Cybersecurity

Cyber Security vs. Information Security Master’s Degrees [What’s the Difference?]

Cyber Security vs. Information Security Master’s Degrees [What’s the Difference?]
Many schools, professionals, and employers use the terms cyber security and infosec—as well as network security, information assurance, and IT security—interchangeably. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry February 9, 2021

The difference between cyber security and information security—not to mention network security, information assurance, and IT security—is anything but clear. This guide looks at how they differ and what those differences might mean to your future.

Cybersecurity and I.T. Degree Programs You Should Consider

Advertisement
Article continues here

The nine-month-long Sunburst hack of 2020 opened many people’s eyes to the severity of modern cyber threats. The incident cost each impacted institute an average of $12 million (for-profit companies lost, on average, 11 percent of their revenues), according to an IronNet report. The hack also impacted the Pentagon, US Treasury, Department of Homeland Security, and other federal agencies. SolarWinds, the company that markets Sunburst, reported spending nearly $20 million on remediation in the first quarter of 2021 alone. It was a costly failure, to put it mildly.

Large-scale attacks like Sunburst reveal our vulnerability at the individual and state level. With a few keystrokes, determined enemy agents, organizations, and nations can infiltrate and command the computer systems and infrastructure powering our lives.

The good news is there’s an entire class of professionals responsible for identifying, preventing, and—if all else fails—responding to cyber threats. You can become one of them: a bachelor’s degree in computer science or cyber security is all you need to launch a career in this field. A master’s degree can help you advance more quickly and earn more money.

The Master of Science in Cyber Security is the obvious choice, but it’s not the only choice. You can also pursue a graduate degree in information security, or infosec. Some schools lump cyber security and infosec together and call it information assurance. Other programs treat information security as a subdomain of cyber security. The field just isn’t old enough for standardized degree naming conventions to have evolved, making it hard to choose between academic pathways.

In this article, we examine cyber security vs. information security master’s degrees. We discuss the difference as we cover the following:

  • What’s the difference between cyber security and information security?
  • Cyber security vs. information security: curriculum
  • Cyber security vs. information security: specializations
  • Cyber security vs. information security: how long does it take?
  • Cyber security vs. information security: top programs
  • Cyber security vs. information security: cost
  • Cyber security vs. information security: job outlook
  • Cyber security vs. information security: career paths and earning potential
  • Master’s in cyber security vs. master’s in information security: which is for you?

What’s the difference between cyber security and information security?

Answering this question conclusively is impossible. Many schools, professionals, and employers use the terms cyber security and infosec—as well as network security, information assurance, and IT security—interchangeably. Some sources treat cyber security as a subset of information security. Others do the opposite.

“That is how my career has rolled out,” writes one Reddit commenter on a thread about the potential differences between these disciplines. “I have a degree in information assurance, that is now renamed information security, and I’m studying for a graduate degree in cyber security from the same university, several years later. My jobs have had ‘information security’ something or other in the title, and I’ve seen the same jobs with different companies be ‘cyber engineer,’ or something similar.”

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, cyber security is concerned with the ability to protect or defend the use of cyberspace from cyber attacks, while information security is concerned with the “protection of information and information systems from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, or destruction to provide confidentiality, integrity, and availability.”

The difference comes down to opinion. Other sources say:

  • Cyber security is all about protecting sensitive information stored digitally while information security (or data security) encompasses digital and analog data.
  • Cyber security professionals protect hardware and networks using tools like firewalls, while information security professionals work with confidential information and protect against threats like phishing and ransomware.
  • Information security is a discipline focused on digital information (policy, storage, access, etc.) while cyber security is synonymous with network security and the fight against malware.
  • Cyber security deals with high-level threats and cyber war while infosec deals with threats to businesses’ critical data.
  • Information security is the professional term experts use while cyber security is a buzzword mostly used by hiring managers.
  • Cyber security is the more technical discipline (or more like comp sci) whereas information security is business-focused and mainly about risk management.
Advertisement

“I’m ready for a degree!”

University and Program Name Learn More

Cyber security vs. information security: curriculum

First, let’s look at degree titles. The Master of Science in Cyber Security is just one possible degree of many. You might also pursue a:

  • Master of Science in Applied Information Technology with a cyber security concentration
  • Master of Science in Computer Engineering with a cyber security concentration
  • Master of Science in Computer Science with a cyber security concentration
  • Master of Science in Cyber Security Engineering
  • Master of Science in Cyber Security Management
  • Master of Science in Cyber Security Operations and Leadership
  • Master of Science in Technology, Cyber Security and Policy

Meanwhile, on the infosec side, there is the Master of Science in Information Security along with the:

  • Master of Science in Cyber Security with an information security concentration
  • Master of Science in Information Assurance
  • Master of Science in Information Security and Assurance
  • Master of Science in Information Security Engineering
  • Master of Science in Security Informatics
  • Master of Science in Information Systems and Security Management
  • Master of Science in Information Technology with an information assurance concentration

Some colleges and universities don’t distinguish between these academic pathways. They combine them into programs granting degrees like the:

  • Master of Information Security and Cybersecurity
  • Master of Science in Computer Information Systems and Cyber Security
  • Master of Science in Information Assurance and Cyber Security

Be aware course lists differ more from school to school than from program to program. There are highly technical infosec master’s programs and business-focused cyber security programs, and vice versa.

Overview of a typical master’s in cyber security curriculum

Cyber security degree programs, as University of Tulsa puts it in its online master’s in cyber security program guide, consist of classes designed to prepare students to “master the theory, concepts and techniques of information assurance and network defense in real-world environments.”

Core courses and elective courses in UT’s program include:

  • Cyber Security Law and Policy
  • Defensive Cyber Security Technologies
  • Foundations of Cyber Security
  • Hardware Security
  • Information Systems Assurance
  • Network Security Concepts and Applications
  • Organizational Cyber Security
  • Secure Systems Administration
  • Security Audit and Penetration Testing
  • Systems Security and Cryptography

Overview of a typical master’s in information security curriculum

The master’s in information security, according to Carnegie Mellon University, prepares students to “manage the emerging complexities associated with securing data, networks, and systems”—which sounds a lot like cyber security.

Core courses and elective options in the school’s Master of Science in Information Security program include:

  • Advanced Real-World Data Networks
  • Applied Cryptography
  • Cyber Risk Modeling
  • Fundamentals of Telecommunications and Computer Networks
  • Host-Based Forensics
  • Introduction to Embedded Systems
  • Distributed Systems: Techniques, Infrastructure, and Services
  • Mobile & IoT Security
  • Network Security
  • Operating System Design and Implementation
  • Packet Switching and Computer Networks
  • Secure Coding
  • Storage Systems

Cyber security vs. information security: specializations

Very few cybersec or infosec master’s programs include concentration tracks. Cyber security programs are more likely to offer them, in which case students may choose from among concentrations like:

  • Cyber Crime Investigation
  • Cyber Security Policy
  • Digital Forensics
  • Energy Systems
  • Information Technology
  • Network Security
  • Systems Security

It’s unlikely you’ll find a master of information security program with specializations. Infosec is more likely to be a specialization in computer science, information technology, and MBA programs.

Cyber security vs. information security: how long does it take?

Master’s programs across disciplines typically take two years of full-time study to complete—where ‘full-time study’ means taking a full graduate course load (usually three courses per semester). Part-time programs can take up to five years. There are some accelerated cyber security and infosec master’s programs that last just one year, but most are part of 4+1 degree programs that bundle a bachelor’s and a master’s.

Overview of how long it takes to earn a master’s in cyber security

Most highly ranked on-campus and online master’s in cyber security programs take two years to complete. If your goal is to graduate as quickly as possible, check out the accelerated programs at:

Overview of how long it takes to earn a master’s in information security

Like cybersec programs, information security master’s programs usually require that students complete 30-to-50 credit hours of work to be eligible for graduation, and most programs are designed to last two years. You can graduate more quickly from the 4+1 program at George Mason University.

Cyber security vs. information security: top programs

What sets the top master’s programs apart is the same whether you’re looking at cybersec or infosec degrees:

  • They’re competitive with tough prerequisites
  • They offer ample opportunities for hands-on experience in real-world settings
  • The faculty consists of industry authorities, and guest lecturers are notable experts
  • They are typically offered by institutions with valuable connections to government agencies and security firms, so students have access to high-value internships that lead to lucrative post-graduation placements

Overview of the top master’s in cyber security programs

Cyber security schools with top master’s in cyber security programs include:

Overview of the top information security master’s programs

These schools host excellent information security master’s programs:

Cyber security vs. information security: cost

You might not need a master’s to work in cyber security or information assurance, but having one can open doors and increase your earning potential. Think of tuition as an investment.

Overview of how much a master’s in cyber security will cost

You’ll probably pay between $20,000 for affordable cyber security master’s programs and $50,000 for more expensive ones. In either case, it’s an investment that pays off. Most bachelor’s degree holders earn about $76,000 while master’s degree holders can earn $93,000 or more.

Overview of how much a master’s in information security will cost

The average cost of a master’s in information security is about $30,000. The least expensive programs cost between $10,000 and $20,000, and tuition for the most expensive programs is over $80,000. You’ll get an even bigger salary boost with this degree, though. Infosec bachelor’s holders earn about $78,000 while master’s degree holders earn about $102,000.

Cyber security vs. information security: job outlook

According to the (ISC)2, the cyber and information security workforce gap will hit 3.4 million in 2023. Enroll in a program now, and you’ll graduate into a sellers’ market with plenty of computer security jobs in private industry and the government. Be aware, however, that technologies like artificial intelligence and automation may change the hardware, software, and data protection landscapes in the future.

Cyber security job outlook

There’s a notable shortage of qualified cyber security professionals, and demand is likely to go up as more businesses digitize and automate their operations. There isn’t zero percent unemployment in the field anymore, but “if you know cyber security, then you have a job for life,” as Herjavec Group CEO Robert Herjavec put it in one interview.

Information security job outlook

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t track employment data for infosec as a field, but it does track job growth in information security analysis. Positions for infosec analysts will be created much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the BLS, with average salaries abovve $100,000.

Cyber security vs. information security: career paths and earning potential

Data suggests you’ll earn close to $10,000 more with an information security master’s than you will with a cyber security master’s, but salaries are more closely tied to job titles than to degrees.

Overview of jobs with a master’s in cyber security and salary with a master’s in cyber security

Common titles associated with cyber security jobs include:

Overview of jobs with a master’s in information security and salary with a master’s in information security

Common roles in information security include:

Keep in mind that the above titles aren’t degree-specific. Either degree can help you advance into most data security and system security roles.

Master’s in cyber security vs. master’s in information security: which is for you?

As more data goes digital, more of it moves to the cloud, and more businesses embrace automation, cyber criminals will find new weaknesses to exploit. You can do your part to keep the bad guys at bay with either degree. Both can lead to cyber security careers and infosec careers.

Is a master’s in cyber security worth it?

There’s no downside to having a cyber security master’s on your resume, and it may not be long before this discipline sees an influx of professionals with advanced degrees and the master’s becomes the entry-level degree in the field. Until then, a cyber security master’s can help you stand out when job hunting and negotiate for better benefits packages when you receive offers.

Is a master’s in information security worth it?

The infosec talent gap is real. Based on salary data, employers may value information security expertise over cyber security skills. Organizations collect, store, and look for insights in massive amounts of sensitive data, and that data has to be secured. Big paychecks and job security are the norms in this discipline.

However, the bottom line is both degrees are worth it because employers tend not to differentiate between them—and that means you are free to choose whichever cybersec or infosec program seems to be the best fit.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

How useful is this page?

Click on a star to rate it!

Since you found this page useful...mind sharing it?

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

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.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


Share

You May Also Like To Read


Categorized as: CybersecurityInformation TechnologyInformation Technology & Engineering