Network security specialists are the professionals who work to keep computer networks secure and safe from attacks and breaches. They install software and perform system upgrades that make a computer network more likely to remain secure. They also analyze issues with data communication, in order to pinpoint weaknesses in the network’s data protection. If a network does experience a security attack, network security specialists respond to the attack in order to mitigate the severity of the data leak. Some also perform the responsibilities of a computer forensic specialist, gathering information after a cyber crime or attack that can be used in to build a criminal case. Job titles that ones might have after graduating from a network security degree program include network security specialist, security technician, information technology auditor, and data security analyst.
Network security and closely related degrees are available at the undergraduate and graduate level. Most jobs in this industry will require applicants to have earned a bachelor's degree, at minimum. However, there are network security degrees at the associate level, and graduates of one of these degrees may be able to find some entry-level work. An associate degree will typically take one and a half to two years to complete and will consist of 61-66 credit hours. Classes that a student might take include Introduction to Networks, Essentials of Network and Information Security, Principles of Cybersecurity, and Software Logic and Design. Some jobs that may be open to graduates of an associate program include security technician and network security specialist. Programs at this level can often be found for $10,000 a year or less.
While there are jobs available to individuals who only hold an associate degree, most employers prefer to hire candidate's who have earned a bachelor's or higher. Bachelor's degrees in network security and similar fields are widely available at colleges and universities. Example classes that make up the bachelor's degree curriculum include Information Technology Concepts and Practices, Ethics for Information Technology Professionals, Computer Forensic Essentials, Reverse Engineering, Systems Administration, IS Hardware and Software, and Network Engineering Hardware. Some programs may also require that students complete an internship. Upon earning a bachelor's degree, graduates may be able to find work in a variety of settings, such as with the government, insurance companies, healthcare organizations, private businesses, schools, and technology consulting agencies. Example job titles include Data Security Analyst, Security Engineer, Information Technology Auditor, and Network Security Manager. The annual cost of this type of degree will vary with the school, with some programs coming in at under $10,000 a year and others costing upwards of $20,000 a year.
Individuals who seek out a graduate program in network security or a related field can find both master's and doctoral level programs. While a bachelor's is the most common requirement for getting started in a career in network security, some companies prefer applicants that have a master's. A master's degree might also be an appropriate option for a current professional in the field who wants to add to their skill set and perhaps earn higher pay or move up to more advanced positions. It usually takes about two years to finish a master's program. Classes that a student might take include Database Security, Network Forensics, Data Communications, and Programming for Security Professionals. A capstone project may also be required, though a thesis typically is not. In order to be admitted to a master's program an applicant will need a bachelor's degree, preferably in computer science or a similar field, or else they will need to have completed certain undergraduate prerequisite coursework. Other typical requirements include letters of recommendation, an essay outlining the applicant's reason for seeking admissions, a resume, and GRE test scores. The majority of programs will cost somewhere between $10,000 and $20,000 a year.
A few select universities offer doctoral programs in network security or closely related disciplines. This level of degree might be a good fit for someone who is interested in doing in-depth research and who wishes to make a career out of research, as well as someone who wants to work in teaching jobs at the university level. A doctoral program will be made up of traditional coursework, as well as research and a dissertation component. Classes that a student might take during their studies include Enterprise Security Risk Management, Security Governance and Management, System and Application Security Advances, and Qualitative Research Techniques. In order to be admitted to one of these programs an applicant must have already earned a master's degree in a related field. Other typical PhD application requirements include GRE test scores, letters of recommendation, a resume, and an admission essay. The length of time to complete one of these programs is between four and seven years, and tuition may cost anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000 a year.
There are certificate programs available in network security or related subjects like cybersecurity. These programs are designed for individuals who already have some skills and knowledge in the field of computer science and who want to build on these skills to learn the fundamentals of network defense and security. This type of program may be appropriate for someone who already works in the computer science field and wants to add to their skill set, or someone who works in a field like criminal justice for which having this particular set of skills would be helpful. Classes that students will take may include Security Design and Compliance, Network Penetration Testing, Network Architecture and Cyberoperations, and Applied Digital Forensic Investigation. A certificate program can be completed in a year or less. Admission requirements usually include at least having earned a bachelor's degree, and some more competitive programs will require additional application materials, like letters of recommendation, a resume, and personal statement. Students can expect to finish their certificate in about a year or less. Tuition can vary greatly depending on the school attended, though most programs will cost under $15,000.
There are several professional certifications open to network security professionals. Obtaining certification is not a requirement, but it can be beneficial as many employers prefer to hire someone with certification. Job seekers with certification may be more competitive in the marketplace and may be better positioned to earn promotions and pay raises. Examples of certifications that a network security professional might earn include Cisco's Cybersecurity Specialist certificate and the Certified Information Systems Security Professional from (ISC)².
One thing individuals should keep in mind when looking to earn a college degree is whether or not the school or program they want to apply to is accredited. In addition to regional or national accreditation, some programs will receive special programmatic accreditation, which is given out by independent organizations specializing in that field. For instance, ABET accredits computer science programs, as well as engineering and applied science programs. A program that has received ABET accreditation has met a set of rigorous standards in several areas including academics, faculty, and facilities. Employers looking to hire network security specialists or other information technology employees may favor job candidates who have a degree from an ABET-accredited program. Students in one of these accredited programs can also be sure that they are learning the skills that they will need in order to be successful in the field.
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