“For top talent, cybersecurity isn’t about just a job and a paycheck. It is about the hottest technology, deployed by honorable organizations, for a purpose that is inherently important. It is no surprise that Virginia is an ideal location for these types of people.”
-Jim Duffey, Virginia’s technology secretary (Los Angeles Times).
The District is just one of those places that is so obviously a hotbed for cybersecurity that you hardly need to mention it. The seat of federal government, home to the National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency, and, oh, yeah, the whole Department of Defense, D.C. is obviously one of the centers of global demand for top information security talent.
Even more obviously, those agencies are currently falling down on the job when it comes to cybersecurity. In 2015, the Office of Personnel Management announced two separate breaches that resulted in the combined loss of more than 26 million social security numbers, along with personal data including names, addresses, birth dates, and even fingerprints. It was one of the worst incidents of all time… but the hackers didn’t stop there, hitting the Postal Service in 2018 and FEMA in 2019.
Obviously, the feds need some cybersecurity assistance. And master’s-prepared security specialists are exactly who they need it from.
With an average annual income of $171,570 for information security analysts according to Robert Half, D.C. boasts one of the highest median salaries in the nation. Not only does the District offer high wages, but cybersecurity specialists in the area have the opportunity to work for agencies or companies known nationwide for their innovation and service, including the NSA, FBI, Fidelis, and Looking Glass. But don’t think you can just show up and get a position without the right qualifications; those salaries are high for a reason. Only the best can compete in the Washington D.C. cybersecurity market, and that usually means only those with a master’s degree in the field.
Earning a Master’s Degree or Certificate in Cybersecurity in Washington D.C.
The greater Washington D.C. area is home to National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated schools that offer cybersecurity master’s programs and post-bachelor certificates.
Jointly, the NSA and DHS offer designations for two classifications of schools that offer graduate programs in information security and cyber defense:
- 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)
In lieu of a master’s degree, cybersecurity professionals looking for advanced training may also pursue a post-bachelor’s certificate. At about half the course load of a master’s program, a certificate will focus on key concepts like Design and Analysis of Algorithms, Computer Architectures, Advanced Software Paradigms, Network Management and Security, and Risk Assessment and Mitigation.
Standard Admissions Requirements for Cybersecurity Master’s Programs
Cybersecurity master’s students need to be prepared with an excellent educational history, high GRE scores, and prior knowledge of basic programming languages and applied mathematics.
Minimum requirements include:
- Bachelor’s degree in a related discipline
- One year of calculus and one year of a mathematics course beyond calculus
- A course in data structures
- A course in Java, C++, or other programming language
- A course in computer networking or systems architecture
If the applicant has less than a 3.0 GPA in bachelor’s coursework, the school may require GRE scores as well. Admissions departments generally look for the following scores:
- Verbal score of 150 or higher
- Quantitative score of 155 or higher
- Analytical score of 650 or higher
Core Courses, Electives and Program Objectives
Core coursework for NSA and DHS designated programs will typically include:
- Ethics in Technology Management
- Managing Technology
- Systems Requirements
- Computer Forensics
- Databases and Database Algorithms
- Cyber Ethics and Policy
Elective topics may include:
- Information Assurance and Risk Assessment
- Cryptography and Network Security
- Cyber Threats and Vulnerabilities
- Intelligence Analysis for Information Security
- Perspectives in Addressing Cybersecurity Issues
With a thorough understanding of network security, cryptographic protocols, and relevant programming languages and operating systems, graduates of cybersecurity master’s programs will be prepared for the challenges of the field.
Graduates come out on the other side of these programs with the ability to architect secure systems, provide intrusion detection, and assure the security of IP and UDP communications.
NSA and DHS Designated Centers of Academic Excellence in Washington D.C.
The following schools in the District have met the rigorous criteria required to earn the NSA/DHS National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research (CAE-R) designation:
The George Washington University, College of Professional Studies
- Master of Science in Cybersecurity in Computer Science
- Computer Security and Information Assurance Graduate Certificate
Enrolling in a Cybersecurity Bootcamp in Washington, D.C. Or Online to Build Skills for a Master’s or to Prepare for a Career
Cybersecurity bootcamps offer a slightly different path to a master’s program or a career in cybersecurity.
These extremely regimented, highly-focused, and very practical classes are organized almost like a real military bootcamp. You don’t spend a lot of time on theory or philosophy; instead, your nose goes to the grindstone from day one to learn the real tools and techniques used in the field today
Typically lasting from a few days to a few weeks, you’ll find bootcamps out there in every infosec specialization and for students and professionals at every level of qualification and experience. Some are designed for mid-career professionals and demand advanced degrees and expertise, while others are open to anyone with a GED getting started in the field.
One of the entry-level options you’ll find in D.C. is the George Washington University Cybersecurity Boot Camp. Available on site or online, it’s a 24-week, part-time program that offers the fundamentals in cybersecurity without frills or distractions. You’ll receive instruction from experienced teachers in subjects like:
- Cyber Threat Intelligence
- Windows and Linux Hardening
- Security Operations and Analytics
- Burp Suite and Hashcat use
- Basic Python programming and Bash scripting
A career services team offers assistance in preparing your resume and project portfolio to enhance your chances at a direct hire right out of the program, but you can also use the expertise you acquire to boost your chances of getting into a competitive master’s program.
The critical Security+ exam is also in the cards with the knowledge you will have acquired.
Opportunities Available to Master’s-Prepared Cybersecurity Analysts and Specialists in Washington D.C.
Washington D.C. is arguably the best location in the entire nation for cybersecurity professionals seeking employment. Not only does DC offer some of the highest salaries for cybersecurity specialists in the nation, but it is home to some of the country’s most innovative tech and cybersecurity firms, and a slew of cybersecurity government task forces. In fact, according to Cyberseek, the District itself has almost as many job openings in the field, at over 16,000, as some entire U.S. states. And the metro area, encompassing Arlington and Alexandria, has more than 64,000 openings as of 2020.
The following job listings are not meant to represent any guarantees of employment. They are shown to represent the kinds of opportunities that may be available to cybersecurity specialists and analysts in the state, and don’t constitute a job offer or promise of employment.
Computer Systems Security Analyst with Northrop Grumman
- Bachelor’s degree required; master’s preferred
- Eight years’ experience performing security assessments
- Develop and coordinate documentation of security processes
- Support the control, reporting and monitoring processes
- Develop and document a plan of action
- Prepare for the tri-annual security assessment and authorization
- Review existing documentation regarding trends in threats
Information Systems Security Officer at Defense Point Security
- Bachelor’s required; master’s preferred
- Use Federal certification and accreditation processes to research and document information security controls
- Analyze and advise on the risk and remediation of security issues
- Track the patching and remediation of security weaknesses
- Review event logs and conduct security document reviews
Information Assurance Specialist at Compnet Federal Solutions
- Bachelor’s degree in a cybersecurity-related discipline at minimum; master’s preferred
- Plan, coordinate, and implement information security strategies
- Help agencies identify current security structure and implement new systems
- Gather IT information about clients and perform risk analysis