Network security explores the safeguarding of digital information in many environments. This guide explores online network security master's degree programs, addressing what students in the field can anticipate learning and the available careers after graduation. It examines common curriculums, including projects and any exams that students should anticipate. Finally, the guide addresses ways to choose a trustworthy program and the options for financing graduate school.
As criminal cyber-activity continues to evolve and expand, the need for experts in the network security field will only grow. The 2019 edition of Symantec's Internet Security Threat Report found that in 2018, ransomware declined for the first time since 2013 but increased by 12% for enterprises; meanwhile, attacks on supply chains ballooned by 78%.
These sobering numbers mean that companies urgently need help in combating increasingly sophisticated threats. The following guide should help interested students get on the right track to becoming part of this in-demand workforce.
What to Know About Online Master's in Network Security Coursework
An online network security master's degree prepares each student to fight cybercrime by preventing the unauthorized access of data and networks at the corporate and government levels. The field's growth reflects a rise in illegal online criminal activity.
All learners enrolled in network security master's programs should expect to grow their communication, critical-thinking, and information literacy skills. Learning outcomes include strong research and writing skills and a greater ability to collaborate, adapt, and solve problems.
A master's degree in network security typically requires 12 courses for a total of 36 credits. On average, students can complete all work in two years. However, accelerated programs with shorter terms (e.g., 5-, 7-, or 10-week terms) allow students to graduate much faster — sometimes in one year.
What Common Courses are Offered in a Master's in Network Security Program?
The courses may vary in a network security master's degree online program. However, an accredited program should generally cover the same material. For this reason, check out the following list for an idea of the typical courses in a network security curriculum at the graduate level.
- Database Systems
This course focuses on e-commerce and the role of databases, which are central to commercial application development for businesses of any size. Students review the use of data management systems, including data updates, retrieval, and analysis. Topics include transactions, parallel data processing, data models, and query languages, including SQL.
- Information Assurance
In this core course, students can explore the basic concepts and skills needed to protect networks, communications, and data. The course addresses ways to plan, implement, and manage a network security plan for enterprise-level security and system integrity. Topics include cryptography, security in networks, and ways to prevent, detect, and recover from data breaches.
- Cyberlaw and Ethics
This course examines e-commerce and the ethical and legal issues that arise from its growth in a global economy. Students can investigate the government's role and issues like content control and rights, digital property, and the jurisdiction of personal information. Other topics include antitrust, fraud, and compliance with U.S. and international laws.
Students in this course can explore the tools used to ensure the privacy, authenticity, and integrity of sensitive data. Cryptography methods and tools that companies use to carry out millions of online transactions each day include encryption, digital signature, key agreement protocols, and message authentication.
- Digital Forensics
This course covers the theory, practice, and principles of digital forensics, focusing on the processes of evidence identification, collection, acquisition, and authentication. Modern-day digital forensics involves computers, networks, operating systems, and mobile devices. Students also learn how to present digital forensics information following an investigation.
What Specializations are Available in a Master's in Network Security Program?
Many network security master's degree online programs offer specializations that enable students to further hone their skills. These specializations may differ depending on the school, and in some cases, students instead take electives to personalize their degrees. Look below at three specializations common to a network security program.
- Application Security
Students can focus on testing methods and techniques used by network and cybersecurity experts to pinpoint and mitigate risks to the security of a company's infrastructure. Enrollees can explore how to conduct assessments to identify application- and network-based security vulnerabilities; carry out testing; and secure wireless networks through methods like authentication, authorization, and encryption.
- Computer Forensics
The computer forensics specialization focuses on the skills needed to work in law enforcement and investigate crimes like digital fraud, data breaches, and cyberheists. Students learn how to apply the principles of digital forensics to crimes involving network intrusions, compromised data, and mobile vulnerabilities.
- Governance, Risk, and Compliance
Companies with a digital presence must follow a governance system of rules, practices, and processes. Individuals with a background in governance, risk, and compliance can help companies stay compliant through policy management and control creation. Typical topics covered in this specialization include audits and verification, remediation, authority, and follow-through.
What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?
A network security master's degree online typically culminates with a capstone project that synthesizes all the materials learned in the program. A student needs to use this experience, which takes place in the final semester, to demonstrate proficiency in all areas of network security. Possible capstone projects include an analytics study, a thesis, or a digital portfolio.
Students who submit a final thesis paper need to begin the process long before the final semester. Each topic must first gain approval from an advisor. Once approved, students can begin researching significant topics in their chosen field of network security.
How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master's in Network Security Program?
Choosing an online master's program is a daunting challenge for many, as there are many relevant questions about curriculum, cost, timelines, and trustworthiness. Students who enroll in online network security master's programs should take the necessary steps to research and ensure that it checks all of their boxes regarding courses, affordability, and accreditation.
Accreditation provides students with the assurance that a program meets or exceeds standards of academic quality. For a network security master's degree online program, prospective students should confirm if the school holds regional accreditation, which is also a factor in qualifying for federal financial aid.
For programmatic accreditation, students can also check if a program holds accreditation from CSAB, Inc., formerly known as the Computing Sciences Accreditation Board, Inc. and a part of ABET. CSAB accredits postsecondary programs in computer science, information systems, information technology, and software engineering.
Hallmarks of a high-quality and trustworthy network security master's degree online program include a high graduation rate, hands-on learning, and an engaged, accessible faculty that contributes to research in the field. Always be wary of programs that lack or have lost accreditation status.
Career Opportunities With a Master's in Network Security Degree
In today's competitive job market, a master's in network security can provide an individual with a practical edge in the hiring process. All things being equal, an advanced degree could prove the deciding factor. With this said, note that a degree does not guarantee eligibility for a career, including the ones listed below. A master's degree can open doors and provide each graduate with formal training to pursue many career options.
- Information Security Analysts
Information security analysts protect computer networks/systems by planning or carrying out security measures, such as implementing firewalls and data encryption programs. They prepare reports, document data breaches, the extent of damage caused, and steps taken to mitigate the incident. Information security analysts also research and stay current with security trends and recommend preventative measures against future attacks.
- Median Salary: $98,350 per year
- Currently Employed: 100,000
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 Years: +28%
- Computer Network Architects
These architects build and design data communication networks, including local area networks, wide area networks, and intranets. As part of this planning, computer network architects must consider and factor in security, including any potential vulnerabilities or cracks in an enterprise's overall network.
- Median Salary: $109,020 per year
- Currently Employed: 162,700
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 Years: +6%
- Computer and Information Research Scientists
Computer and information research scientists explore fundamental issues in computing to develop theories and models to explain those issues, address them, and potentially solve them. Part of their job is to work on the development and improvement of software systems, which undoubtedly include the security of said applications.
- Median Salary: $118,370 per year
- Currently Employed: 27,900
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 Years: +19%
- Computer Systems Analysts
Information systems managers plan and direct the computer-related activities of a company, which includes ensuring the organization's network and electronic documents are secure and protected against external threats. They also assess the costs and benefits of new projects and often must present data-driven justification for funding.
- Median Salary: $88,740 per year
- Currently Employed: 600,500
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 Years: +9%
- Computer and Information Systems Managers
Computer systems analysts (aka systems architects) help companies become more efficient by analysis and assessment of the computer systems and procedures currently in place. They prepare cost analysis and devise ways to add new functionality to existing computer systems. They also conduct tests, train end-users, and oversee the installation of new or updated systems.
- Median Salary: $142,530 per year
- Currently Employed: 367,600
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 Years: +12%
What's the Expected Job Growth for Network Security Careers?
The demand for qualified experts in network security reflects an expanding threat of bad actors in the cyberworld. To combat this steady rise in cybercrime and criminal activity, companies and the government strengthen their cyberdefense teams, starting with security experts. The BLS projects that jobs in the field will grow by 28% between 2016 and 2026. This strong rate is 20% higher than the projected average job growth for all occupations total.
Professional Organizations for Careers in Network Security
Joining a professional organization can return immediate benefits for members, especially for current students and recent grads. These organizations are proven resources for networking opportunities and staying abreast of changes in the field, offering students scholarships, career services, and mentoring. A professional organization provides benefits like continuing education, annual conferences, and local meetings for professional and personal growth.
This group focuses on developing future cybersecurity students, providing opportunities for networking, collaboration, and research. NCSA works to increase the number of graduates in the field as the largest association of cybersecurity students in the United States.
ISSA is a nonprofit organization featuring an international membership of certified security professionals and practitioners. Benefits of membership include discussion forums, publications, and peer interaction that enhance knowledge, skill, and professional growth.
Established in 2014 by the IEEE Computer Society, in partnership with the ICC Future Directions Committee, CYBSI aims to become the go-to resource for professionals working in cybersecurity and the security and privacy field.
As an international organization composed of over 140,000 certified members, (ISC)² works to empower professionals in the information security field and to enhance the profession. Founded in 1989, (ISC)² offers seven certification programs, including CISSP, SSCP, and CCSP.
CSA dedicates its efforts to defining and raising awareness of the best practices used in the industry to secure cloud environments. The organization fosters collaboration and the creative efforts of its members to help maintain a trusted cloud ecosystem.
How to Pay for a Master's in Network Security Degree
Paying for grad school is one of the most significant considerations for students. Fortunately, there are financing options available, including applying to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) for federal financial aid. Graduate network security students could also explore participating in employer programs, taking on work-study or applying for scholarships.
Federal Financial Aid
The ED distributes an estimated $120 billion of federal financial aid to qualified students every year. Graduate and professional students should apply to the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, which lends $20,500 of unsubsidized money per school year, the Direct PLUS Loan if the student needs more financial aid beyond $20,500, and the Federal Work-Study Program. To establish their eligibility for any of these programs, students must submit their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Scholarships from Professional Organizations
Students who join professional organizations can apply to exclusive scholarships as members. These scholarships aim to develop the next generation of professionals as network security experts, data scientists, and engineers.
Program and Field Scholarships
Similarly, many organizations and groups create financial awards for students pursuing higher education in a particular field, such as network security, STEM, or business intelligence. As with scholarships from professional organizations, program and field scholarships narrow the pool of applicants from the start.
Assistantships, Research Positions, and Fellowships
Finally, graduate and professional students can also help finance their degrees by taking on assistantships, research positions, or fellowship programs that provide them with stipends and the opportunity to work directly in their chosen field without the worry of the financial cost.