Online information security programs are usually intended to enhance the skills of professionals already employed in the technology industry, which means that entry-level programs at the associate's degree level are not as common as bachelor's and graduate programs. Still, prospective distance learners can find information security programs at several community colleges, four-year institutions and private online schools. Online graduate certificates and professional certifications are also available.
The online curriculum focuses on issues like network security, organizational policies and protocols, data privacy and the security of web applications, among many other technical topics. Students may pursue initial or advanced training in this field to not only further their careers but also pursue professional certification.
While earning a bachelor's or graduate degree is the most common training for information security specialists, a growing number of community colleges are offering distance learning associate's degrees in computer information security. These programs allow aspiring security specialists to acquire foundational skills in information technology. They also prepare students to transfer to 4-year colleges or for entry-level employment in technology departments.
Program Information and Requirements
Those interested in studying information security through distance-education programs must have reliable Internet connections, up-to-date computers and solid computer skills. Most distance learning programs in this field can be completed totally online. Schools use course management systems to organize and deliver class materials like lectures, assignments and instructional videos. Live chats, web conferencing, discussion boards and e-mail are possible methods of class interaction.
In addition to general education classes, students can expect to study areas like the following:
- Security technology
- Network security
- Computer forensics
- Business information systems
At the baccalaureate level, prospective security specialists often study computer science or information technology in a broad sense, although some programs offer specialties in security systems and information management. Non-specialized programs are more consistently available through distance-education divisions.
These online undergraduate programs usually start with an introduction to computers and teach students to use a variety of hardware, software and operating systems. They also provide instruction in programming for the computer and for the Web. Students build on these basic skills in courses that cover network defenses, infrastructure security and the management of servers and networks. Most information security programs also require a class in ethics for the information age. General education coursework is also required.
Those holding bachelor's degrees who do not wish to enroll in a master-level program may prefer to pursue a distance learning graduate-level certificate in information assurance.
These programs may contain focused coursework in the following areas:
- Information system security
- Advanced protocols
- Network security
- Information warfare
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Graduate-level programs are more likely to focus specifically on information security than undergraduate programs. Online master's degree programs assume that applicants already have solid programming abilities and familiarity with a variety of computer systems, servers and software. Prospective students must have a bachelor's degree and specialized certification or previous experience in an IT field is also looked upon favorably by admissions boards.
Students usually take around 30 credits of classes in areas such as legal issues and ethics, computer security, information warfare and advanced computer networking. They then choose from electives including steganography and watermarking, cryptography, wireless security and computer forensics. Graduates are prepared for advanced computer and information security positions, as security specialists are much more competitive in the job market with a master's degree.
Another online training option is a course sequence that prepares the students for the CompTIA™ Security+ certification exam. This certification is a recognized designation in the information industry, showing that the holder has obtained proficiency in managing network infrastructures and system security. Most exam preparation programs recommend students have a minimum of two years' experience in network management. The 80-hour preparation course focuses on how protocol weaknesses are exploited and ways those weaknesses can be reduced or eliminated.
Students work with and learn about the following:
- TCP/IP protocols
- Windows, Linux and UNIX operating systems
- File integrity checking
- Packet filtering
- Password policies
Security specialists provide critical protection and support to computer networks and information. Using encryption tools and security protocols, they ensure that only authorized individuals are able to access content. Businesses, schools and hospitals hire these professionals to ensure the safety of their networks and data. Security specialists are may also be members of law enforcement who address cyber crime and identity theft. They also work for government agencies such as Homeland Security by encrypting and guarding crucial virtual information infrastructures.
Students can earn online degrees or certificates with information security courses such as packet filtering, wireless security, network security and security technology. These programs are all offered fully online for students' benefit and convenience.