Getting Started

When building a plan for studies in cyber security, students have to decide on the type of educational experience. There are three main options when it comes collegiate learning: campus-based, online and hybrid. The type of content delivery depends on the facilities offered by a particular school. Fully online programs in information security typically have a virtual lab for student use.

The campus-based experience keeps the student in the classroom, working face-to-face with professors and peers. Online programs are more flexible, although there are still deadlines. Online students use message boards, chat rooms and other technologies — text, voice or video — to interact with fellow classmates, and projects or papers are often submitted electronically. Hybrid programs are exactly what they sound like, offering a combination of electronic and in-person elements. Students may submit most work via the web, but still may be required to attend lectures or work in-person on certain projects. Some blended programs feature 100 percent digital instruction along with a brief residency on campus for orientation or group seminars.

Online Learning and Cyber Security: A Detailed Look

In a cyber security degree program, considerable time is spent working with technology, which lends itself to electronic studies. In addition, online course materials can efficiently convey information regarding topics like the law, ethics and privacy regulations. While students are required to collaborate with peers and other individuals, the majority of coursework can be done remotely. An online program in cyber security offers participants the chance to gain fluency using tools of electronic communication, which are a mainstay in high-tech professional environments. In the virtual classroom, the higher the comfort level with programs like WebCT, Blackboard and Skype, the easier it is for students to integrate into project teams and interact with others.

Self-Paced and Real-Time Delivery

Cyber and information security courses offered via distance learning often come in two different forms: self-paced and real-time. A self-paced course uses an asynchronous approach and presents students with assignments for reading, lecture viewing, projects and more, all to be completed on their own schedule. On the other hand, real-time classes -- delivered through synchronous modality -- function more like a traditional class, with students proceeding at the same speed, working together on the same assignments, and discussing the same principles on the same day.

Equipment Specifications

Online programs require that students have access to basic technology: a computer, productivity programs for word processing and spreadsheet calculations, web browser and Internet connection. However, a computer technology focused course, like cyber security, can have much more extensive requirements. A phone call or email to an admissions counselor may prove helpful, as they can relate a list of needed hardware and software -- a more powerful computer, for instance, or specific applications. Cyber security is a specialized field, and more than likely it calls for specialized tools.

Student Profile #1

William was inspired to enter into the field of cyber security but wasn’t sure if he had what it took. He tested the waters during a few introductory online classes and thought it best to finish his two-year degree before moving on to complete his bachelor’s.

Online Cyber Security Associate Degrees

An associate degree in cyber security is a two-year program intended to provide a foundation in the field. Many institutions require core classes to be taken within the first year before moving deeper into the material in year two. General education requirements cover topics such as quantitative reasoning and written or oral communication, which play a part in analyzing security-related data and presenting research findings. Off-campus students need to inquire about any in-person lab components for courses in subjects like the natural sciences.

The second year moves into more specific content, including classes that cover the ethics of information technology or the fundamentals of networking. The following table provides an example of classes that could appear in an introductory cyber security curriculum.

First Semester (Freshman) Credits Overview
Principles and Strategies of Successful Learning 3 An introduction to knowledge and strategies designed to promote success in the university environment.
Introduction to Research 1 An overview of the research process and methods for retrieving information in a library or through online sources
Introduction to Writing 3 Practice in effective writing and clear thinking at all levels, including the sentence and paragraph.
Finite Mathematics (or higher level of mathematics) 3 Basic and beginning mathematical concepts.
Concepts and Applications of Information Technology 3 Foundational information and skills, vital to further studies in computers and networking
Second Semester (Freshman) Credits Overview
Introduction to Problem Solving and Algorithm Design 3 Course designed to provide a foundation for logical reasoning, delving into math and thought problems
Introduction to Humanities 3 Another course in the arts may be substituted here, but a humanities course can connect the technology student with the general public
Introduction to Biology 4 Required lab and lecture course -- another physical science may be substituted
Introduction to Professional Writing 3 Analysis of professional communication scenarios to develop effective workplace writing.
Economics in the Information Age 3 A survey of basic concepts and principles in micro- and macroeconomics, and the effect of technology on the economy
Third Semester (Sophomore) Credits Overview
Technology in Contemporary Society 3 An interdisciplinary introduction to the study of society that addresses the issue of technology use in modern culture.
Foundations of Cybersecurity 3 A comprehensive introduction to the protection of an organization's information and the systems that support business processes
Ethics in Information Technology 3 Study of ethics and personal and organizational decision making relating to the use of information systems in a global environment
Introduction to Physical Science 3 Basic principles of physics and chemistry, with applications to geology, oceanography, meteorology and astronomy
Fourth Semester (Sophomore) Credits Overview
Technological Transformations 3 A historical view of technology as it has spanned the timeline and arrived in the present age.
Fundamentals of Networking 3 An introduction to networking technologies for local area networks, wide area networks and wireless networks
Media and Society 3 A study of the role of multimedia and business communication management in a modern societal context
General Elective 3 An optional class for students.

Student Profile #2

Charlene knew early that she wanted to pursue a career in cyber security. She planned out her college schedule, checking her classes for prerequisites. Nearing the end of her four-year online bachelor's program, she began looking for an internship to gain professional experience in the field.

Cyber Security: Bachelor's Level Studies Online

Typically lasting about four years, a bachelor’s degree program takes a more in-depth approach to technical subjects introduced at the associate degree level. Coursework often shifts from general or baseline education to a focused view of the principles and challenges of the field, including information security and data assurance. Individuals interested in online cyber security degree programs can inquire about opportunities to build practical experiences in the field; some schools can assist students in setting up internships.

A third- or fourth-year student in an online program may find a class schedule similar to the following:

Fifth Semester (Junior) Credits Overview
Advanced Technical Writing 3 A comprehensive, project-based study of applied technical communication
Digital Forensics in the Criminal Justice System 3 The course shows the connection between information technology, digital forensics and the justice system
Introductory Programming 3 A study of structured and object-oriented programming using the Java language
The Individual and Society 3 This psychology course gives the student a background in sociological research, connecting the individual to the group
Foundations of Forensics Psychology 3 To follow the virtual tracks of criminals, students seek an understanding of criminal though processes
Sixth Semester (Junior) Credits Overview
Foundations of Information System Security 3 A survey of various means of establishing and maintaining practical cyber and data security programs to protect key information assets
Security Policy Analysis A study of aspects of information assurance and cyber security policy planning in an organizational context
Software Engineering Principles and Techniques 3 Overview of software engineering from initial concept through product design, development, testing and maintenance
Psychology of Criminal Behavior 3 Discussion of the biological, environmental and psychological factors that underlie criminal behavior
Homeland Security and Intelligence 3 An overview of how the U.S. government deals with cyber security
Seventh Semester (Senior) Credits Overview
Security Policy Implementation 3 A study of information security (IS) performance standards and policy implementation for IS system administrators.
Network Security 3 The fundamental concepts of computer security and implementation of security measures
Domestic Infrastructure and Homeland Security 3 A more in-depth look at how the U.S. government deals with cyber security on the home front
Terrorism, Anti-Terrorism and Homeland Security 3 Review of how the U.S. government deals with cyber security on an international scale
Eighth Semester (Senior) Credits Overview
Cyber Crime and Security 3 An examination of crimes involving the use of computers.
Global Public Management 3 Exploration of the internal workings of all types of companies and organizations
Advanced Information Systems Security 3 Delves more deeply into software-based systems that play a role in society and in business
Evaluating Emerging Technologies 3 Tools and strategies for keeping up to date with the constant evolution of technology
Practical Applications in Cybersecurity Management 3 An internship may be organized during the fourth and final year of the degree program

Student Profile #3

Justine’s bachelor’s degree in computer programming gave her entry into the high-tech industry. After leaving college, as time moved on, she became more and more intrigued by digital information assurance and its importance in business and in daily life. Her decision to undertake an online master’s degree in cyber security helped her move into her new field of interest.

Cyber Security Programs and Online Master's Degrees

A master’s degree in cyber security often requires another two years of coursework. Because many students are already active professionally, colleges and universities routinely offer different program styles and academic specializations. Some require a thesis (a lengthy, publishable paper) for graduation, while others have non-thesis options in the form of comprehensive exams or special projects.

Before applying to a graduate program, students should conduct research and consult with admissions advisors, academic counselors and professors in the computer science or cyber security department. These specialists have the expertise to guide students through the theoretical and practical options and requirements that characterize a particular program.

Below is a sample of courses a master’s degree student in cyber security might encounter:

Master’s Program Core Courses Overview
Cyberspace and Cyber Security A study of the fundamentals of digital security, including tools and mechanisms of the trade
Human Aspects of Cyber Security: Ethics, Legal Issues and Psychology An examination of the human aspects in cybersecurity, including topics such as ethics, relevant laws, regulations, policies, standards, psychology and hacker culture
Prevention and Protection Strategies in Cyber Security A targeted study of the theories and practices for prevention of cyber attacks
Monitoring, Auditing, Intrusion Prevention and Penetration Testing An in-depth study of the theory and practice of intrusion detection and prevention in computer systems and networks
Cyber Crime Investigation and Digital Forensics Focused study of the theory and practice of digital forensics, including topics such as forensics for computers, networks, cell phones and other types of devices
Digital Forensics cell phones and other types of devices
Cyber Security Capstone Exercises in developing, leading and implementing effective enterprise- and national-level cyber security programs
Academic Writing for Grad Students Aimed at students responsible for producing multiple papers and projects

Online Doctoral Degrees in Cyber Security

Online doctoral degrees in cyber security may come as a concentration under a related subject -- for example, a PhD in computer science with a specialization in cyber security. An online Doctor of Science degree program could target the closely related topic of information assurance.

In general, cyber security doctorates are the culmination of at least another four years of coursework and a final, written dissertation. Most candidates are involved in study that takes theoretical education into the real world through research or an experiential practicum. That research and experience is then compiled into the dissertation, which goes before a review board to be defended by the candidate.

PhD programs can be similar to master’s degree programs, at least in the classroom. Many colleges and universities encourage master’s students to stay after graduation to begin their doctorate degrees, as they have already completed much of the coursework. The true variances are in the amount of research and writing involved before defending the final dissertation.

Schools with Cyber Security Programs

Degree Level
School Type