Cyber Security Curriculum: What You’ll Learn [And Why]

Cyber Security Curriculum: What You’ll Learn [And Why]
You'll study everything from network and hardware protection to cyber law and personnel management in a cyber security program. Image from Unsplash
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella February 16, 2021

As the need for cyber security increases, jobs and educational opportunities in the field grow. If you're thinking of pursuing a cyber security degree, here's a rundown of what you'll likely study.

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As computer crimes like the Sunburst hack become more common, the need for effective defenses and countermeasures increases. That need is unlikely to be met any time soon. The number of unfilled cyber security jobs is currently in the millions, and by many accounts, it’s growing.

With high salaries and very low unemployment rate, cyber security is one of the most appealing career options available today. Now is an excellent time to earn a degree in the field.

There is, of course, a catch. Effectively confronting online security issues requires expertise. It’s a complex subject to master. That’s one reason there’s a shortage of cyber security professionals.

Cyber security is a computer science specialization, a notoriously challenging field. Students who undertake an comp sci degree program don’t always finish. Understanding what you’ll learn in a cyber security curriculum—on a bachelor’s and graduate-level—can help you gauge whether this career path is right for you.

This article explores these questions by discussing:

  • Who typically gets a cyber security degree?
  • What will you learn in a cyber security program? [cyber security curriculum]
  • Best cyber security master’s programs
  • Best online cyber security master’s programs

Who typically gets a cyber security degree?

This article focuses on cyber security bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but those aren’t the only degrees in the field you can pursue. You could advance to a PhD, a terminal degree typically required for research and postsecondary teaching positions. Certificate programs are also available.

While not as common as cyber security master’s programs, excellent undergraduate cyber security degrees do exist and can lead to great job opportunities. Top bachelor’s programs typically look for students with an existing foundation—especially in advanced math and programming. Extracurricular experience in a club like FIRST Robotics can be helpful.

The typical master’s program student has two or three years of experience in cyber security or a related computer science field such as information technology. Completing a cyber security master’s is an excellent way to continue your previous education, or—for those with a general computer science background—specialize.

Earning a master’s degree typically leads to better jobs than a bachelor’s. This path can be challenging, though, both academically and financially. Still, if you’re serious about a long-term career in cyber security, you will likely find that the benefits of a master’s degree far outweigh the drawbacks.

Cyber security professionals can work for private companies or government agencies like:

Cyber security bachelor’s degree

Common early career cyber security jobs include:

According to PayScale, the average annual salary for someone with a bachelor’s in computer science is around $76,000.

Cyber security master’s degree

Top jobs that a master’s in cyber security qualify you for include:

  • Cyber security consultant
  • Cyber security director
  • Information security officer
  • Software security engineer

According to PayScale, the average salary for those with a master’s in cyber security is slightly under $93,000. However, top-paying jobs can easily supersede that average; for example, IT security architects typically earn over $140,000.


“I’m ready for a degree!”

University and Program Name Learn More

What will you learn in a cyber security program? [cyber security curriculum]

Cyber security programs help students develop and refine protection and response methodologies. Graduate programs can allow students to specialize in an area of cyber security, such as digital forensics.

The following hypothetical curriculum utilizes course titles from the University of Tulsa Master of Science in Cyber Security. It’s fairly typical of cyber security curricula. Most programs also require students to complete either a capstone or thesis project.

Sample job titles in this section were primarily identified on Indeed and may require skills beyond those discussed here.

Defensive Cyber Security Technologies

To mitigate risk, cyber security students learn about defensive technologies and strategies, such as:

  • Backup disaster recovery
  • Encryption
  • Network diversification and VPNs
  • Risk profiling
  • Two-factor authentication

Understanding defensive technology is integral to working in the field of cyber security. Jobs include:

  • Cyber defense manager
  • Incident responder
  • Information system security professional

Information Systems Assurance

Information assurance is the process of mitigating data risk; it’s one of cyber security’s main focuses.

Information assurance essentially translates to data protection. It’s useful in jobs like

  • Information assurance engineer
  • Information security manager
  • Systems engineer

Those who are especially interested in the subject may want to research a master’s in information systems.

System Security and Cryptography

System security, unsurprisingly, involves keeping systems (and the data they house) secure. Working in this field involves the knowledge and skills to navigate technical, legal and societal hurdles. Cryptography ensures secure information transmission. Both subjects revolve around privacy and are essential to preventing cyber threats.

Jobs requiring cryptography and security knowledge include:

  • Blockchain software engineer
  • Information assurance engineer
  • Security engineer

Security Audit and Penetration Testing

It’s essential to monitor and evaluate defense systems continuously with methods like security auditing and penetration testing. These functions can help anticipate attacks and make sure the system works. Ethical hacking is another term for the process.

Jobs that involve ethical hacking include:

  • Application security engineer
  • Software reverse engineer
  • Penetration tester

Cybersecurity Law and Policy

Cyber security law is an important and murky part of the industry. Major questions persist, e.g., should tech companies be allowed to sell user data? In Europe, the right to be forgotten case has impacted the entire field of computer science. Cyber security professionals need knowledge of laws regarding privacy and fighting attacks.

An understanding of cyber law can be helpful in several careers, but common professions include:

  • Attorney
  • Lecturer
  • Director of incident response

These jobs may require education outside the cyber security field.

Network Security Concepts and Applications

VPNs, packet switching, and network architecture are significant aspects of network security. Understanding this field is essential for practically every cyber security job.

Relevant jobs include:

  • Cyber defense analyst
  • Information security engineer
  • Network security analyst

Secure System Administration

System administration is the process that keeps companies running. Modern system administrators commonly work in cloud computing, making security a premium.

Jobs that require systems security knowledge include:

  • Cybersecurity engineer
  • Information system security professional
  • Systems engineer

Hardware Security

Hardware security, which involves making the hardware of a device difficult to attack, is becoming increasingly important, even though it seems like everything is in the cloud. Examples include tamper pins, crypto acceleration, and memory encryption. Cyber security jobs frequently require hardware and software security knowledge.

Graduate students are more likely to complete coursework in hardware security than undergraduates. Even then, it’s not always listed as a course. If you really want to focus on the subject, earning a postgraduate certificate or engaging in self-learning may be the way to go. University of Florida offers a Hardware and System Security Certificate designed for graduate students, which requires a bachelor’s in a degree like electrical or computer engineering. It’s also a common research subject, at institutions like the Carnegie Mellon University CyLab.

Jobs that may require a hardware security background include:

  • Principal cyber security engineer
  • Cybersecurity research engineer
  • Offensive hardware security researcher

Organizational Cyber Security

Everybody has to take steps to ensure cyber security, not just those who design and maintain operating systems. Having a password is of little use if it’s just “passw00rd.” Cyber professionals who can communicate the importance of security to non-computer oriented people are valuable.

Relevant jobs may include:

  • Cyber risk analyst
  • Cyber security consultant
  • Director of security compliance

Best cyber security master’s programs

Top master’s in cyber security programs include:

Remember, there’s no such thing as “the best” cyber security school. Much of where you go depends on personal fit.

Best online cyber security master’s programs

Top schools with online programs include:

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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Categorized as: CybersecurityInformation Technology & Engineering