With the Illinois tech industry job market seeing a gain of 10.5% in the seven-year run-up to 2019 according to CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm, the industry is paying out some hefty salaries in the bid for top talent. With the demand for skilled infosec professionals far outstripping supply, this is especially true for anyone with an advanced degree in cybersecurity.
In 2020, Chicago had nearly 33,000 people employed in cybersecurity roles according to Cyberseek, an industry data and job tracking tool administered by NIST.
But as a regional center for education and innovation, the state has more to talk about than just what’s going on in Chicago. Illinois State University in Normal is home to the Center for Information Assurance and Security Education, a resource for students and professionals alike.
Education is a big factor in the success of individuals and security firms, and it starts both early and state-wide in Illinois. In 2020, the state was well-represented in the national championship for the Girls Go CyberStart program, with 45 participants from across the state advancing to the finals. Cultivating teamwork and technical skills, these are the kinds of efforts that lead to careers in some of the highest-paying technology positions in the state.
With that experience to draw from, some will end up going on to attend college level cybersecurity programs in the coming years, and they’ll be making a wise choice in doing so. According to Robert Half’s 2020 Technology Salary Survey, the average starting salary for a data security analyst in the United States is $108,250, but the Chicago area market drives that number at least 25% higher, to $135,312. And in the 90th percentile, the same role can command almost $230,000. It’s one of the few degree tracks where salaries are commensurate with the cost of going to college so as long as you can get through the program, it’s going to be a sound investment.
Earning a Master’s Degree or Post-Bachelor’s Certificate in Cybersecurity in Illinois
Graduates of cybersecurity master’s programs come out with a thorough understanding of how to architect secure networks and systems and harden existing systems against cyberthreats. Students study policies and the ethics of hacking and learn how to safely conduct penetration testing and risk assessment. Threat intelligence courses teach them about current trends in cybersecurity and the threat environment, and courses in database administration and system administration offer the tools needed to handle real-world scenarios involving those threats.
Both online and traditional master’s programs are made up of approximately 30 credits of class time, with 15 credits of core classes and 15 focusing on electives.
Rather than a master’s degree, some choose to pursue a post-bachelor’s certificate, a 15 credit program that trains students in network security and management, current operating systems and programming languages, malware analysis and threat intel.
In order to apply to a cybersecurity graduate program, students must be prepared with an excellent academic 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 or C++
- A course in computational theory
If the applicant has less than a 3.0 GPA in bachelor’s coursework, the school may require GRE scores. Admission departments expect the following scores:
- Verbal score of 150 or higher
- Quantitative score of 155 or higher
- Analytical score of 650 or higher
Core Courses and Electives
Core coursework in master’s programs in cybersecurity will typically include:
- Computer and Network Security
- Database Design and Programming
- Algorithms and Analysis of Algorithms
- Applied Cryptography
- Computer Forensics
- Cyber Policy, Ethics and Law
Elective topics may include:
- Cloud and Internet Law
- Cybersecurity and Terrorism
- Malware Threat Analysis
- Website Design and Management
- Disaster Recovery
NSA and DHS Designated National Centers of Academic Excellence in Illinois
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)
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 and post-bachelor’s certificate programs:
University of Illinois, Department of Computer Science – Springfield
Illinois Institute of Technology, Center for Cybersecurity and Forensics Education
- Master of Science in Cyber Forensics and Security
- Certificate in Cybersecurity Technologies
- Certificate in Information Security and Assurance
Illinois State University, Center for Information Assurance and Security Education
Lewis University, Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Cyber Security Scholars Program holds the NSA/DHS National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research (CAE-R) designation and offers:
Enrolling in a Cybersecurity Bootcamp to Prepare for a Master’s or Qualify for a Job in the Industry – Online or in Chicago
All of those programs offer a superlative course in advanced cybersecurity topics, but they also take time to complete and may not be appropriate or even accessible for everyone. Another option, one that can get you geared up to a level where a master’s makes more sense or can offer an alternative path into the industry entirely, is enrolling in a cybersecurity bootcamp.
As the name implies, bootcamps are hardcore, fast-paced exercises in absorbing large amounts of practical knowledge and gaining hands-on skills fast. Lasting anywhere from a few days to a few months depending on the program, they offer entry points at a variety of levels of knowledge and skill and deliver a wide range of expertise. Drilling the most relevant topics of the day, some may even be built to teach to one specific industry certification.
A more broad-based program, aimed at entry-level candidates, is the Northwestern Cybersecurity Boot Camp, offered both online and in Chicago. A six-month, part-time program, it is open to anyone who can pass a critical thinking and problem solving assessment and has a CompTIA affiliation to prepare you for the standard Security+ exam. Along the way, you’ll receive hands-on training in networking, systems, web technologies, databases, and defensive and offensive cybersecurity.
And when you wrap up your studies, benefit from a wide range of career services to help equip you for success as you work to change career paths or advance in your current position.Some bootcamps also have direct-to-placement pipelines arranged with regional cybersecurity employers who are hungry for that talent.
Opportunities Available to Master’s-Prepared Cybersecurity Analysts and Specialists in Illinois
Although the tech scene in Illinois is highly concentrated in Chicago, there are opportunities for cybersecurity specialists all throughout the state. Illinois has experienced extreme job growth in the information security sphere in recent years, and almost every industry, from retail and manufacturing to finance and banking to insurance and healthcare are hiring qualified cybersecurity professionals to protect sensitive information. According to analysis from tech industry recruiting firm Burning Glass Technologies, cybersecurity job postings have grown by 94% since in the seven-year run-up to 2020, three times faster than the overall IT job market.
The following job opportunities are not meant to provide any assurance of employment. They represent the kind of employment opportunities that may be available to cybersecurity specialists in Illinois, and are shown for illustrative purposes only.
Cyber Security Engineer—RK Management Consultants, Inc. in Chicago
- Bachelor’s degree in a related field required; master’s preferred
- 3-10 years of cybersecurity experience
- Provide malware analysis to clients
- Develop training initiatives on security threats
- Develop malware analysis tools
- Track indicators of compromise and threat
- Perform static and dynamic program analysis of binary executables
Data Loss Prevention Analyst— Unidentified employer listed by Make Corporation in Oak Brook, IL
- 2-5 years of experience in a related position
- Bachelor’s degree in information security or a similar field at minimum; master’s preferred
- Review incidents and identify threatening trends
- Use existing technologies to protect data
- Identify remediation of misconfigurations
- Create metrics, policies and procedures
- Provide review and documentation
Cyber Defense Professional—Motorola Solutions in Schaumburg
- Bachelor’s degree in a related field at minimum; master’s preferred
- 5-10 years of experience in cybersecurity
- Lead detection and response efforts to address cybercrime and espionage
- Perform aggregation, normalization, and processing of network traffic
- Perform risk assessments and penetration testing
- Assess and deploy emerging IT technologies