The requirements for a career in information technology are pretty flexible. While a bachelor's degree in computer or information science is typical, lots of jobs are available without that diploma. Programming skills are easy to pick up as a hobby and there are industry-standard certifications, like Sun Certified Java Developer, that confirm qualifications.
When it comes to computer security, though, businesses don't want to take a chance on a hobbyist. Security breaches are too common, and the costs too high, to take the risk. While some undergraduate programs cover security threats and countermeasures, a graduate program is more likely to provide the specialized skills security engineers need. There are two types of programs: a graduate certificate or a master's degree.
Graduate Certificate in Computer Security
Certificate programs are short and focused. They are often intended for working professionals and don't take too long to complete. Some programs are online, making them even more convenient. This makes certificate programs a good choice for those who are already in the workforce and need additional qualifications for a more senior position.
Typically, these programs require 2-3 courses plus possibly several electives. They cover material like network security, intrusion detection software, and encryption. Electives are related to areas like mobile and Web threats or e-commerce security concerns. The material is generally entirely practical, with little attention to current research.
At some schools, the credits earned while studying for a certificate can be applied to the requirements for a master's degree, if the student later decides to complete that program.
Master's Degree in Computer Security
Students with master's degrees complete a longer, more in-depth course of study. While certificates typically require 12-18 credits, the degree programs require up to 36 credits. Students may have the chance to participate in research activities. Students may need to complete a thesis presenting original work in order to obtain the degree.
The program can take several years to complete. Studies cover a wide variety of cybersecurity topics, possibly including computer forensics, malware, and cryptography. Programs often offer exposure to real-world cybersecurity incidents.
At some institutions, it's possible to combine studying for a master's in computer security with studies for a second master's degree, such as business administration.