|Reviewed by Paul Bingham (CISSP, CPA, CFE), Vice President in the College of IT and Dean of Cybersecurity.|
You hear about it all the time: cybercriminals lurking on the web, waiting to steal your information or your money. You may think it sounds like some distant problem only involving hackers, but cybercrime can impact every person and every industry, every day. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) predict that cybercrime will cost the world $10.5 trillion by 2025 and that $445 billion is lost each year to cybercriminals. These criminals use attacks such as ransomware or phishing to prey on individuals or companies, looking for access to intellectual property, login credentials, credit card numbers, names, birthdays, government records, and other sensitive information. They may also take computers hostage and demand ransom payments for the computer to be released. Other cyberattacks involve getting users to download spy or spam software that will ruin their machine.
As technology evolves, threats change and multiply, making these criminals some of the most sophisticated and difficult to track. When you consider that global cybercrime is projected to grow 15% annually and reach $10.5 trillion by 2025, it’s no wonder that cybersecurity professionals are so sought after by companies and organizations across industries.
In 2022, CyberSeek estimated there were 1.1 million cybersecurity workers in the U.S., or only enough professionals to fill 65% of available jobs. As individuals explore careers in cybersecurity, prospective workers discover a path toward unlimited professional growth, a variety of technologies and situations to challenge them, and job security given the need for experts in the field.
Cybersecurity experts are like the detectives who hunt down cybercriminals and protect systems from them. Professionals in this field spend their careers devoted to developing and utilizing software that helps keep computer-based systems safe and secure. Every day is different for these cybersecurity professionals.
Cybersecurity is important work that makes a difference and offers professionals a fast-paced environment where change is constant. If you find cybersecurity intriguing, then this comprehensive guide will help you learn more about earning a degree and starting a career in this exciting field.
As in any profession, finding out what motivates an individual to pursue a career is important. If you’re looking for work with great job security or would like to use your problem-solving skills to help change the world, then a role in cybersecurity might be what you’re looking for. In a field with a variety of career choices, here are some of the common jobs in cybersecurity:
A cybersecurity analyst’s job is to keep an eye out for cyber threats, managing and configuring the tools that monitor network activity and analyzing the reports that come back to check for unusual behavior. Analysts identify network vulnerabilities in their organization through vulnerability scans, then apply security patches and software to increase protection. These professionals are key in helping an organization be aware of any cyber threats coming their way and working to strengthen their systems.
Penetration testers work to find the vulnerabilities and issues in an organization’s system before the cybercriminals do. They identify possible security breaches, then assist the company to utilize software or security systems to remove the vulnerability and keep their data safe. Penetration testers may work for an organization or may be hired as cybersecurity consultants to help an organization learn about their systems and where they can be improved.
Cybersecurity engineers create and update security systems to protect an organization against cyber threats. They need to be up-to-date on cybersecurity technology to make sure an organization has the best possible defense. They work closely with IT teams to put a plan in place in case of a cyberattack. Cybersecurity engineers are responsible for creating solutions to problems, increasing security options, implementing security policies for the organization, responding to cyber threats, and more.
Cybersecurity architects are responsible for building and maintaining the network security architecture of a company. Like a building architect, a cybersecurity architect holds a senior-level position and takes on the planning, designing, testing, implementing, and maintaining of an organization’s computer and network security infrastructure. They use vulnerability testing and risk assessments to identify threats and build security systems that meet the needs of businesses, government agencies, or organizations.
Security auditors design and manage audits for an organization. They review organizational security measures and information safeguards to ensure efficiency and security. A cybersecurity auditor conducts a comprehensive review of an organization’s IT infrastructure and ensures appropriate policies and procedures are in place and working effectively. The result of the cybersecurity auditor’s assessment acts as verification for management, vendors, and other stakeholders that the organization’s defenses against cybersecurity threats are adequate.
Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)
A CISO, or Chief Information Security Officer, is a senior executive whose entire job is to oversee the security team of their organization. They keep the other executives involved in the security needs of the company, they work with vendors, companies, and government agencies to discuss security options and strategies, they work with budgets and finances to keep the security team on track, and more. What a CISO does on a daily basis will largely depend on the size of their organization and what they specialize in.
In the cybersecurity field, it’s most common for professionals to work their way up the ladder. Many cybersecurity positions require three to five years of work experience. This may mean that professionals work in another IT field such as software programming or network operations for a time. This work experience can help them understand the inner workings of software systems in order to secure them.
Cybersecurity involves understanding how the back end of technological systems work and how they can be secured. Therefore, experience in programming languages, network operations, and software systems is vital to success. If you’re looking for a profession that is challenging and lucrative, then cybersecurity could be the perfect fit for you. Being an expert in cybersecurity involves understanding how to reduce cyberattack risks and preventing unauthorized access to systems, networks, and technologies, as well as a willingness to continue learning about technological advancement. For many professionals, this is exactly what makes cybersecurity exciting and worthwhile.
A combination of education and experience can give cybersecurity professionals the ability to explore a variety of career paths within this dynamic field. Industries such as healthcare, finance, manufacturing, and retail hire cybersecurity professionals, government to safeguard their information against cyber breaches. As a result, there is a high demand for specialists in this field. The right set of technical and workplace skills can allow individuals to land a job quickly and easily and take on a range of responsibilities, including:
- Control framework: A control framework is a data structure that organizes and categorizes an organization’s internal controls, which are practices and procedures established to create business value and minimize risk.
- Intrusion detection: An Intrusion Detection System (IDS) is a monitoring system that detects suspicious activities and generates alerts when they are detected. Based on these alerts, a security operations center (SOC) analyst or incident responder can investigate the issue and take the appropriate actions to remediate the threat.
- Network security control: A safeguard or countermeasure prescribed for an information system or an organization designed to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of its information and to meet a set of defined security requirements.
- Operating systems: An operating system (OS) is system software that manages computer hardware, software resources, and provides common services for computer programs.
- Incident response: Incident response is a term used to describe the process by which an organization handles a data breach or cyberattack, including the way the organization attempts to manage the consequences of the attack or breach (the “incident”). Typically, incident response is conducted by an organization’s computer incident response team (CIRT), also known as a cyber incident response team. CIRTs usually comprise security and general IT staff, along with members of the legal, human resources, and public relations departments.
- Cloud: Simply put, the cloud is the Internet. Specifically, it's all of the things you can access remotely over the Internet. Stored on servers accessed through the Internet instead of your computer’s.
- DevOps: DevOps is the combination of cultural philosophies, practices, and tools that increases an organization’s ability to deliver applications and services at high velocity: evolving and improving products at a faster pace than organizations using traditional software development and infrastructure management processes.
- Threat intelligence: Threat intelligence is data that is collected, processed, and analyzed to understand a threat actor’s motives, targets, and attack behaviors. Threat intelligence enables us to make faster, more informed, data-backed security decisions and change their behavior from reactive to proactive in the fight against threat actors.
- Regulatory compliance: Cybersecurity compliance means adhering to standards and regulatory requirements set forth by an agency, law, or authority group. Organizations must achieve compliance by establishing risk-based controls that protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability (CIA) of information.
- Risk management: Cybersecurity risk management is an ongoing process of identifying, analyzing, evaluating, and addressing an organization's cybersecurity threats. Cybersecurity risk management isn't simply the job of the security team. Rather, everyone in the organization has a role to play in ensuring the integrity of internal systems.
Like many IT professions, cybersecurity can be a lucrative career choice. Because the field is fairly specialized and the work is so important, it’s one of the highest paying career options in the IT field. And the salary levels rise in the field regularly. Cybersecurity professionals can expect to see competitive pay even in entry-level positions, anywhere in the country. The size of the organization where you work, your education level, and your experience in IT and cybersecurity all will directly impact how much you can earn. Some common jobs and average yearly salaries include:
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It’s important to understand the work environment and job outlook for cybersecurity professionals. The number of cybersecurity positions is expected to grow by 35% between 2021 and 2031, nearly five times faster than the national average for job growth. This is because cybersecurity is continually needed in every company and industry. Nearly every organization uses a website and software systems to store data and has computers and devices that their employees use. They need cybersecurity experts to fight off threats and strengthen their systems against attacks. In fact, there are more cybersecurity jobs available than qualified candidates. Across the US, there are nearly two job opportunities for every cybersecurity professional. This field is continually growing and evolving, meaning that there are more job options ahead.
93% of cybersecurity job postings state that candidates need at least a bachelor’s degree in order to qualify. A master’s degree can further help candidates stand out from the crowd and work in cybersecurity positions that have more of a leadership or managerial role and pay more.
Cybersecurity professionals can work directly for an organization, or they may work for a third-party cybersecurity agency that is hired out to do work for a company. Larger organizations will have their own security infrastructure in place to help keep their data and information safe, while smaller businesses may rely on hiring out cybersecurity teams to perform audits and consult on their safety.
Every industry, from businesses to government agencies; from school districts to healthcare, needs cybersecurity measures in place to help keep information safe. Cybersecurity professionals can work and specialize in virtually any industry setting imaginable, giving them many career opportunities and great job stability.
But how many hours do cybersecurity professionals work each week? Typically, 40-hour workweeks are normal for these professionals. However, cybersecurity employees sometimes work overnight or on weekends to set up security measures. They may need to drop everything at a moment’s notice if there is a security breach. Some cybersecurity professionals are “on call” on weekends or holidays to ensure there are no attacks made while everyone else is out of the office.
Cybersecurity professionals tend to enjoy high job satisfaction—their work is geared toward helping others which is extremely rewarding but is also exciting and challenging. This is why many cybersecurity professionals thoroughly enjoy their work and continue to climb up the ladder in the field.
Do you need a degree in cybersecurity? Where can you get a degree in cybersecurity? Is cybersecurity a good major? If you are thinking that this career could be a good fit for you, the next step is to figure out how to get there!
There are a few degree options you can pursue on your way to a career in cybersecurity. Some professionals opt for a computer science or software development degree. However, a degree or major in cybersecurity is typically the very best option.
A degree in cybersecurity focuses on the skills that will be valuable in your career. For example, WGU’s online bachelor’s degree uses real-world input from industry leaders to teach students about network architecture, data management, web and cloud security, information assurance, information systems, scripting and programming, and more. You can also pursue a career in cybersecurity with any relevant IT degree, including in computer science, network engineering, or software development.
A master’s degree in cybersecurity can be an ideal way to move into the information security space whether or not your bachelor’s is in cybersecurity. A master’s program will expand upon your existing IT knowledge to focus on the finer points of cybersecurity management and structure, digital forensics, and information assurance. WGU’s masters degree in cybersecurity and information assurance teaches classes such as digital forensics, cryptography, computer network and network security, along with cybersecurity management.
Roles that you can land with a master’s usually involve improving soft skills such as leadership, accountability, and stronger communication abilities. A degree in cybersecurity gives professionals opportunities to take on higher level roles and help to increase their earning potential within a highly competitive field.
A master’s degree is an ideal stepping stone for those interested in broadening their knowledge about cybersecurity and the IT fields. Additionally, a cybersecurity degree that offers industry certifications such as the programs at WGU helps increase career options and prepares students to gain experience in the field. WGU’s bachelors and master's degrees give IT professionals the ability to apply knowledge and experience in vulnerability management, risk management, incident response, and cyber defense to safeguard data.
Courses at WGU deliver proven methods for information security in the topics of penetration testing, network security, cloud security, scripting, intrusion detection, digital forensics, security operations, project management, cryptography, and Identity and Access Management (IAM) to prevent, detect, and mitigate cyberattacks. This program features nationally recognized, high demand certifications in the field of cybersecurity.
A cybersecurity degree offers the foundation needed to outsmart cybercriminals and gives students the tools to become professionals and the first line of defense for government and top organizations’ IT infrastructure.
Schools like WGU work to make a cybersecurity degree more attainable for students. While courses are still rigorous, WGU allows students to work at their own pace. Our competency-based education model means that if a course or subject is particularly difficult, you can slow down and really spend time learning it. Or, if you already have experience in an area or understand the material, you can move quickly through it.
This allows students to really understand and learn, ensuring that they can devote the time they need to more challenging topics. WGU also offers top faculty who help answer questions and make sure that students understand the material. Students are also able to take part in community outreach through programs such as the WGU Cybersecurity Student Club where individuals join club meetings for presentations on the tools, techniques, and procedures used by current cybersecurity experts.
Certifications are crucial in the IT industry as they demonstrate specific knowledge and understanding on certain programs or systems. They help demonstrate ongoing education, that you are up-to-date on industry trends, and show your ability to learn new programs as they arise. Certifications often go hand-in-hand with an online cybersecurity degree to show that you are well prepared and equipped for your future.
Some cybersecurity degree programs, like the online bachelor’s degree and master’s degree programs at WGU, let you earn top industry certifications while earning your degree. These industry certifications help boost your résumé before you even graduate and demonstrate your knowledge and experience in the cyber realm.
At no extra cost, WGU offers 15 certifications that you can earn as you work on your Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance degree. These certs include: at no extra cost!) including:
- Network Vulnerability Assessment Professional
- Network Security Professional
- Security Analytics Professional
- IT Operations Specialist
- Secure Infrastructure Specialist
- ITIL®*^ Foundation Certification
- LPI Linux Essentials
- Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP) – Associate of (ISC)² designation
- Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) – Associate of (ISC)² designation
For professionals interested in broadening their knowledge and learn new skills to apply to their professional lives, WGU also offers important industry certifications in the online master’s degree program (at no extra cost!) including:
- EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker
- EC-Council Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator (CHFI)
WGU coursework prepares students to take these exams as part of their degree program. Students don't have to pay for expensive certification preparation courses, for books, or for exams. Instead, all exam costs are included in their tuition making getting industry certifications simple and efficient.
Earning a cybersecurity degree will increase your opportunity for earning potential and open the door to high-paying job opportunities, give you stability in an in-demand market, and can set you up for a lucrative and exciting career. According to the Cybersecurity Guide, around 88% of cybersecurity job postings require at least a bachelor’s degree, so earning a degree in cybersecurity is an important place to start.
And at WGU, your ROI makes a degree absolutely worth the cost and time. WGU graduates on average see an $18,200 pay raise just two years after graduation.
An online degree can give you hands-on coursework that will prepare you for the rigors of protecting actual data and companies. It will help you learn about current cyber systems and prepare you to learn new ones as they are developed. It may even help prepare you to develop those new security systems yourself! An undergraduate or graduate degree program could be the difference-maker in your career, setting you apart and giving you credentials and skills to help you thrive.
So, is an online cybersecurity degree worth it? Absolutely! When you consider the salary opportunity and the career outlook of cybersecurity professionals, it seems obvious that a degree in cybersecurity will definitely be worth your time and effort.