An online network security degree provides the knowledge and skills necessary for managing and maintaining networks. As networking becomes commonplace for most industries and the importance of data protection increases, the demand for security professionals is projected to increase, as well.
For students interested in technology, programming, and problem-solving, network security grants one of the most alluring entry points into the field. Furthermore, online programs offer the benefit of more choices and more flexible program delivery. The following information unpacks the online network security degree and highlights career and organizational options available to students in this major.
Overview of Network Security Degrees
An online network security degree provides students with the knowledge and skills to manage and safeguard computer networks. Network security specialists hold in-depth knowledge of computers and network technology, along with an advanced skill set and a desire to continue learning through their careers. As network technologies and technological threats advance, so must the professionals in charge of security. Though demanding, network security careers offer strong financial compensation and an exceptional career outlook. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the information security analyst job growth rate to increase 28% between 2016 and 2026.
To provide a solid educational foundation, most network security programs provide core courses in network administration or computer science, offering fundamentals in programming, network design, and database applications. Students delve into more advanced security courses and concentrations as they begin core coursework. They learn to detect and diagnose threats and obtain the skills necessary to defend networks and prevent future attacks. Many specialists know how to recover lost or damaged information. They also possess the business skills to understand how organizations function, and the skills to communicate with professionals using the network.
The application process varies between programs, but the following section highlights some of the most common online network security degree criteria for applicants. Bachelor's candidates should hold a high school diploma or equivalent, and most schools set a minimum GPA for admission, as well, though benchmarks vary by program. Students must order and send their high school transcripts to their prospective schools. Most universities charge an application fee, which ranges from $10 to $90, and averages close to $50.
Other potential application requirements include letters of recommendation, resumes, and essays. Prior work experience may earn students degree credit, shortening their overall program length. Moreover, applicants with specialized certifications in network security or a related field may earn transfer credit. Transfer credit policies vary by program, with some offering none, and others offering up to 75% of the required credits through transfer. Finally, some programs demand course prerequisites, like advanced mathematics, to demonstrate the applicant’s subject aptitude prior to admission.
What Will I Learn?
Students pursuing online network security degrees obtain the skills and knowledge necessary to work within a multidisciplinary and evolving field. They take a blend of general education courses, electives, and major-specific courses. The typical network security curriculum includes 40-50 general education credits. These often function as broad, character-building courses, but mathematics and science classes provide highly specialized and applicable career knowledge. Some eligible general education courses even satisfy major requirements, as well. Similarly, students may use their program's required 10-20 elective credits to work toward their career objectives, obtaining skills in subjects like business and communication.
Students dedicate most of their schedule to their major, specifically in their program's later years. The typical program requires 70-80 major credits. Students initially take broad courses, introducing them to programming and other basic technological concepts and applications. As they progress, students dive into more complex, advanced topics and concentrations, such as ethical hacking, digital forensics, and cyber law. The following list highlights some of the most common courses offered in online network security degrees.
Introduction to Security
In this course, students learn to identify network and cyber attacks. They learn about different threats and the standard defensive measures for protections, along with how network security applies in different contexts, like business and government. This course builds a foundation for the rest of the program.
This course provides students with the expertise to detect, protect, and document evidence in digital and cyber crime. Students also learn how courts and investigators use this information. Specialists equipped with digital forensics tools and techniques typically provide better protection and security for employers.
Cyber law courses provide students with an understanding of the rights and responsibilities of internet users, along with the policies and laws protecting online information. Students also learn how the law protects against cyber crime, and how criminals thwart those protections. A solid understanding of cyber law prepares specialists to work within all contexts and levels of security.
System Vulnerability Assessment
In this course, students learn to identify potential weaknesses in network systems. Students also learn to strengthen and protect these vulnerabilities in an attempt to prevent targeted attacks. With these skills, graduates may find work as network security analysts or consultants who specialize in improving organizations' network security.
Cryptography courses teach students to work with cryptographic protocols and systems, developing, implementing, and analyzing these systems. Students also learn how attackers target these protocols and specialists protect against threats. Equipped with this knowledge, students can secure networks and computer systems, creating authentication and digital signature safeguards.
Most network security specialists require a basic understanding of various programming languages. Security specialists require programming for several areas of the profession, including ethical hacking, malware analysis, and database design. Students can build on a solid programming foundation to specialize their skills in the areas required by their particular profession or organization.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Network Security?
A bachelor’s degree in network security provides graduates with a diverse skill set and strong technological foundation. As they enter an expanding field with a wealth of opportunities, network security graduates stand to benefit from the growing reliance on digital information and network security across most industries. A bachelor’s degree in network security prepares students to become network security specialists, but provides many other career opportunities, as well. The following information identifies some of the major skills and careers available to graduates.
Online network security degree graduates possess the skills to thrive in a competitive and advancing industry. According to the BLS, the analytical skills earned in a network security degree prepare graduates to effectively analyze and assess a network’s protective measures and defense systems. If they detect a threat or a vulnerability, their problem-solving skills allow them to approach the situation in the best way. Professionals in the network security field must detect minor fluctuations and tiny inefficiencies while also considering the big picture, coming up with creative ways to optimize performance in the short and long term.
In the field of network security, professionals require the skills to work with intrusion prevention systems, proxy servers, firewalls, and email and web filters. Most bachelor’s degrees offer courses providing all or most of these skills. From there, professionals may wish to diversify their skill sets by obtaining skills in server security, data security, and application security. Exploring fields outside network security can provide powerful supplementary skills, such as communication, which proves especially useful for professionals in large organizations and businesses.
Potential Careers and Salaries
With a diverse skill set, a strong educational foundation, and advanced training and knowledge, network security graduates enjoy high demand among many professions and industries. According to the BLS, 28% of employed information security professionals work in computer systems design and related services. Nearly 20% of network security professionals work in the finance and insurance industries, and less than 10% work in the management, information, and administrative industries.
As many of the major industries, like healthcare, business, and finance, increase networking capabilities and digital record-keeping, the demand for qualified network security specialists should rise. As technology advances, the profession is projected to become more specialized and rewarding. The following chart identifies some of the most common careers available to network security graduates,as well as their respective annual median salaries, according to PayScale.
Annual Median Salary: $71,427
Network engineers design and create effective networks that can withstand and prevent attacks. They also create data backups and recovery strategies for organizations. Some engineers analyze and consult organizations looking to improve their current networks.
Annual Median Salary: $60,716
System administrators manage and maintain an organization’s information technology systems. These may include servers, networks, and individual computer systems. Most administrators install software and design strategies to improve system efficiencies.
Annual Median Salary: $57,658
Network administrators overlook an organization’s network, maintaining and improving the system whenever necessary. Administrators must also detect, diagnose, and solve problems with the network. Some administrators take charge of training employees to work on the system.
Information Security Analyst
Annual Median Salary: $70,624
Information security analysts scan an organization’s system for security issues, suggesting solutions for problems and areas of improvement. Security analysts might also design and implement security fixes for organizations with vulnerabilities.
Annual Median Salary: $88,774
Security engineers create security features and install them in computer systems and networks. These engineers look for threats, taking the necessary measures to protect against, track, or counteract attacks. Some security engineers design recovery and data backup systems in the case of an attack.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Network Security?
A bachelor’s degree in network security qualifies graduates for most entry-level positions in the field, but a graduate degree may provide additional opportunities, particularly in management or leadership roles. In many cases, advanced degrees allow graduates of a general computer science or network administration degree to concentrate their education and training in network security. According to the BLS, some employers may prefer candidates with an advanced business degree to complement a network security bachelor’s degree.
While a graduate degree may prove beneficial, network security professionals can often access additional training in different ways. In addition to their core network security courses, bachelor's students may declare concentrations or take electives to bolster their skill sets. Furthermore, industry and vendor certifications provide advanced skills and specialized training.
Accreditation for Network Security Bachelor’s Programs
Accreditation often serves as the primary distinction for quality degrees, but no national accreditation exists for network security programs. Still, some programs may boast recognition from or partnerships with certain vendors, certification administrators, or reputable industry organizations. Organizations like the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, for example, designate approved information technology schools as National Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE). Like national accreditation, these designations provide quality assurance to network security students and employers.
Prospective network security students should also prioritize regionally accredited institutions, which earn their designation from one of six agencies providing regional accreditation to eligible and approved schools. These regional accreditors include: the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and the Higher Learning Commission. Regional accreditation provides quality assurance, and most employers, certification programs, and funding sources require applicants to attend regionally accredited schools.
Network Security Professional Organizations
Professional organizations offer substantial benefits for network security professionals at any level of their career. Students and recent graduates receive access to job boards and career services, along with networking opportunities and industry resources. Experienced professionals often benefit from career development opportunities and industry events offered to professional organization members. The following list highlights some of the largest and best organizations for network security professionals.
The International Information System Security Certification Consortium
The certified members of (ISC)² join a large network of qualified professionals. The consortium provides members with discounts for industry events, professional development opportunities, and access to several industry certifications. It also offers discounted industry resources and textbooks.
Association for Information Technology Professionals
In addition to providing a unified voice for information technology professionals and advocating for the profession, the AITP offers its members access to professional development programs, networking events, and industry resources. For students, the AITP connects aspiring professionals with experienced industry mentors to foster their interests and help develop their careers from the beginning stages.
Information Systems Security Association International
ISSA connects information systems security specialists with other like-minded professionals in a large network. Members receive access to major industry events, resources, and professional development opportunities. Each local ISSA chapter offers members leadership experience through volunteer opportunities, as well.