IT Security Degree Program Overviews

Oct 20, 2019

Those interested in information technology (IT) security have a variety of degree options that could facilitate a career in the field. Individuals can choose between an undergraduate and graduate program in IT security depending on their desired career.

Essential Information

The basics of network security are covered in an associate's degree program, which could also provide students with hands-on experience. Bachelor's degree programs may focus on disaster recovery and systems configuration. They might offer opportunities for distance learning and include internship requirements. Consisting of advanced topics in information security and computer forensics, master's programs feature seminars and require students to complete a capstone project or a thesis. Graduates can usually qualify for a number of positions related to networking, programming and systems security.

Associate's and bachelor's degree programs require incoming students to have a high school diploma or equivalent, while master's programs require a bachelor's degree in a related field.

Associate Degree in Information Systems Security

Associate degree program curricula include an overview of fundamental IT methods for protecting information and systems from security threats. Students complete classroom coursework and receive hands-on training working with computers.

Introductory coursework in information systems security explores computer technologies used for security purposes, including encryption, digital signatures and cryptography. Areas of focus include data integrity preservation, systems policies, network security and firewall protection. Courses cover the role of an IT security professional and techniques employed to improve the quality of security, backup and redundancy. Common courses teach the following subjects:

  • Virtual networking
  • Cyber-terrorism
  • Internet detection systems
  • Antivirus and malware
  • Operating system configuration
  • Security planning

Bachelor's Degree in Information Systems Security

A bachelor's degree program in IT security covers a broad range of topics in networking, programming and systems configuration. Some schools offer some or all coursework online, though an internship could require in-person participation.

Coursework covers a broad range of subjects, including project management, vulnerability analysis, ethics and statistics. Bachelor's curricula often explore topics in operating systems, computer programming, networking and legal issues in IT security. Security courses examine disaster recovery systems, computer and network policies, and techniques for hardening systems and applications through software and hardware configuration. Courses include topics such as:

  • Hacking
  • Crisis management
  • Forensic evidence
  • Risk analysis
  • Security devices

Master's Degree in Information Security

Offered with concentration areas that include technology, policy and management, a master's program is designed to prepare students to be leaders in information security and to follow ethical rules of privacy. Students attend seminars, work with faculty mentors and complete a capstone project or thesis.

Studies in operating systems introduce students to analytical models, performance evaluation and issues in memory, security and transactions. Sometimes offered both in-class and online, courses provide a focus on networked information systems, security breaches and security program design. Students also learn computer forensics, legal issues related to technology and security assurance practices. Other course topics could include:

  • Device allocation
  • Performance evaluation
  • Security architecture
  • Programming languages
  • Portal management

Popular Career Options

Graduates of an associate degree program can usually qualify for entry-level technology positions in network and systems security. Some possible career options include:

  • IT support specialist
  • Computer programmer
  • Network administrator
  • Systems security specialist

Career options for bachelor's degree-holders include positions in education, government, healthcare and management. Professionals with bachelor's-level education could earn a mid-level position in security in the following disciplines:

  • Administration
  • Security enforcement
  • IT engineering
  • Consulting

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), network and computer systems administrators held 366,250 jobs in the U.S. in 2018 ( The BLS projected that jobs in this profession would grow by 5%, about as fast than the average for all occupations, between 2018 and 2028. This increase is largely due to the growing demand for newer, faster technology and increased security. The median annual salary of network and computer systems administrators as of May 2018 was $82,050, per BLS data.

Continuing Education Information

Graduates with some professional experience have several certification options that could increase employment and salary potential. Vendor-neutral organizations, such as the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, Inc., commonly referred to as (ISC)2, or CompTIA offer credentials that demonstrate an overall expertise in network, Internet and systems security. Additionally, graduates can choose to test their knowledge of specific technologies by pursuing hardware- and software-specific certifications through manufacturers such as Cisco, IBM or Alcatel-Lucent.

Those interested in entering private or corporate practice typically advance a career through specialized certification offered through vendors or industry-standards organizations. However, those interested in entering academia could enroll in a post-baccalaureate certificate program in education to qualify for a state teaching license and a position as a technology teacher.

Those wanting to start a career in IT security may wish to pursue an associate's or bachelor's degree in information systems security. Master's degree programs in information systems security are also available for those with a bachelor's degree who wish to pursue a management position.

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