Home to Virginia Tech and some of the world’s most innovative cybersecurity firms, the Virginia area is one of the nation’s biggest hotspots for cybersecurity professionals. Which is a good thing, because it’s also ground zero for some of the globe’s major technology hacking targets, in the form on the CIA, NSA, and other federal government agencies housing some of the most sensitive information on the planet.
In early 2020 alone, according to CyberWire and TechCrunch, hackers from China and the Anonymous collective were targeting the information systems of both Virginia state government and corporations with a presence in the state researching COVID-19 vaccines. And that’s on top of the estimated 31,000 cyberattacks conducted annually against federal government information systems, as estimated by the Office of Management and Budget… attacks that the Department of Homeland Security puts almost $2 billion into annually to defend against.
The numbers aren’t likely to drop anytime soon. And the state is not sitting still just waiting to get hit; through initiatives like the INNOVATE Cyber Challenge, which brings together students from six different Virginia colleges and universities for design-thinking process competitions that give insights into effective cybersecurity practices and techniques, the state is busy preparing the next generation of information security professionals.
Those graduates are all going to be entering one of the hottest job markets on record. An incredible 32 Virginia-based cybersecurity firms were listed on Cybercrime Magazine’s 2018 top 500 list, a definitive list of the world’s hottest and most innovative cybersecurity companies. In fact, Virginia had more companies on the list than any other state, with the exception of rival technological giant California. Companies included cyber threat intelligence management firms Sera-Brynn and LookingGlass, as well as firms that specializes in intelligence, defense and federal security like Northrop Grumman, Siemens Government Technologies, and CACI.
According to a 2018 report put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Virginia has the highest employment rate for information security analysts nationwide and is on the top five list of states with the highest paid analysts, with an average annual salary of $114,760. The Washington/Arlington/Alexandria area has the highest employment level for the occupation out of any metro area in the entire country… fertile ground for master’s-prepared information security professionals.
Earning a Master’s Degree or Post-Bachelor’s Certificate in Cybersecurity in Virginia
Graduates of cybersecurity master’s programs are prepared to identify risks and provide a timely, appropriate response to protect sensitive data and critical infrastructures. They have the training and background knowledge to stay two steps ahead of the hackers threatening corporate and government information systems and critical infrastructure. But achieving that level of expertise doesn’t come easily.
Master’s programs are made up of 30-40 credits, with 15-20 credits of core courses and 15-20 credits focusing on electives, special topics in cybersecurity. Some IT and engineering professionals interested in more advanced training choose to pursue a post-bachelor’s certificate. These 15-20 credit programs focus on data structures, network security, threat intel, and incident response.
Standard Admissions Requirements for Cybersecurity Master’s Programs
In order to apply to a cybersecurity master’s program, students must be prepared with an excellent education 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++
- Courses in systems and program architecture
If the applicant has less than a 3.0 GPA in bachelor’s coursework, the school may require GRE scores. Admissions departments require the following scores:
- Verbal score of 150 or higher
- Quantitative 155 or higher
- Analytical 650 or higher
Core Courses, Electives and Program Objectives
NSA and DHS designated universities follow a standard curriculum. Core coursework will typically include:
- Advanced computer and network security
- Systems security administration, management, and certification
- Risk management
- Computer forensics
- Cyber law and ethics
Elective topics may include:
- Applied cryptography
- Cloud computing
- Cyber warfare and terrorism
- Threat intel and mitigation
NSA and DHS Designated National Centers of Academic Excellence in Virginia
Virginia is home to several National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated schools that offer cybersecurity master’s programs and post-bachelor certificates.
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 NSA and DHS also recognize universities throughout the country that offer online cybersecurity master’s 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:
George Mason University, School of Business (Also holds the NSA/DHS National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research (CAE-R) designation.)
- Masters in Information Security and Assurance
- Master of Science in Management of Secure Information Systems
Hampton University, Information Assurance Center
James Madison University, Computer Science Department
Norfolk State University, Department of Computer Science
Additionally, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University holds the NSA/DHS National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research (CAE-R) designation and offers:
- Master of Science in Computer Science, Cybersecurity
- Master of Science in Computer Engineering, Cybersecurity
- Graduate Certificate in Information Security and Analytics
- Master of Information Technology
Enrolling in a Cybersecurity Bootcamp in Richmond or Online to Prepare for a Master’s or Go Straight into the Industry
Master’s programs are hard to get into if you didn’t chart your course properly at the undergrad level. One way that increasing numbers of applicants are building up their essential skills in cybersecurity before applying is by entering a cybersecurity bootcamp program.
Bootcamps deliver a rigorous, prescribed, short-term course in practical, realistic cybersecurity tools and topics. Using techniques at the cutting-edge of the profession, they put students through virtual simulations of real-world attacks and stress hands-on skills development under the careful guidance of professionals who have current experience in the industry.
You can find bootcamps aimed at every skill level, lasting from a few days to a few weeks. They have various entry requirements, depending on the subjects, and can cover anything from broad introductory topics to laser-focused specializations leading to a single certification.
Anyone aiming for a master’s program will probably be looking primarily at entry-level programs, such as the one offered by the University of Richmond Cybersecurity Bootcamp. A six-month, part-time program you can maintain your work or college schedule by studying part-time, only three days a week, with convenient evening and weekend hours. It’s a great choice for working professionals, but with no significant entry requirements and a broad-based education in information security, it’s a perfect entry-level introduction to the field. The camp teaches topics like:
- Identity and access management
- Digital forensics methods
- Penetration testing and vulnerability assessment
- Windows and Linux hardening
- Defensive and offensive cybersecurity
- Web technologies
And it does so with current toolsets that are constantly adjusted to reflect real industry experience, and with the resources and expertise of the accomplished UR faculty. You’ll also benefit from their CompTIA Partnership.
Like many other bootcamps, it also comes with career preparation services that will help you polish up your portfolio and resume for either direct job placement or your application to a master’s program.
Opportunities Available to Master’s-Prepared Cybersecurity Analysts and Specialists in Virginia
Virginia is a hotbed of opportunity for cybersecurity professionals. The state is home to some of the most innovative tech firms in the world, and almost every industry in the state has the need for cybersecurity analysts to defend critical infrastructures. Master’s-prepared professionals are prepared to step into management roles within cybersecurity teams in the state.
The following job listings are shown to represent the kind of employment opportunities that may be available to master’s-prepared cybersecurity specialists in Virginia. They are shown for illustrative purposes only, and are not meant to provide any assurance of employment.
Senior Information Security Analyst—Centripetal Networks in Herndon
- Bachelor’s degree in a related field
- Three years of experience in cybersecurity
- Performs threat analytics using threat intelligence
- Supports incident investigations
- Provides executive reporting
- Identifies workflow of events that affect information security
Senior Cyber Security Engineer—ECS in Arlington
- Bachelor’s degree
- 10 years of progressive experience
- Performs advanced countermeasure design, implementation, and assessment
- Assesses commercial service provers for risks
- Provides mitigation for advanced, persistent threats
- Supports cyber security initiatives
- Deploys risk counter measures
Cyber Security Analyst—Engility in Reston
- Bachelor’s degree in a related field
- CISSP certification preferred
- Certified Ethical Hacker certification preferred
- Manages information systems, data availability, and confidentiality
- Implements security measures for communication systems
- Develops and executes government approved security policies
- Performs social engineering tests
- Researches and maintains proficiency tools