonably low level. The university is also well known for its financial assistance initiatives, as well as online student support programs.
Course: Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security
- Focuses on topics like disaster recovery, risk management and compliance, cyber security laws, and security architecture
- The Franklin Student Learning Center provides excellent support to online students
- The course fees are moderately priced, at $11,600 for the Bachelor course
- Graduation rates are also pretty decent at around 40%
8. Bellevue University – Public Service, Safety, Security, and Intelligence Division
Located in Bellevue, Nebraska, this is a very adult-friendly private university. Its online wing offers a flexible education opportunity to working adults who seek to arm themselves with degrees for better job prospects. Bellevue University is a non-profit organization and has one of the cheapest fee structures for online cyber security course available.
Course: Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security
- The course work, lectures, assessment, and auditing are all completed online
- The course stresses on cyber risk identification and analysis, investigation and forensics, access control, and network security, and mobile security
- The course fees are quite low at $7000 for the entire course
- Students are offered a 127 credit curriculum, with an average cost of $400 per credit