Students in IT security degree programs learn how to protect vital data and information systems, secure mobile devices, solve cyber crimes using digital forensics, and manage security operations to prevent, detect, and strike back against attackers.
Explore high-quality, flexible online programs that will advance your cybersecurity career.
Top Cybersecurity Programs:
Top Cybersecurity Programs:
This page will break down the most important factors to consider when choosing an IT security program, including:
- popular IT security classes and skills you should seek out in a degree program curriculum
- comparison of info-sec degree levels with data like cost, duration & admission requirements
- breakdown of the important types of accreditation for cyber security schools and programs
- career paths you can pursue and salaries you can earn at each level of IT security degree
- common questions from prospective students in information technology security programs
IT Security Degree Curriculum
The skills you will gain during information security classes are paramount when building a learning plan. Here are some of the hard skills, soft skills, and certifications that employers want, and which you should look for when selecting a degree in IT security.
Hard skills are the tools, techniques and platforms you will learn during a training program and use in the field on a regular basis. Here are the hard skills you should look for in an IT security degree:
- Cyber Security Incident Response: When a cyber attack breaks through the organization’s defenses, cyber-sec incident response kicks in to rapidly detect the breach, minimize its destruction, patch up the weakness that was exploited, and restore IT services.
- Network Security: Networks of servers and computers are the backbone of an organization’s systems. Network security focuses on the set-up and management of secure network components and communications systems.
- Application Development Security: Applications are continuing to dominate the tech space as more systems go online and migrate to the cloud; IT security pros who can ensure these apps are less vulnerable will continue to be in high-demand.
- Ethical Hacking & Penetration Testing: This discipline involves mimicking the traits of a malicious hacker (but with employer authorization) to identify vulnerabilities so you can better defend the system against true attackers.
- Information Assurance: Information assurance (IA) refers to the management of IT risks to protect digital information. IA is governed by five pillars - Confidentiality, Integrity, Availability, Authentication & Nonrepudiation - which represent how data assets should be preserved.
- Digital Forensics: Digital forensics, or computer forensics, is the branch of forensic science associated with the gathering and investigation of digital evidence to solve and prosecute cyber crimes.
- Cybersecurity Risk Management: Cyber risk management is the continuous process of identifying, analyzing, evaluating, and mitigating risks to the organization and its digital assets.
- Identity & Access Management: IAM is the practice of restricting or allowing access to computer systems to the proper people for the right reasons. As information systems grow in size and complexity - and thus vulnerability - controlling access is vital.
Soft skills are the character traits and communication expertise that will benefit graduates in the workplace. Key soft skills to seek out in an IT security degree program include:
- Critical Thinking & Problem Solving: The ability to think outside the box to analyze a security issue and promptly derive a countermeasure is vital in cyber security.
- Effective Interpersonal Communication: Part of IT security is sharing your ideas with co-workers and clients to make sure they are on the same page - the system is only as secure as its weakest link. Strong verbal and written communication skills are key to efficiently conveying these thoughts.
- Teamwork & Collaboration: IT security analysts usually work on a team and often deal with clients and workers from other (sometimes non-technical) backgrounds. The ability to function as part of a well-oiled machine will go a long way in this role.
IT certifications validate your skills in a specific technology or job role. Many info-tech security programs include certification prep and sometimes even exam vouchers for in-demand credentials. These are some marketable certifications that will increase the value of an IT security degree:
- CompTIA Security+: CompTIA’s entry-level cyber security credential is a staple in the field. Security+ certification validates essential skills in common threats and vulnerabilities, info-sec tools and platforms, security architecture and design, risk management, and IAM.
- EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH): The motto for this certificate says it all - “to beat a hacker you need to think like one.” CEH certification holders learn the network penetration skills of attackers so they can better defend against them in the field.
- ISC2 Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP): CISSP certification is an advanced information security credential that proves you have the skills to design, configure, and manage a world-class cybersecurity program at the enterprise level.
- ISACA Certified Information Security Auditor (CISA): CISA certification is an entry- to mid-level credential that validates the ability to plan, execute and report on cyber security audits using a proven, risk-based methodology.
- GIAC Security Essentials Certification (GSEC): GSEC is a mid-level credential for IT security pros that validates hands-on skills in access control, cryptography, cloud security, penetration testing, security policy, and securing popular operating systems like Windows and Linux.
Top-Rated IT Security Degrees Online
These online IT security degrees best reflect the skills and credentials that organizations demand.
Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity
This online bachelor's degree provides the IT security, networking and management skills modern employers want, while preparing students to earn valuable IT certifications. Graduates of this program will be prepared for jobs such as cyber security analyst and network manager.
- Includes Certification Preparation for:
- CompTIA A+, Network+ and Security+
- TestOut Network Pro, Security Pro & Pro PC
- Design Secure Computer Networks and Applications
- IT Risk Management & Info-Sec Policy Creation
- Cyber Attack Incident Response and Investigation
- Learn how to Manage IT Projects and Services
Master of Science in Network Defense
This program provides the skills and credentials to assess, develop and deploy cutting-edge cyber security solutions to protect the information assets of SMBs, enterprises and government agencies.
- Includes Certification Preparation for:
- EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- EC-Council Certified Network Defense Architect (CNDA)
- (ISC)2 Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- Assess, Improve and Implement InfoSec Programs & Infrastructure
- Ethical Hacking, Penetration Testing & System Hardening
- Approved by the National Security Agency (NSA) & Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
IT Security Degree Levels
IT security degrees come in various levels, including associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctorate. Typically - but not always - the higher the degree level, the better your job prospects and earning potential upon graduation. Which type of IT security degree you pursue will depend on multiple factors, including your current level of education, career goals, and the time and money you wish to invest in training.
Here are the most popular types of cyber security degrees along with the cost, length, admission requirements, and possible outcomes for each:
IT Security Associate Degree
Associate degrees in IT security are usually completed in 1.5 to 2 years as a full-time student.
Typical admission requirements for an IT security associate degree are a high school diploma or passing grade on the general educational development (GED) exam.
The average net price (after financial aid has been applied) for an associate degree in IT security is $9,578, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Jobs you can pursue with an IT security associate include junior information security analyst, cybersecurity technician, and technical support specialist.
IT Security Bachelor's Degree
IT security bachelor’s programs typically take 4 years to complete as a full-time student.
Common admission requirements for a bachelor of arts (BA) or bachelor of science (BS) in IT security are a high school diploma or GED. Some bachelor programs require a certain high school GPA or score on your SAT exam which varies school to school.
The average net price (after financial aid) for a bachelor's degree in IT security is $20,934, according to the NCES.
Jobs you can pursue with an IT security bachelor’s include information security analyst, penetration tester, and network security specialist.
Master's Degree in IT Security
After earning your bachelor's, most IT security master’s programs can be completed in under 2 years with a full course load.
Common admission requirements for a master of science (MS), master of arts (MA), or master of business administration (MBA) in IT security include a bachelor’s degree in a related discipline, and a minimum undergraduate GPA (usually at least a 3.0). Some information security master's also require a competitive score on your Graduate Records Examination (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).
The average net price (after financial aid) for an advanced degree in IT security is $19,667, according to the NCES.
Positions you can pursue with a master’s in IT security include senior cybersecurity analyst, information security manager, cryptologist, and network architect. Once you bank some experience, you can parlay your cyber security master's into a range of executive roles such as Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) or Director of Cyber Security.
Doctoral Degree in IT Security
Most doctor of science (D.Sc.) and doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees in IT security can be finished within 2 - 3 years of full-time study for those with the requisite educational background - typically a bachelor’s and master’s degree in an adjacent field. Some specialized PhDs in IT security have entry points for high school grads or those with only a bachelor's - these programs will of course take longer than 2 - 3 years to complete. Many info-sec doctorates require a high GPA in previous degrees and strong test scores.
The average net price for a DSc or PhD in IT security is $19,667, after financial aid. The National Center for Education Statistics doesn’t separate advanced degrees like masters from doctorates in its net price analysis, which is why this tuition figure matches that of the masters, however it is still accurate here.
Common career paths for graduates of a doctoral program in IT security include information research scientist, cyber security educator, and information assurance manager.
Accreditation for IT Security Degrees
When it comes to choosing an IT security degree, prospective students should be concerned with two main types of accreditation: institutional and programmatic. Here’s an overview of each:
Firstly, you’ll want to find an IT security school that’s either regionally or nationally accredited at the institutional level. There are differences between the two, each with advantages and disadvantages, but for our purposes both regional and national accreditation qualify students for federal financial aid and the ability to transfer credits between schools - the two chief benefits of institutional accreditation. If you want to delve deeper into the differences between national vs. regional accreditation, here’s a good article from Drexel University.
Like it sounds, programmatic accreditation ensures that specific degree programs from an accredited school meet the accrediting body's rigorous standards for quality and relevance in that field. Popular programmatic accreditations in IT security include:
- National Centers for Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity (NCAE-C): Managed by the NSA, and designed in partnership with the FBI, DoD, U.S. Cyber Command and others, NCAE accreditation validates that IT security degree programs from that school meet the latest standards in key domains such as cyber defense (CAE-CD), cyber research (CAE-R), and/or cyber operations (CAE-CO). Read more about Centers of Academic Excellence at NSA.gov.
- National Centers of Digital Forensics Academic Excellence (CDFAE): Managed by the Department of Defense’s Cyber Crime Center (DC3), CDFAE accreditation ensures that degree programs from an accredited school have a well-rounded digital forensics curriculum in key skills areas such as laws and ethics, investigative processes, forensic lab operations, software forensics and more. Read more about CDFAE at DC3.mil.
- ABET Accreditation: ABET is a leading accrediting body that specializes in science, technology, engineering & mathematics (STEM) degree programs at the associate, bachelor's and master's levels. ABET recently introduced its cyber security accreditation category and currently accredits more than two dozen undergraduate degrees in cybersecurity and cybersecurity engineering. Read more about ABET's cyber security accreditation at ABET.org.
IT Security Degree Programs
Compare accredited undergraduate and graduate degrees in IT security and related subjects.
- Network Design, Security & Management
- Detect and Prevent Network Breaches
- Cyber Incident Response & Investigation
- Prepare for In-Demand IT Certifications
- Identify and Manage Cybersecurity Risk
- Secure Network Design and Engineering
- Network Architecture & Cyber Operations
- NSA and DHS Approved Security Program
- Network Hardware & Operating Systems
- Database and Info Systems Management
- Programming and Web Design Essentials
- Flexible and Affordable Online Program
Frequently Asked Questions
Tech insiders answer common questions from people considering a training or degree program in IT security.
What can you do with an IT security degree?
Completing an accredited college degree in IT security will unlock a range of opportunities. Here are some popular career paths open to graduates of cyber security degrees, along with the education level and salary for each role.
|Job Title||Typical Education Level||Average Salary|
|Junior Cyber Security Analyst||Associate Degree||$55,012|
|Information Security Analyst||Bachelor’s Degree||$83,401|
|Information Security Engineer||Bachelor’s Degree||$102,919|
|Penetration Tester||Bachelor’s Degree||$111,308|
|Senior Info-Sec Analyst||Bachelors or Master’s||$114,582|
|Chief Information Officer||Master’s Degree||$172,140|
Source for salary data: Indeed.com
Is an IT security degree worth it?
If you have the time and money to pursue a formal education in this field, earning an IT security degree is definitely worth it. Information security is among the fastest growing disciplines in the nation with a 10-year projected growth rate of 33% from 2020 the 2030 (the average for all jobs is 8%). Also, the median salary for IT security professionals is $103,590 per year, compared to the national average of $41,950. Additionally, most cyber security positions require a college degree to be considered.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How long does it take to finish a degree in IT security?
The duration of your IT security degree depends on the level of program you’re attending. An associate degree in IT security typically takes 1.5 to 2 years to complete. An IT security bachelor’s will last four years as a full-time student. Earning your master’s in IT security will take an additional two years after your bachelor's, and an IT security doctorate will take an additional 2 to 3 years after that. The lengths of these degrees can be reduced by transferring in credits from previous college coursework, certifications and work experience, or by attending more classes per semester.
How do I find a good IT security degree online?
Firstly, the subject matter in IT security degree program works well in a distance learning format. This is because most information security tools are software-based, so online portals and simulations are a great medium for practicing these skills. When it comes to identifying a good online degree in IT security, in addition to the factors listed above, look for a school that’s accredited, has numerous positive and recent reviews from students who took similar programs, and dig a little deeper into the school stats on resources like the College Navigator from the US Dept. of Education. You can also read our unbiased ranking of the best cyber security bachelors online which uses these resources and more.
Which degree is best for IT security?
The cyber security degree that is best for you depends on multiple factors, many of which are highlighted above. In short, you want a program at the proper degree level (certificate, associate, bachelor, master, PhD, etc.) for your employment goals and current level of education, one that covers marketable skills and certifications, and of course you want an IT degree program that fits your schedule, budget, and learning style.