Studying Computer Security: Degrees at a Glance
Computer security focuses on how to keep information secure and prevent intrusions from outside sources, such as hackers or viruses. Training in computer security can be useful for a career in government, law enforcement, e-commerce or information technology. An associate's degree in computer security could lead to a career working as a network, Internet or security administrator. Jobs you may qualify for with a bachelor's degree include information security analyst, network security engineer, information security specialist and security researcher.
Studies in computer security should lead to solid job prospects; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that network and computer administrators would experience a 28% increase in jobs from 2010-2020, which was faster than the average of all occupations. Information security analysts were expected to see high demand from 2010-2020, according to the BLS. The need for technicians who have skills in computer security should remain high due to an increasing number of cyber attacks.
|Who is this degree for?||Individuals seeking entry-level network and computer security positions||People looking for a mid-level information security or analysis career|
|Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary)|| - Network administrator ($71,000)*|
- Computer support specialist ($48,000)*
| - Systems/application security analyst ($84,000)**|
- Information technology auditor ($53,000)**
- Information security director ($142,000 - with seven years of experience)**
|Time to Completion||two years, full-time||four years, full-time|
|Common Graduation Requirements|| - About 2-3 courses in computer basics|
- Approximately 5-10 courses covering computer security concepts
| - Roughly 2-3 math courses|
- About 2-3 introductory computer courses
- Approximately 15-20 courses covering computer security and information technology topics
- Internship or research project
|Prerequisites||High school diploma or equivalent||High school diploma or equivalent|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Salary.com (2012 figures).
Associate's Degrees in Computer Security
An associate's degree program focused on computer security is designed to teach you how to protect computers and networks from external threats and keep confidential information protected. You'll typically learn about basic computer concepts at the beginning of the program, followed by advanced topics in computer forensics and networking security. Each program may place an emphasis on a different type of computer security, so you may end up taking a few business courses at some schools or criminal justice courses at others. Several programs prepare you to take certification exams. Keep in mind that you might need to purchase a computer that meets certain specifications.
Pros and Cons
- Can prepare you to take certification exams
- Courses may count towards a bachelor's degree program if you wish to continue your education
- Earning an associate's degree may give you an advantage over other job candidates who may only have some postsecondary security training or certification
- Bachelor's degree holders may be preferred by employers
- Generally doesn't cover advanced security concepts that may be important for information security careers
- Strict focus on computer and networking security concepts doesn't give you much of an opportunity to learn skills in other areas of information technology
Courses and Requirements
Most programs begin with some fundamental computer courses, such as computer basics, information systems and network essentials. As the program progresses, you may have the opportunity to take courses like:
- Network defense
- Computer forensics
- Network security
- Business networking
- Disaster recovery
A capstone or practicum may also be required, but this varies between programs.
This associate's degree program can be completed entirely online. Your course options are equivalent to what you'd find in an on-campus program, so you don't have to be concerned about missing out on any learning if you opt for a distance learning program. Some schools may also offer hybrid programs that allow you to take courses on-campus and online.
Getting Ahead with This Degree
Since you'll likely be competing with bachelor's degree holders for jobs, it can be important to find ways to stand out in the field of computer security. Obtaining certification can show employers that you have a particular set of skills or specific technical knowledge. There are certifications for all kinds of specialties and professionals of all skill levels. If you're looking for a general security certification that can be useful for a wide range of jobs, you may want to check out the Security+ designation offered by CompTIA. Although you can take the certification exam whenever you feel you're ready, it is recommended that you have about two years of networking security experience.
Bachelor's Degree in Computer Security
Computer security studies at the bachelor's level can be found as a standalone program or as a concentration within a computer science or information systems program. Similar to some associate's degree programs, bachelor's degree programs may also include some courses covering criminal justice or investigation techniques. Most of the bachelor's degree program is based on coursework, but you may have internship or research opportunities as well. Advanced security jobs may prefer that applicants have a master's degree.
Pros and Cons
- Jobs that generally require bachelor's degrees were expected to see high demand (information security analysts were projected to see job growth of 22% from 2010-2020)*
- Bachelor's degree is typically required to become an information security analyst or an information security director
- Employers typically prefer to hire bachelor's degree holders for information technology positions that don't necessarily require a degree
- Advanced security careers may require a master's degree
- Some of the higher paying positions may require significant experience, so you may be stuck with an entry-level position that doesn't require a bachelor's degree for a while
- Skills taught in the program are fairly narrow and not easily transferred to other careers in information technology
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Common Courses and Requirements
Bachelor's degree programs typically begin with general education coursework and foundational courses in math and science. You'll probably take some basic computer courses that cover topics like programming, information systems and data structures. Courses covering computer security topics may include:
- Web programming security
- Software security
- Network security
- Computer forensics
- Security engineering
The latter part of your program may require you to complete an internship or research project. Internships are considered electives at some schools, so you might have some flexibility in choosing how you want to shape your course plan.
This bachelor's degree program is available in a distance learning format. Schools may also offer a hybrid or weekend course format, giving working professionals a chance to pursue a bachelor's degree without having to leave their job. Online programs are basically identical to on-campus ones and can prepare you to pursue various certifications after you graduate. You'll still be able to complete a research project in an online program. Even though this type of program is readily available over the Internet, you may still want to ensure that any schools you're considering are accredited from an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
Standing Out with This Degree
In order to get ahead of other computer security professionals who have attained a similar education level, you may want to consider becoming certified. For example, ISACA offers the Certified Information Security Manager designation to professionals who pass the exam and meet the work experience requirements. This certification was developed for information security consultants and information security managers. Another option you may want to consider is the Chief Information Security Officer credential offered by the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants. This designation can show employers that you have skills in information security management, strategic planning and auditing management.