“We need all the young people coming up. We need those guys who are maybe not so staid in the bureaucratic approach to things. We need the young kids who can think outside the box a little bit and can look for these new white hat approaches to doing the attacks so we can protect against them and so we’ll know how to do it effectively,”
– Steve Tanner, a senior research scientist at University of Alabama Huntsville, commenting on who should be entering cybersecurity master’s programs (Alabama Media Group, 2010).
Alabama’s workforce is eager for highly educated information security professionals. Over the past decade, several large U.S. corporations have been hacked, compromising sensitive data and affecting millions of Americans. These security breaches affected large health care companies such as Anthem and BlueCross Blue Shield. Other well-known companies that have experienced similar attacks in the past several years include Sony, Home Depot, EBay, and Target. To combat the increase of cyberattacks and malware in recent years, there’s also been an increase in companies hiring qualified professionals to minimize the threats.
Here’s a quick look at what’s been going on in Alabama:
- According to the Alabama Department of Commerce, the cybersecurity field has experienced a 73% job growth rate from 2007 to 2013, which is twice the rate of all other IT jobs in the state combined
- The second largest research park in the US is located in Huntsville, employing cybersecurity experts to tackle the largest vulnerabilities in the state
In the wake of massive security breaches, the cybersecurity field is in desperate need of professionals who have been trained to protect sensitive information from hackers. A 2014 survey on information security jobs conducted by SANS revealed that only 30% of respondents held a master’s degree.
IT firm Davidson Technologies is among many companies headquartered in Alabama that employ teams of cybersecurity professionals to help clients perform risk assessment, content filtering, and countermeasures to viable threats. Birmingham based Malcovery Security serves clients that include big names like Facebook, Visa, IBM, and LinkedIn. Cybersecurity professionals in Alabama also have the opportunity to work for small start-ups, government offices, or as in-house IT security analysts for top companies with a presence in the state.
Earning a Master’s Degree or Certificate in Cybersecurity in Alabama
Alabama is home to a number of schools designated by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as Centers of Academic Excellence.
NSA/DHS designated online programs provide the flexibility necessary to fit the schedules of working professionals and offer a greater diversity of programs to choose from.
Cybersecurity programs generally consist of 30 credits, made up of 15 core credits and 15 electives. These programs can be completed in 15 months.
Some schools also offer post-bachelor’s certificates, which generally consist of 15 credit hours covering the following topics:
- Network Management and Security
- Foundations of Information Security and Assurance
- Computer and Cyber Forensics
- Information Security Management
- Crisis, Disaster, and Risk Management
- Web Security and Privacy
A post-bachelor’s certificate offers individuals the chance to learn about new software and programming languages in order to sharpen their current skills.
Admissions Requirements for Cybersecurity Master’s Programs in Alabama
Cybersecurity master’s programs often set selective admissions requirements for potential students. Most programs will require students to maintain at least a 3.0 GPA during the program. While individual program requirements may vary, most schools will require students to possess:
- A bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as computer science, engineering, or information security
- GRE verbal score of 150 or higher
- GRE quantitative score of 155 or higher
- GRE analytical score of 650 or higher
- GPA from prior education at 3.0 or higher
In some cases, entrance exam requirements are waived for those with a 3.0 or higher in undergraduate studies.
Potential cybersecurity graduate students must possess a broad base of knowledge, including programming languages, database fundamentals, and systems expertise. The following coursework and skills are required:
- Basic systems knowledge, fundamentals of traps, interrupts, and trap handling
- Knowledge of concurrency, coordination mechanisms, access-control matrices, access-control lists
- Systems programming basics, data structures, discrete mathematics, and programming experience
- One year of calculus
- One mathematics course beyond calculus (e.g., discrete mathematics, linear algebra, or differential equations)
- Programming course using Java or C++
- A course in data structures
- Course in computer organization. (Undergraduate courses are offered to satisfy the computer science and mathematics beyond calculus requirements.)
Core Courses and Common Electives
Core Courses will cover the following topics:
- Building Assured Components
- Principles of Operating Systems
- Computer Security
- Internet Security
- Assurance Foundations
- Design and Analysis of Algorithms
Electives may include the following courses:
- Fundamentals of Data and Knowledge Mining
- Advanced Computer Architecture
- Machine Learning
- Malware Analysis
- Global Information Technology
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NSA and DHS Designated Research and Education Institutions in Alabama
The National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security offer designations specific to two classifications of schools that offer graduate programs in information security:
CAE-CDE- National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (qualifying colleges and universities offering bachelor’s, master’s, and graduate certificates)
CAE-R – National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research (schools that participate in research initiatives and that integrate a strong research component into the curriculum of bachelor’s and graduate programs.
As of 2018, the following schools have met the rigorous criteria required to earn the NSA/DHS National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (CAE-CDE) designation for their master’s programs:
Jacksonville State University, Center for Information Assurance and Security
The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Computer Forensics and Security Management (Also holds the NSA/DHS National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research (CAE-R) designation.)
University of Alabama, Huntsville, Center for Cybersecurity Research and Education
University of South Alabama, School of Computing
Additionally, the following school holds the NSA/DHS Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research (CAE-R) designation:
Auburn University, Auburn Research Center
The University of Alabama (Huntsville), Cyber Institute
- Master of Science in Computer Science (Cyber Institute offers cyber security-related graduate courses.)
Opportunities Available to Master’s-Prepared Cybersecurity Analysts and Specialists in Alabama
Graduates of cybersecurity master’s programs will be prepared to identify vulnerabilities in existing systems, architect new systems, develop countermeasures to decrease risk, and develop secure systems.
In Alabama, cybersecurity professionals have the opportunity to work for large, national corporations, IT consultation firms, private security contractors, or government offices, among many others. The BLS has recorded that information security analysts in Alabama earn an average annual salary of $93,250, with a higher earning potential for professionals with master’s degrees.
The following opportunities, sourced in May 2016, represent the types of employment opportunities available to master’s-prepared cybersecurity professionals in Alabama. These job vacancy announcements are shown for illustrative purposes only and are not meant to provide an assurance of employment.
Cyber Engineer/Analyst with Davidson Technologies, Inc. in Huntsville
- Cybersecurity training (bachelor’s/master’s degree or certificate)
- 5 or more years of experience in a related position
- Secret clearance required
- Managing disaster recovery and continuity of operations
- Managing incident response and data flow
- Providing information assurance, software inventory, and communication with clients
Cyber Security Analyst with Deloitte & Touche LLP in Huntsville
- 4-10 years of experience in cyber security domains
- Networking with other cyber security engineers to perform large-scale data analytics
- Performing secure coding and vulnerability identification
Cyber Security Network Engineer at Kemtah in Huntsville
- Bachelor’s degree or higher in computer Science, engineering, or related field
- Six years of experience in a related position
- Administering and maintaining security systems using RSA security, Palo Alto Firewalls, HP Tipping Point, Gigaman, RedSeal, SolarWinds, and other systems
- Architecting new security tools for company databases
- Training other members of the cyber security team
Cyber Security Trainer at COLSA Corporation in Huntsville
- Bachelor’s degree in relevant field (computer science, computer engineering, information security) required, advanced degree preferred
- Minimum of 10 years of related experience
- Top Secret security clearance required
- Training a team of cyber security professionals
- Collaborating with cyber engineers to maintain security systems