Degree Options for Aspiring Network Security Engineers

Prospective network security specialists can pursue associate's and bachelor's degrees in network security, as well as master's degrees in information security. Common courses include network architecture, firewalls and routers.

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Essential Information

Network security programs include introductory courses in business communications, computer fundamentals and web page development. Some associate's programs offer internship opportunities; those programs may also prepare students for professional certification through computing organizations. Bachelor's programs in network security may be available in either traditional 4-year formats or other accelerated formats, in which applicants have already completed a relevant associate's program. Foundational courses in master's programs reemphasize undergraduate material, while concentration and elective courses cover specialized topics.

Associate's and bachelor's programs in network security require a high school diploma or GED. Applicants to master's programs need a bachelor's degree for consideration for admission.


Associate's Degree in Network Security

Associate's degree programs in network security provide a basic introduction to the collection of systems, processes, services and technologies that facilitate the distribution of information over a network, as well as the methods of protecting data and communications. Program courses examine Internet protocols, popular operating systems, distributed applications and concepts such as operations security, physical integrity and access control. Some programs include an internship that gives students first-hand experience with the reality of securing a network. Common course topics include:

  • Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model
  • Computer and network systems hardening
  • Firewall and IP address translation methods
  • Private and public encryption technologies
  • Local and wide area network architectures

Bachelor's Degree in Network Security

A bachelor's degree program in network security engages with current theory on the optimum design of safe, efficient information technology (IT) networks and immerses students in the process of securing and monitoring a network. Program content examines the hardware and software side of local area networks, wide-area networks and wireless networks, as well as individual components, such as routers, firewalls and access portals. Some programs provide students the opportunity to learn hacking techniques and prevention methods by permitting them to breach a network in a controlled environment. General education courses combined with computer science, engineering and networking education make up the curricula of bachelor's degree programs in network security. Students are typically exposed to the following study topics:

  • Network architecture planning
  • Enterprise-level network security
  • Computer forensics
  • Security systems implementation
  • Network protocol security methods

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Master's Degree in Information Security

Master's degree programs in information security take a comprehensive approach to the challenges of securing businesses and organizations against data theft and attacks on their computer networks. Students learn to assess an organization's vulnerabilities, the human and technical factors contributing to risk and the process of designing, implementing and adapting a security infrastructure. In its technical dimensions, program content addresses detection of security breaches, intrusion prevention systems, virtual private networks, firewalls and other aspects of a network's architecture. Many of these graduate programs are aimed at those employed in the IT industry. Several schools offer fully online or hybrid programs, allowing flexible study schedules for working professionals.

Some information security master's programs structure the curricula into foundational or introductory studies, advanced courses and electives. Graduate-level studies in network security engineering may include:

  • Legal security compliance measures
  • Advanced network defense systems
  • Hardware and physical security
  • Encryption and cryptology
  • Disaster recovery planning
  • Telecommunications security

Popular Career Options

Earning a master's degree prepares graduates for advancement into supervisory positions in network administration and security. Possible job titles for master's degree-holders include:

  • Senior network administrator
  • Senior systems analyst
  • Information security consultant
  • Network auditor
  • Network security director
  • Information technology officer

Continuing Education Information

Graduates of an associate's degree program may be prepared to obtain a number of computer industry certifications. The Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST), CompTIA's A+ and Network+ credentials and Cisco's Certified Network Associate designation are among those relevant to network security technicians. Associate's degree holders may also apply earned credits toward a bachelor's degree.

Earning a master's degree enhances technical knowledge and skills and may increase career advancement prospects. Network security engineers considering graduate-level studies can select among several colleges and universities offering master's degree programs in information security. Those interested in IT management positions may find a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in information systems offers relevant studies in supervising technical departments.

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Associate's degree holders can usually enter the field of network security through entry-level positions in computer and network support. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected employment of computer support specialists to grow 12% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). As of May 2015, computer user support specialists earned a median salary of $48,620, according to the BLS.

A bachelor's degree in network security qualifies graduates to become network and computer security specialists. The BLS estimated overall employment of network and computer systems administrators to grow 8% between 2014 and 2024. As of May 2015, network and computer systems administrators made a median annual salary of $77,810, according to the BLS.

In all degree levels, students will learn technical concepts of network administration and security, with specific topics varying by program. Graduates of network security programs often accept positions in computer networking, such as network administrator, network auditor, and IT officer.

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