It happens with depressing regularity; a poorly secured computer system is compromised at a business or government agency, and the personal information of thousands of people who didn’t realize they had anything to worry about when they woke up that morning is suddenly circulating on the Dark Web, exposing them to identity theft and further hacking.
In January of 2020, it happened to 13,000 customers at Franklin-based Southeast Eye Specialists Group. Not only were patient Social Security numbers compromised, but potentially sensitive medical data as well.
The list goes on: Student data from college applicants at the Graduation Alliance in late 2019… Lists of HIV+ patients from Nashville’s Metro Health Department in 2018… Current and former patient data from the Tennessee Orthopedic Alliance in 2020.
And those are just the ones that affected only Tennesseans; but our data is also lost in large-scale national breaches, like the 2015 Experian credit monitoring service breach, which mingled the records of 200,000 Tennesseans in with the 15 million compromised overall.
So, the question is: What are states like Tennessee doing to protect consumers from malicious cyber attacks?
Efforts like the Tennessee Cybersecurity Collaboration Forum bring together public and private sector information security professionals from the Department of Homeland Security, academic institutions like the East Tennessee State University, and commercial security providers like Tanium.
It’s also home to the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest government-owned electric utility, which, according to GovTech, monitors more than 1 billion activities daily across seven states with a 60-person cybersecurity team to protect the regional electrical grid. It benefits from the $28 million annual budget assigned to the Department of Energy’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response. But the agency needs even more staff and greater investment; an internal audit in 2019 found that 115 out of the 116 domains registered to TVA didn’t meet e-mail security requirements.
Tennessee’s progressive, proactive approach to the growing cyber threat underscores the need for skilled master’s-prepared cybersecurity analysts who can identify network vulnerabilities, recognize potential threats, and, in response, design airtight networks that keep malicious threats at bay to protect the integrity of critical cyber infrastructures.
Earning a Master’s Degree or Post-Bachelor’s Certificate in Cybersecurity in Tennessee
Through rigorous coursework and practical skill-building, graduates of cybersecurity master’s programs prepare themselves to protect the integrity of networks and systems serving small businesses, large corporations, and government agencies. Graduates develop proficiency in architecting new systems that are inherently secure, as well as protecting existing data networks, including web and mobile systems. Through practical experience with intrusion detection, graduates will develop the ability to analyze data, detect malware, and identify anomalies consistent with a cyber attack.
Online master’s programs are a convenient, flexible option for working tech industry professionals who want to take their professional ambitions to the next level, but don’t have the time to commit to a traditional classroom schedule.
Both online and campus-based master’s programs in cybersecurity involve roughly 15 core credits and 15 elective credits, and can be completed in as little as 15 months. Post-bachelor’s certificate options generally consist of about 15 credits and take only half as much time as the master’s program to complete.
Standard Admissions Requirements for Cybersecurity Master’s Programs
Getting accepted into a cybersecurity master’s program can be competitive. Applicants are expected to make a strong showing with things like a robust academic profile, competitive entrance exam scores, mastery of mathematical and programming logic, and solid critical thinking skills.
Minimum admission requirements generally include:
- Bachelor’s degree in a corresponding field, such as computer science, information security, or engineering
- Minimum GPA of 3.0 in all undergraduate studies
- At least a year of calculus and one additional course in mathematics (discrete mathematics, differential equations, or linear algebra)
- Courses in Java or C++ programming and data structures
- Classwork in systems and network architecture
Applicants seeking admission into a master’s program in cybersecurity may be required to submit GRE/GMAT scores if their cumulative GPA in undergraduate studies is lower than a 3.0.
Core Courses and Electives
The core curriculum used by most programs includes courses like:
- Identity management and assurance
- Preventing and detecting breaches
- Intrusion analysis, recovery, and response
- Design and analysis of algorithms
- Principles of operation systems
Elective courses may include topics like:
- Database programming
- Global strategic information systems
- Big data for analytics
- IT project risk assessment and control
- Information systems management and application
- Advanced computer applications for business
NSA and DHS Designated Centers of Academic Excellence in Tennessee
The National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security offer two designation classifications applicable to schools that offer graduate programs in information security and cyber defense:
- CAE-CDE – National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (qualifying colleges and universities offering bachelor’s, master’s, and graduate certificates)
- CAE-R – National Center 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:
Tennessee Tech University, Cybersecurity Education Research and Outreach Center
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Information Security
University of Memphis, Department of Computer Science
- Graduate Certificate in Cyber Security and Information Assurance
- Master of Science in Information Systems
- Master of Science in Computer Science
Bootcamps in Nashville or Online Can Prepare You for a Master’s Program or a Career in Information Security
A master’s degree is the end-state goal for many cybersecurity professionals, but it’s a long-haul in a competitive process that is often made easier with some real-world experience under your belt.
One way to both get that experience and to polish up your application is by enrolling in a cybersecurity bootcamp first.
Bootcamps offer a hands-on, experiential learning process that emphasizes real-world tools and applications, all in a compressed and intensive course of study. They are available to address every specialty in the field, and offered at a variety of levels of expertise and experience, from ground-level introductory courses to highly-specialized camps focused on a single tool or advanced certification.
The Vanderbilt Cybersecurity Boot Camp, offered in Nashville or through a virtual classroom experience, is a solid example. In six months of evening and weekend instruction from expert teachers, you benefit from the full force of the prestigious college’s information security resources. The course also helps prepare you to take the Security+ and CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker) exams, through studies of subjects including:
- Database structure and data security
- Metasploit, Nessus, Wireshark, and Hashcat tools
- Operating system configuration and hardening in Windows and Linux
- Network architecture and hardening
- Identity management and authentication practices
Students also receive hands-on training in defensive and offensive cybersecurity, networking, systems, web technologies, and databases, and benefit from our CompTIA Partnership. Through immersive instruction and lab environments, you can learn both the theory and application of tools used by industry professionals.
A combined career services department, as you will find in many similar camps, gives you a boost when it comes time to file that master’s program application or find a job directly in the industry. It’s a fast-track with relevant, up-to-date cybersecurity knowledge that can give you an edge both in your job search and in the field as you match wits with cybercriminals.
Opportunities Available to Master’s-Prepared Cybersecurity Analysts and Specialists in Tennessee
Today’s digital landscape has created a hotbed of opportunity for cybersecurity analysts and specialists in Tennessee. Cyberseek found a workforce more than 11,000 strong in the state’s information security industry in 2020, but also more than 5,600 jobs that remained unfilled. With a median salary of $79,100 in 2019 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those are some pretty good jobs to have access to. Better yet, for master’s-prepared candidates, the ones likely earning in the top 10% of those positions could expect closer to $127,190 per year.
Here in Tennessee, the demand for cybersecurity professionals continues to grow. According to a report released by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, between 2016 and 2026, the number of information security jobs is projected to increase by nearly 40%.
The job profiles shown below are representative of opportunities available to master’s-prepared cyber professionals. These job listings are provided for illustrative purposes only and are not meant to represent any assurance of employment:
Cyber Risk Analyst LifePoint Health in Brentwood:
- Bachelor’s degree at minimum in the field of information technology and systems; master’s preferred
- Prior experience with vulnerability scanning, anomaly detection, and intrusion detection
- Prior experience with management of security systems, including firewalls and intrusion detection and encryption
- Performs risk analysis of all LifePoint Health information systems
- Oversees risk management for entire LifePoint network of hospitals to ensure compliance with risk management strategies
- Analyzes information security risk and develops proactive security strategies
- Monitors critical networks for security incidents and potential intrusions, identifies security solutions, and ensures resolution and remediation
Security Analyst (Incident Response) at Vanderbilt University in Nashville:
- Bachelor’s degree at minimum in a related field of study; master’s preferred
- Minimum of 2-5 years’ experience in IT security
- Must be familiar with Palo Alto firewalls and Sourcefire IDS
- Certifications such as Security+, GCFE, or GCIA
- Previous experience with scripting languages, including PowerShell and Python
- Monitoring cyber network environment for potential threats
- Performs intrusion detection and works to prevent security incidents
- Performs root cause analysis and attempts to mitigate risk to Vanderbilt’s critical infrastructure networks
- Performs data recovery, electronic discovery, and forensic analysis
- Conducts vulnerability assessments and designs cutting-edge security strategies and solutions