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Why major in Cybersecurity
Cyberspace isn't getting any safer. Every day the news is filled with stories of bad actors, criminals, and renegade governments engaging in cybercrime, attacks on infrastructure, information warfare, and cyberterrorism. Virtually everyone has been a victim of a cybercrime ranging from identity theft, computer malware, ransomware, and even physical crimes. Governments, corporations, organizations, and individuals are all in need of capable cybersecurity professionals. The cybersecurity major provides a strong foundation in mathematics, computer programming, network security, and an arsenal of tools used to analyze, protect, and even attack systems.
Penn State Altoona's Cybersecurity Analytics and Operations degree prepares students to be leaders and experts in computer and network security. The degree provides a strong technical education in programming, mathematics, statistics, network security, computer forensics, cyber defense, and malware analytics. In addition, supporting courses in risk, privacy, and decision theory equip students to understand broader issues and put their technical skills to effective use.
The degree emphasizes hands-on work with the tools and technology of cybersecurity. Many of the courses have extensive lab components. As an example, the course in malware analytics teaches students to use tools to better understand malware and how to deal with the consequences stemming from attacks. The course in network security sets students up with a virtual network including firewalls, servers, and even attack systems so that students learn to both defend systems and how their computers and networks might be attacked.
Most cybersecurity majors go to work in technical areas helping organizations to identify and resolve security problems. In an ideal world, most of that work deals with proactively preventing attacks. Still, in cybersecurity, it is never an ideal world, and graduates will be called upon to defend organizations against cyber threats in real time that are doing real damage to systems and people.
Compared to Security and Risk Analysis with the Cybersecurity Option
Cybersecurity is a new major at Penn State. Historically, the College of Information Sciences and Technology's computer security major was Security and Risk Analysis (SRA) with the cybersecurity option. While this version of the SRA degree is no longer offered at University Park, it is still offered at Altoona, which raises the question: how are these two majors different? In short, the cybersecurity major is more technically rigorous.
Students in cybersecurity will complete significantly more math, programming, malware analytics, and cyber defense coursework. For students who desire to pursue a degree on the technical side of cybersecurity, the cybersecurity degree is a more challenging and appropriate major.
SRA with the cybersecurity option, however, should not be discounted on this basis. The SRA degree courses are a smaller subset of the cybersecurity courses in which most of the technical courses have been removed. This provides SRA students with a balanced education in the areas of risk, decision theory, network security, and computer systems. It also leaves enough room in the program for students to supplement their education in ways that might better serve their interests. For example, an SRA major could supplement the degree with courses in business with an eye toward a career in risk management.
Both majors have excellent job markets and meet differing student needs and goals.