Cybersecurity vs Computer Science: Which One to Choose

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If you have a love for technology and solving complex problems, cybersecurity and computer science offer exciting career opportunities. It’s not so much a matter of “cybersecurity vs. computer science,” but rather, which discipline speaks more to your personal career goals, strengths, and passions – as there is considerable overlap between these two areas. 

Both cybersecurity and computer science are growing fields that address the demand for qualified professionals to capably take on roles in these two arenas – especially as our world becomes increasingly more interconnected and dependent upon computer technology to power systems of information, commerce, and even energy. 

Computer science focuses on computational theory, which examines problem-solving through the lens of algorithms and computer networks. Cybersecurity also falls under the banner of computer science yet focuses more on protecting data, systems, and networks from various digital threats that could potentially compromise them.

Learn more about computer science and cybersecurity, and which discipline may help you start down a long and rewarding career path.

What is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is the wing of computer science that aims to protect digital networks, systems, devices, and data from various cyber threats. Given that so many facets of daily life are tied to the internet or digital transmission of data – not to mention a 452.51% uptick in cybercrimes within the past five years – cybersecurity only stands to grow in complexity to safeguard critical systems that people, businesses, and society rely on. As cyber threats evolve, it’s the job of cybersecurity professionals to think several steps ahead of would-be cybercriminals and take a proactive approach to safeguard vast stores of data. 

What is Computer Science?

Computer science encompasses the expansive study of theoretical and practical computation. Professionals in this field are proficient in multiple programming languages and grasp the interplay between software and hardware across different operating systems. They also engage in data analysis and construct predictive models to validate their hypotheses.

Computer science stands as an umbrella for a variety of related disciplines that all use computing to solve problems or create networks. It includes such areas of expertise as cybersecurity, software engineering, computer engineering, and information technology. Computer science professionals can work in various areas, including cybersecurity, IT, and even video game development

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What’s the Difference Between Cybersecurity and Computer Science?

Computer science examines how computers can efficiently solve myriad problems through the use of computers. However, cybersecurity – as a subdivision of computer science – focuses exclusively on solving the problem of cyber threats that could compromise software, networks, and devices to expose sensitive data or capitalize upon vulnerabilities. 

Computer science professionals develop various skills, including software development, data analysis, and programming languages, including C++, Java, Python, and more. They also analyze data and algorithms to predict outcomes. Although computer science is rooted firmly in the domains of mathematics and technology, the discipline helps optimize systems in a variety of industries, from healthcare to weather forecasting technology. 

Conversely, cybersecurity focuses on solving problems with computers – but solely those pertaining to data and information security, protecting sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands. Cybersecurity professionals leverage their skills to guard against data and system breaches, leaks, and corruption. They are adept at risk assessment and data encryption to help prevent attacks, and are equally versed in crafting timely incident response plans in the event data or systems become compromised. 

Cybersecurity professionals work with enterprises across a multitude of industries, as well as government agencies, to help protect critical systems and data. They work to protect sensitive information transmitted online and think proactively to anticipate ways that unethical hackers may attempt to hijack data for nefarious purposes in order to thwart their attempts. Cyberthreats can take a variety of forms, including phishing email scams, malware that infects software in an effort to steal data or grant unauthorized network access, and ransomware, which essentially holds an entity’s sensitive digital information “hostage,” denying access until a ransom is paid. Ransomware attacks in 2023 have increased dramatically from the previous year, with monetary losses from ransomware schemes on track to reach $898.6 million.

Approximately 328.77 million terabytes of data are generated every day due to the variety of commonplace activities that take place online – from financial and work-related transactions, to online shopping and communicating with others via social media. Without cybersecurity professionals serving as a first line of defense for the many organizations that operate and conduct transactions online, it can leave countless individuals and enterprises open to potential cyber threats. 

Doesn’t Cybersecurity Fall Under Computer Science?

Absolutely, cybersecurity is a specialized branch within the broader landscape of computer science. While computer science tackles a range of computational challenges, cybersecurity zeroes in on safeguarding sensitive data and systems from unauthorized access and cyber threats. That being said, cybersecurity is a more specialized field, while a general computer science program may offer more flexibility.

Should I Study Cybersecurity or Computer Science?

Whether you decide to study computer science or cybersecurity depends on your career goals and the areas of study you find most interesting. Computer science majors learn a variety of skills that can allow them to make a career switch to a related field, including IT, penetration testing, cloud computing, and programming. If you enjoy math, science, and solving problems, computer science can give you a new world of career opportunities at your fingertips. 

If you have a passion for unraveling complex problems and meticulously examining data, systems, and networks to identify potential weaknesses that could be exploited by cybercriminals, then a career in cybersecurity might be the perfect fit for you. As our reliance on technology and information systems grows, so will the need for cybersecurity professionals. In 2022, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported 800,944 instances of cybercrimes, totaling $10.2 billion in losses – a 48% increase from the previous year. It’s anticipated that there will be 3.5 million job openings for cybersecurity professionals by 2025. 

Typical Cybersecurity Courses

If you plan on studying cybersecurity, you can look forward to a course load emphasizing foundation technologies, such as networking, operating systems, and programming. 

Building on these fundamentals, individuals pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity delve deeper into more specialized courses, such as system security architecture principles as well as more specific system administration for operating systems such as Windows and Linux. Students will also build their knowledge of such subdisciplines as ethical hacking (also known as penetration testing), cyber threat intelligence, and policy development, including incident handling and response. 

Those pursuing a master’s degree in cybersecurity can advance their skillset via courses and hands-on projects in cybersecurity, as well as learn the finer points of threat modeling and more. In addition to more advanced fundamentals spanning various aspects of cybersecurity, those pursuing a master’s in this discipline can consider a specific area of focus to specialize in. For instance, some areas of specialization can include ethical hacking – poking at various systems and software to conduct a risk assessment, finding vulnerabilities that could potentially be exploited by malicious (or unethical) hackers – or enterprise cybersecurity management. 

Typical Computer Science Courses

If you’re thinking about pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science, expect to dive into high-level math courses like algebra, trigonometry, and calculus, which are integral to understanding computational theory. Alongside these math-centric subjects, your curriculum will likely feature programming languages such as C++ and Java.

As you go further into your computer science studies, courses expand to include those related to studying algorithms, logic, problem-solving, and computer ethics, as well as programming languages. Your course load will combine practical applications (such as database design and computer architecture) and theoretical concepts. In addition, a computer science program encourages students to develop a concentration to help them carve out a career path. These competencies can range from software-focused (including engineering and testing) to application development, encompassing mobile apps, web applications, or even video games. 

A master’s in computer science takes you even deeper into programming and analysis of complex software systems, alongside weaving in elements of cybersecurity, threat identification, and response. Master’s programs typically include hands-on project-based learning, giving you opportunities to apply your skills. 

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Certifications for Cybersecurity and Computer Science 

Certifications in both Cybersecurity and Computer Science are frequently key milestones for establishing a career trajectory, as they validate a professional’s expertise in specific domains. Earning these credentials not only distinguishes you from other applicants but also bolsters your career advancement and salary prospects. A myriad of top-tier certifications are available in both fields. Typically, obtaining these involves passing a rigorous exam, and renewal is usually necessary after a set period. Here are some examples of popular certifications for cybersecurity and computer science.

Cybersecurity Certifications:
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP): This advanced-level certification is ideal for IT pros serious about careers in information security. Offered by ISC², it’s recognized globally and is often required by companies for their information security personnel.
  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH): Offered by EC-Council, this certification teaches how to think and act like a hacker (a legal one, of course). It’s a great credential for IT professionals pursuing careers in ethical hacking.
  • CompTIA Security+: This is a good entry-level certification for those new to cybersecurity. It covers a wide range of introductory topics, from network security to risk management.
  • Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP): Also from ISC², this credential ensures you’re well-versed in cloud security and best practices for cloud computing.
Computer Science Certifications:
  • Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals: This certification covers some basic aspects of Azure cloud services, including cloud concepts, core Azure services, security, privacy, and compliance.
  • Oracle Certified Associate, Java SE 8 Programmer: This credential validates that you’re proficient in essential Java programming skills.
  • CompTIA IT Fundamentals (ITF+): If you’re new to IT or computer science, this certification can provide you with a broad understanding of the IT landscape.

Career Options for Cybersecurity and Computer Science 

As the world becomes increasingly more dependent on technology across multiple spheres of industry and daily life, computer science and cybersecurity offer a wealth of career options for curious minds In a tech-dependent landscape, offering stability and room for growth. 

Cybersecurity Careers

The field of cybersecurity offers a wide range of career opportunities for qualified individuals to safeguard data and entire systems of information from various digital threats. Even entry-level cybersecurity positions for individuals with less than five years of field experience can command a six-figure salary well above the national median income across the United States. Here is just a sampling of some of the career avenues available in cybersecurity. 

Security analyst

One of the fastest-growing careers in the cybersecurity realm, the BLS predicts that the need for security analysts is expected to increase by 35% before 2031 – much higher than average job growth across all professions. These individuals monitor various digital security systems and networks. Through deep analysis, they craft plans to safeguard these systems and work with others in a given organization to ensure proper security measures are taken to keep data secure. On average, a security analyst earns a median annual salary of $102,600. 

Ethical hacker or penetration tester

One of the most popular careers in cybersecurity is the role of an ethical hacker. If we were to view the internet and various digital realms as the Wild Wild West, ethical hackers would be the “white hats” who have a comparable technological skill set to “black hats” who would use them to illegally access or compromise computer systems, applications, and data. Ethical hackers conduct penetration testing on various systems, assessing risks and openings that could potentially leave them vulnerable to malicious hackers. These professionals earn an average median wage of $98,740 and can anticipate an increased demand for their skills between 8% and 10% before 2031. 

Cybersecurity architect

In a more senior-level role, a cybersecurity architect is responsible for creating cybersecurity systems and networks to safeguard an organization’s data and information. They have a deep understanding of programming that facilitates their ability to evaluate existing (and potentially outdated) systems for vulnerabilities as new cyber threats emerge. In addition to crafting security methods, they also build documentation to inform individuals at various levels throughout an organization to proactively guard against cyber threats, as well as develop disaster recovery plans in the event a breach occurs. Cybersecurity architects can work within a commercial enterprise or even with government agencies to protect sensitive data. They command an annual median salary of $147,461

Computer Science Careers

While a diverse range of careers falls under the banner of computer science, overall, it’s anticipated that this sector will grow 14% before 2031, significantly faster than all other occupations. Computer science envelops a wide range of careers, from more practical application and development skills to paths that focus on analyzing fast stores of data to model, predict, and solve various problems. Here are just a few different career options to consider within the in-demand field of computer science. 

Web developer

A web developer builds and often maintains websites for a variety of organizations. Besides creating a website and utilizing their coding and engineering expertise, they also scrutinize the site for any bugs and performance glitches. They ensure it’s securely encrypted, complies with the latest web standards, and functions smoothly across popular browsers and devices. They may also work to integrate websites with other computer applications, ensuring a seamless and connected experience for users. According to the BLS, the mean annual salary for a web developer is $87,580. The need for web developers is expected to grow by 30% before 2031. 

Computer and information research scientist

Computer and information research scientists apply their understanding of computational theory and computer programming to address challenges in existing technology. They also innovate by finding new applications for both current and emerging technologies. They can apply their skills to studying or creating programming languages involved in hardware and software design, as well as within robotics, where they build systems to either design fully-functioning robotic systems or control them. These computer scientists not only conduct experiments on their projects but analyze their results and publish findings to share with others within their field. According to the BLS, these professionals earn an annual median pay of $131,490, and the need for computer and information research scientists is predicted to grow by 21% before 2031. 

Software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers

Software developers, QA analysts, and testers are grouped together by the BLS. Although they have related skill sets, each has a different role in the software development lifecycle. Software developers are responsible for designing software and applications, while QA analysts and testers are responsible for identifying any problems or “bugs” within the software prior to initial release or updates. Software developers earn a median annual wage of $120,730, while testers earn $98,220. Both disciplines are expected to see a 25% increase in demand for their skills. 

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Are Degrees in Cybersecurity and Computer Science Worth It?

Deciding whether to pursue a cybersecurity or computer science degree? Both degrees have similar benefits. Here are some compelling reasons to make that leap, particularly if you’re tech-savvy:

  • Score High Earnings: Many roles in Cybersecurity, CS, and IT pay well above the average salary.
  • Job Market Boom: Expect a surge in tech job openings in the coming years, giving you plenty of career options.
  • Work Flexibility: Whether you love to travel or prefer working from home, many tech roles offer remote work opportunities.
  • Broad Applications: Cybersecurity and CS skills are in demand across a wide range of sectors, both public and private.
  • Growing Complexity: As technology evolves, the demand for skilled professionals will only rise.
  • High-Stakes Impact: Your work could protect vital infrastructures and sensitive data from cyber threats, making a significant societal difference.
  • Job Security: The ever-increasing number of technology and cyberattacks means job security is likely higher than in other fields.

Carve Out a Career in Computer Science or Cybersecurity with National University

Both cybersecurity and computer science offer nearly endless opportunities for technology-minded individuals who have a knack for problem-solving and are fueled by curiosity. National University can help you begin your career in these in-demand fields that only stand to grow alongside rapid developments in technology. 

As a recognized National Center of Academic Excellence (NCAE) in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD) through 2028 by the National Security Agency (NSA), National University offers an outstanding education in cybersecurity for those pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity or furthering their career with a Master of Science in Cybersecurity.

For those looking to jumpstart a career in computer science, National University’s Bachelor of Science in Computer Science (BSCS) degree program endows students with the technical, design, and theoretical skills required to succeed in the field. Recognized by the ABET Computing Accreditation Commission, the BSCS degree program provides students with a solid grounding in computer science fundamentals. It also offers them the opportunity to specialize in software development, encompassing areas such as software engineering, testing, and both mobile and web application development.

If you’re already entrenched in the field of computer science, National University can help you further your career. Our Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) program helps students enhance their programming and software engineering skills via a hands-on approach to creating, evaluating, and designing software, front-end applications, and database solutions. Contact National University today to start or advance your computer science or cybersecurity career. 

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