BY Rich GrisetJune 30, 2022, 1:25 PM
Illustration by Martin Laksman
They came in through the air conditioning. In 2013, hackers breached retail giant Target’s digital defenses after a third-party HVAC vendor fell prey to an email phishing scam. Because Target had HVAC units that were internet connected to allow remote access, hackers were able to use the vendor’s credentials to gain entry in the company’s payment system. The hack, which has been called the second-largest retail data breach in history, compromised the data of 40 million credit and debit cards of shoppers, and resulted in Target paying an $18.5 million settlement to those people affected.
To cybersecurity experts, the Target episode is just one high profile example of how important their field has become.
“Everything is computerized now,” explains Jimmie Lenz, director of the master’s of engineering in cybersecurity and master’s of engineering in fintech programs at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering. “Once you get into a computer system, you kind of have the run of a lot of places.”
As practically every aspect of daily life now has a digital component, cybersecurity threats have grown, and so too has the field intended to combat them. To address this demand, an increasing number of schools are offering master’s degree programs cybersecurity.
But what job opportunities are available to someone with a master’s of cybersecurity degree? Read on to find out.
How large is the demand for cybersecurity workers?
From 2013 to 2021, the number of unfilled cybersecurity jobs grew by 350%, according to Cybersecurity Ventures, a researcher and publisher the covers the global cyber economy. By 2025, Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that there will be 3.5 million open cybersecurity jobs globally.
“It’s huge,” says Lenz of the demand. “It’s really unbelievable. Right now, companies and governments and all kinds of places are looking for people with this kind of perspective.”
With practically every digital interaction, Lenz says there’s a possible opening for bad actors to cause harm; last year, when President Joe Biden moved into the White House, there were even concerns that his Peloton might present a cybersecurity risk.
“Every aspect of your interaction online has some element of cybersecurity involved,” Lenz says. “Whether you’re dealing with an app that you download or you’re dealing with websites online or anything in-between, any online interaction has a cybersecurity element to it.”
Cybersecurity threats are no longer just the stereotype of some lone guy in a hoodie hacking away at a computer, says Joel Caminer, faculty director for New York University’s master’s program in cybersecurity risk and strategy and senior director of the NYU Center for Cybersecurity.
“The field of cybersecurity is so much broader than that,” Caminer says. “It really is about the field of protection. It’s about data protection and protecting our organizations, our critical infrastructure, our online sensibilities, our online information.”
Because demand is so high, student’s obtaining a master’s degree in cybersecurity often field multiple job offers before graduating.
What opportunities are available to someone with a master’s degree?
Just as cybersecurity spans the breadth of the digital realm, so do job opportunities.
“The roles are almost unlimited at this point,” Lenz says.
The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers & Studies states that the field of cybersecurity includes nearly three dozen specialty areas and more than 50 work roles. Entry-level positions in the field usually involve working purely within the cyber realm, such as a security analyst or security operations center (SOC) analyst.
“Those people are sort of on the front lines,” Caminer says. “They’re getting some of the alerts and the tactical workflow of things that need to be reviewed and assessed and maybe actioned.”
Moving up the ladder, cybersecurity professionals can work in more specialized fields. As cloud computing has become increasingly common, Caminer says this sector is “one of the highest demand fields and also one of the most lucrative and well-paying fields.”
Some cybersecurity jobs may involve less engineering and technical pursuits, such as managing governance, risk and compliance, running large programs, and interacting with auditors, regulators, and senior governance bodies within an organization. Additional opportunities include becoming an ethical hacker, a cyber security director, or pursuing jobs that specialize in an area of cybersecurity, like digital forensics or cryptography.
Though smaller companies and organizations might not have the volume or finances to have their own full-time cybersecurity person, Caminer says these types of career opportunities are still a good idea.
“Every organization really should have someone who can service cybersecurity, even if they’re not doing it themselves,” Caminer says.
Common career paths for grads with a master’s of cybersecurity
While the sky is seemingly the limit when it comes to cybersecurity career opportunities, there are a few common career paths that graduates of master’s degree programs often pursue.
Cybersecurity analysts can work within the IT department of an organization or as independent consultants. These analysts must have a deep grasp of their client’s internal computer systems to supervise them for bad actors.
Network security engineers work to protect an organization’s entire computer systems from threats, including hacking attempts, bugs and malware. This role is intended to identify the existing issues within a computer system and safeguard against future threats.
Cybersecurity engineers use electrical engineering and computer science to protect organizations, and develop and design computer software services meant to protect organizations from cyber attacks and threats. These engineers also assess an organization’s existing computer systems and work to protect them.
Computer and information systems managers—also called IT project managers or IT managers—manage an entire organization’s computer-relatedoperations and evaluate its IT goals.
Many national and international tech companies also have chief information officers, chief information security officers, and chief technology officers that may be filled by someone with a master’s degree in cybersecurity. These roles are the most senior executives that manage and implement information and computer technologies.
While many graduates with a master’s degree in cybersecurity are quickly snapped up by the Microsofts and Googles of the world, some also go on to work for the federal government. Especially in the age of digital espionage with Russia and China, Caminer says there’s growing interest in working for the federal government, even for professionals who are already established in the private sector.
“You’re not wedded to one side or the other,” Caminer says. “There’s a lot of passion and a lot of interest in people working in corporate roles who are beginning to be drawn back into public service.”