What is Cybersecurity?
It was an incident that made national, and even international headlines. A North American casino discovered that its database had been hacked and upwards of 10 GB of data was stolen. That the cybersecurity breach occurred wasn’t the crux of the story. What really had the world buzzing was the way the hackers did it.
In this case, the door that hackers used to get into the casino’s network was provided by a fish tank — located right in the lobby — which was connected to the internet as a way to monitor and regulate the tank’s water temperature.
As creative and unnerving as this particular case proved to be, it provides an ideal backdrop for the discussion of a question that is becoming more serious, and more complex, with each passing day — what is cybersecurity?
What is Cybersecurity? It’s Something That Matters For All of Us
“If you stop and really think about the way we live our lives every day, it’ll start to become pretty clear why cybersecurity is so important,” says Christopher Simpson, Academic Program Director of National University’s Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity. “Cyberspace is such an integral part of all of our lives. Cybersecurity is protecting yourself, protecting things like financial information, personal communication — even your home — in very much the same way as you would protect physical assets in the real world.”
The casino incident is just one recent example of the creative lengths to which hackers go to access data. As the “internet of things” continues evolving to the point where more of the items we use on a daily basis — from thermostats to appliances to speakers to alarm clocks — are connected, we all become more vulnerable.
In fact, as of 2018, the number of internetconnected devices worldwide topped 23 billion. By the year 2020, that number is expected to increase to just under 31 billion. By 2025, it’s expected to skyrocket, literally, to more than 75 billion. That would amount to nearly 10 internet-connected devices for every man, woman, and child on the face of the Earth.
With that level of connectivity happening across the globe, without question, it’s startling to think about the harm that could be caused by digital security hacks. To counter that activity, we all rely on the work of skilled, dedicated cybersecurity professionals.
So, What Is Cybersecurity?
Concerns and issues related to securing information stored in electronic and digital form have been around since computers have been around. The first recognized computer virus occurred in the early 1970s and led to the creation of the first antivirus program. The frequency and magnitude of digital security breaches have been growing ever since.
The term cybersecurity refers to the efforts, methods, and techniques that are employed to protect computer networks and data from falling victim to the work of hackers.
“You put a lot of trust in what you do online,” Simpson says. “You put a lot of very personal and critical information out there. And in this day and age, with the way technology is advancing so rapidly, there are more and more ways that your information could be used against you. You might have a washing machine installed that has an Internet connection, and that could end up being a backdoor into your home.”
There have been a number of events over the past several decades that have shaped the field of cybersecurity. The first computer worm was detected in 1988, an event that gained global attention and foreshadowed the potential threats associated with the internet.
In the years and decades since, major incidents such as the leak of classified information from the National Security Agency, to the data breach at Yahoo, to the hack of Sony Pictures and many others, have been the subject of international news. But it’s not just the big players that are affected; every day, cybersecurity professionals work tirelessly to prevent cyberattacks — large and small — for businesses and organizations of all sizes.
Some of the daily responsibilities that cybersecurity professionals carry out include:
- Safeguarding organizational networks and files.
- Creating cybersecurity plans.
- Installing computer firewalls and creating passwords and encryption.
- Monitoring network activity.
- Identifying security breaches and creating solutions quickly.
- Preparing technical reports and providing status updates to management.
- Staying up to date on current and emerging trends and the latest hacking methods.
- Educating other departments within an organization about current security efforts.
It may surprise some who are unfamiliar with the industry to learn that a big part of what many cybersecurity professionals do is, in fact, hacking. It’s referred to as “offensive hacking” or “ethical hacking” and is a proactive approach to protecting networks and computer systems.
Once you’ve answered the question of what is cybersecurity, it makes sense to gain an understanding of what skills it takes to succeed in the field.
An obvious prerequisite that will help anyone considering the cybersecurity field as a career is a heightened interest in computers and digital technology. Beyond that, other skills and personal characteristics that help individuals succeed in this field include:
- An affinity for hard work and details. You will be digging into very in-depth technical issues, which often will require long hours and close attention to detail.
- Good communication skills. Cybersecurity professionals who truly thrive are not only able to assess and solve problems, but also communicate the situation effectively to others within the organization who may not have a technical background.
- Solid technical acumen. From understanding operating systems to programming to web applications and network architecture, a solid technical foundational knowledge is essential.
- Interest in serving the greater good. As a cybersecurity professional, you’ll be on the front line protecting individuals and organizations from being negatively impacted by cyberattacks and providing peace of mind to fellow citizens.
Once you’ve gained the necessary understanding of what cybersecurity is and the general skills and characteristics it typically takes to succeed, it’s important to explore the range of career options out there for those with the appropriate education and training.
What Jobs Can I Get With a Cybersecurity Degree?
There is a wide array of professional positions out there that fall within the cybersecurity field. They are typically broken down by level of education and training, with the number of career options expanding as the level of education increases.
“A lot of the time when people hear cybersecurity, they immediately think about some kind of hacking. Well, it’s not all hacking. Cybersecurity has grown so fast that there are many different specializations,” says Mark Veron, an alumnus of NU’s Master of Science in Cybersecurity program. “You can be an analyst, you can be monitoring different kinds of logs and feeds that are coming in from different companies. You can also be on the red team, or the offensive side of security, where you are hacking. Or there are management positions. There are very fine-grained specializations, there’s a lot to do.”
Professional positions in cybersecurity include:
- Security Analyst
- Security Engineer
- Security Architect
- Security Administrator
- Security Software Developer
- Security Consultant
- Forensic Engineer
- Penetration Tester
- Information Systems Security Manager
- Chief Information Officer
- Application Security Engineer
- Vulnerability Assessor
A big misperception related to the “What jobs can I get with a cybersecurity degree?” question is that to work in the field you have to live in one of a few areas of the United States, such as Silicon Valley or Washington D.C. This is not the case. Businesses, companies, corporations, and organizations of all kinds rely on the services of well-trained cybersecurity professionals, throughout every region of the country.
One thing that virtually everyone agrees on is that future career opportunities in the field of cybersecurity are very bright. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for information security analysts is expected to grow by 28 percent between 2016 and 2026. The Department of Labor data also indicates that the average median salary for information security analysts is approximately $95,500, nationally and $108,000 in California.
And according to a recent report in Forbes, cybersecurity is most definitely a job sector of the future, with growth projected at 37 percent per year through 2022. That same report estimates that the average entry-level pay in cybersecurity is approximately $10,000 higher than the national median salary.
Education and training will be necessary to take advantage of the huge opportunities that are out there in the field of cybersecurity.
For Many, the Ideal Path Is Through an Online Cybersecurity Degree Program
Given the projected explosive growth in the need for skilled, well-trained cybersecurity professionals, the value of a degree in cybersecurity cannot be overstated. There are estimates that more than one-third of Americans have experienced being hacked at one time or another, and as we spend more of our daily lives connected and online, that figure will likely increase.
While in the past a college degree in cybersecurity wasn’t deemed as important as hands-on experience in the field, that opinion has undergone a major shift. Today, cybersecurity has a presence across all sectors of business and industry — not just technology-related organizations — and will have an increasing presence in the budgets of organizations in almost every field including business, law, medicine, education, retail, media, entertainment, to name just a few.
Employers will be looking for professionals who bring a college degree, and earning a degree in the field will open up more professional opportunities in terms of the types of organizations you may work for, the career levels you can reach, and your income potential.
The good news is that there are online cybersecurity degree options designed for working professionals who are interested in entering or advancing within the field without having to sacrifice their current jobs or other daily responsibilities.
National University’s Programs in Cybersecurity
If you’ve researched the field of cybersecurity and determined that it’s the professional path that’s right for you, the next crucial step is finding a program that’s proven, accredited, offers the most relevant curriculum, and is respected by industry experts and employers.
This is exactly the kind of programming you’ll find at National University.
At National, you have the option of enrolling in the on-site or online Bachelor of Science (BS) in Cybersecurity or the Master of Science (MS) in Cybersecurity program. Both are highly respected, feature accelerated four-week courses, are led by accomplished cybersecurity experts — and can be completed entirely online if that’s the best option for you.
“One of the things students in the program really like and appreciate is the accelerated and focused format,” Simpson says. “We have a lot of military and veteran students and that accelerated pace resonates with them.”
The BS in Cybersecurity is designed to provide students with a breadth and depth of knowledge in concepts related to fundamental security processes and information technology management. As a student in the program you will:
- Learn how to create cybersecurity solutions from the application of security control principles.
- Explore the principles of ethics as it relates to cybersecurity.
- Develop and hone the necessary communication skills to succeed in the field.
- Learn how to securely administer a Windows and Linux system using security automation techniques and tools.
- Gain an understanding of the fundamental concepts of operating systems, networks, and cloud computing.
- Learn to apply concepts of best practices in cybersecurity management to enterprise processes.
The BS program also offers concentrations in Computer Network Defense and Digital Forensics.
The MS in Cybersecurity program has been designated as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education by the National Security Agency (NSA), a significant credential and indication of the level of quality students can expect. In fact, NU’s program is the only one in San Diego with the NSA’s designation.
The program is designed for professionals who are looking to elevate their role in ensuring the security, confidentiality, integrity, authenticity, control, availability and utility of computing and information systems infrastructures. As a student in the MS program you will:
- Gain an in-depth understanding of current and emerging threats to digital assets and computer infrastructures.
- Learn the processes of developing prevention and mitigation plans.
- Discuss and explore legislative developments and technological advancements as they relate to cybersecurity.
- Learn how to integrate project management skills to produce a cybersecurity solution.
- Develop skills in analyzing and evaluating multiple risk assessment methods and strategies.
- Learn how to evaluate the results of a security assessment into the status of a network or computer system.
The MS program also offers specializations in Ethical Hacking and Pen Testing, as well as Security Policy.
NU students also can participate in the University’s highly successful Cyber Competition Teams, that compete at events throughout California — often against 25 to 30 competition teams from other institutions.
According to Simpson, the bachelor’s degree program is in the process of also gaining status as an NSA Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education. NU recently opened up a scholarship program in partnership with the Department of Defense (DoD), which helps students meet the cost of attendance by providing scholarship assistance in return for a commitment to work for the DoD as a civilian for a period of time after graduation.
A program Advisory Board, comprised of experts within the cybersecurity industry, routinely examines NU’s curriculum as a way to ensure that students are at the leading edge of current topics and trends. And, Simpson says, the program as a whole is characterized by a tightly-knit community of teachers and learners.
“We have a lot of students who are working full-time, some are already working in the field, others are traditional college-age students, so there’s a really good mix,” Simpson says. “Our students work well together and we always see them helping each other out. One of our students hired one of his classmates after they graduated. They had worked together on a capstone project and it went really well, so he brought him on board at the company where he worked.”
“We also have had some of our adjunct faculty hire students they taught in the program after they graduated,” Simpson says. “Our adjunct faculty are actively working in the industry and bring a really valuable and current perspective to the classroom. So students know that what they’re learning is relevant to what’s happening in the world right now. And I do think it says something about the quality of our students and our programs when they’re hired right out of the gate by some of these leading experts in the field.”
NU has been empowering students in San Diego and throughout the country to achieve their academic and professional goals since 1971. With more than 180,000 alumni worldwide, our students join a proven legacy of success and gain a valuable, expansive network of professional connections.
Dedicated to the needs of adult learners, NU offers classes online or on-site at locations across California, allowing students to choose programs that works with their schedules and daily responsibilities.
“We’re focused on making sure students are as prepared as they can possibly be to step into that job within the cybersecurity field when they graduate,” Simpson says.