Information systems represent the critical backbone of an organization--and a point of vulnerability. Malicious attacks and system malfunctions threaten to corrupt or expose the data organizations use to manage operations, strategy, customer relationships, and other key business processes. Information systems security keeps the IT infrastructure safe for data management and storage.
A master's degree in information systems security sets you up for a leadership role in IT audit and security. Earn a master's degree online or on campus, developing advanced technical expertise and an understanding of industry best practices.
WorldWideLearn.com guides you through the process of planning and applying for graduate study in information systems security. By finding the program that suits your professional goals, you can set the stage for the next chapter in your IT career.
Guide to Master's Degrees in Information Systems Security
Information systems security takes a holistic approach to the problem of securing data. Unlike information security, which focuses on the security of the data itself, systems security focuses on creating a safe environment for information access, storage, and sharing.
To this end, information systems managers go a step beyond intrusion prevention and encrypting techniques. Information systems security brings together information technology and business expertise to create and implement a comprehensive security plan for the organization. Facets of a systems security plan include network audits, authentication protocols, disaster recovery and business continuity planning, and more.
Professional and Academic Master's Degrees
Master's degrees in information systems security reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the field. Choose among applied research and advanced professional degrees.
Master of Science. The MS in information systems security cultivates a strong foundation in information technology, preparing students for specialized research or an internship in their second year. The MS may lead to an industry role or an academic research career. Several programs have established PhD programs in information systems security to foster original scholarship and expand undergraduate education in InfoSec.
Master's in Information Systems Security. The ISS master's is a professional degree designed for mid-career professionals. The course curriculum can be tailored to your unique professional needs, and is available in a digital format for students who want to earn a master's degree online.
Master of Business Administration (MBA). The MBA in information systems security approaches security issues from a business perspective. The curriculum is heavily weighted toward business security issues such as project management, risk management, and administration of operations security.
Specializations in IS Security
Whichever master's degree program you pursue, you'll have the opportunity to specialize in a specific issue or competency in systems security design. Examples of information systems security specializations include:
- IT Governance
- IT Compliance and Audit
- Security Protocol Analysis and Policy Planning
- Disaster Recovery and Digital Forensics
- Risk Mitigation and Contingency Planning
- Information Security Law and Regulations
- Database Security
- Telecommunications Security
- e-Business Security
- Systems Architecture Security
- Operating System Security
- Network and Wireless Security
- Operational and Organizational Security
- Authentication and Encryption Systems
Depending on your program, you may specialize by taking elective courses, defining an independent or collaborative research project, or implementing a security initiative in the context of your current job or an industry internship.
IS Security Career Tracks
A master's degree in information systems security prepares you for a management or expert consultant role in corporate IT. Some of the job titles available to systems security graduates include:
- Compliance specialist
- Enterprise security manager
- Project manager
- Network security manager
- Data security administrator
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, systems managers and security specialists can expect "excellent" employment prospects, with job growth reaching 17 percent between 2008 and 2018. Many organizations are keen to hire graduates with an information security MBA, since they bring both the business perspective and technological skills to function effectively as systems managers.
Other career paths available to information systems security graduates include IT education and public policy analysis. A teaching career at the college level requires a PhD in information security or computer science.
Plan for a Master's Degree in Information Systems Security
A clear sense of your professional goals will help you make the most of the information systems security master's degree. The graduate program opens doors to a range of academic and professional opportunities. Knowing which resources to tap sets you up to achieve your potential as a security expert or leader.
Step One: Find the Right Graduate Information Systems Security Program
The first challenge in your graduate education journey is to find the right match between your interests and program resources. Narrow down your program options by researching these features in turn:
First, develop a comprehensive list of master's degree in information systems security. Identify programs in the field by accessing accreditation agency member lists and online directories like WorldWideLearn.com.
Accreditation is an important baseline measure of educational quality. Independent agencies conduct regular program reviews to assess program quality. Accreditation status determines the value of your degree as an employment credential and impacts your eligibility for financial aid. Find a list of regional and national accreditation agencies at the U.S. Department of Education site.
WorldWideLearn.com represents accredited institutions with master's degrees in information systems security. Search Degrees by Subject for program suggestions.
For Master of Science technology degrees, search ABET's Computer Science Accreditation Board (CSAB). This major technical accreditation agency lists ABET-accredited programs in information systems and information technology, some of which offer a security program.
For Master of Business Administration degrees, search AACSB International (The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business). The main accreditor of business schools maintains a comprehensive directory of MBA degrees with an information security concentration.
2. Program Format: Campus or Online Master's Degrees
Next, consider whether to earn a master's degree online or on campus.
Online programs offer the convenience of digital, asynchronous learning--log on to the virtual classroom on your own schedule. Digital graduate education is ideal for working IT professionals pursuing the master's degree alongside their career. Online information systems security programs often take advantage of this 'work-study' synergy by encouraging students to develop security initiatives and projects in the context of their professional role.
Campus degrees remain the preferred choice for continuing undergraduates and others who value direct, in-person access to campus resources. Aspiring academics also benefit from close collaboration with faculty and participation in a local scholarly community.
The right program format for you depends on your life circumstances, academic goals, and learning style. To combine features of both formats, look for a program with online courses and temporary campus residencies.
3. Academic Resources
Now the real program research begins. Investigate each program on your list, developing a sense of its unique landscape of resources and academic opportunities. Features to consider include:
- Specializations and InfoSec Certification Programs
- Degree Format and Requirements
- Faculty Expertise
- Research Facilities
- Relationships with Information Security Associations
- Employer Relationships and Internship Programs
- Career Support Services
- Learning Environment
Prioritize these features based on your personal goals. Look for specializations, courses, and faculty in your area of interest. If you're headed into industry, take a look at placement support and employer relationships. If an academic career interests you, consider a school with a PhD program and strong research labs.
WorldWideLearn.com facilitates your program research by putting you in touch with schools that meet your program specifications. Fill out a form indicating your academic criteria, and the system suggests master's programs. You can also arrange to speak with a school representative about program resources and admissions guidelines.
School Web sites feature most of the information listed above. Look for basic information such as degree requirements, courses, and specializations as well as links to faculty publications, student handbooks, and research lab websites.
Informational interviews help you develop a sense of the academic experience and the value of the degree as a professional credential. Meet with faculty, current students, and alumni. If possible, combine the interview with a campus visit.
4. Program Quality
Finally, evaluate program quality and rank your prospective schools. Key criteria include:
- Job placement
- Student demographics
To arrive at your final list of five or six programs, balance quality considerations with a frank assessment of your own likelihood of gaining admission. Master's degree programs publish average GPA and test scores to help you compare your profile with other applicants'.
Rankings can help you gauge reputation and the value of the degree. U.S. News & World Report publishes two rankings for graduate information systems programs--one as a library and information studies specialty and the other as a business specialty.
Admissions Departments feature useful information about current graduate students and alumni: average GPA and test scores; average years of work experience; admissions and placement rate; research topics; and employers of graduates.
Step Two: Apply to Graduate Information Systems Security Programs
Most graduate information systems security programs abide by standard applications requirements. Still, you'll need to submit a separate application for each master's degree program. Plan to complete the following steps to apply for admission:
1. Complete Prerequisites
Prerequisites represent an institution's minimum requirements for graduate study. In information systems security, standard prerequisites include:
- A bachelor's degree in management information systems, computer security, computer science, or a related field.
- Basic computer science, IT and/or business management courses, if your degree is in another field.
- Standardized tests such as the GRE and TOEFL (for international students)
- Work experience (required by some professional master's degree and MBA programs)
2. Prepare Application Materials
Begin your application by filling out a student information form online. In addition to this basic application, you'll need to supply these supporting materials:
- Academic transcripts
- Letters of recommendation
- Test scores
- Personal statement of research interests
Some schools also set up an interview and financial aid counseling session for applicants who make the first cut.
3. Research Financial Aid for Your Master's Degree in Information Systems Security
Most graduate students qualify for some financial aid for graduate school. Sources of funding include:
- University scholarships, fellowships, and grants
- Federal government funding from the Department of Education as well as national security agencies. The Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and National Security Agency all sponsor scholarship programs to promote information systems security research.
- Employer continuing education grants
- Private foundation and professional association scholarships for security professionals.
Other options for covering your expenses include low-interest student loans and work-study programs. You can also reduce the cost of your graduate degree by choosing to earn a master's degree online while you work
Explore your options for financial aid by meeting with a financial aid advisor. For a general financial aid reference guide, see WorldWideLearn.com's guide to graduate education funding.
Step Three: Build an Academic Network
You don't need to wait until the first day of graduate school to establish yourself as an academic. Seize the opportunity to build relationships and learn about your field now, drawing on these resources:
- Professional Associations. Major professional associations for information systems security professionals include ISSA (Information Systems Security Association). Also look for local chapters and niche groups in your specialization area.
- Journals. High-profile research and trade journals include Journal of Information System Security and Information Systems Security Today.
- Networking Events and Conferences. Universities, professional associations, and industry players host conferences and other events to promote exchange among information security professionals.
By establishing your academic network now, you'll have the inside perspective and support you need to focus your studies as soon as you start the program.
A master's degree in information systems security prepares you to answer the call for a secure, reliable data management platform. Organizations of all kinds rely on secure information exchange for everything from daily operations to high-level business intelligence. By planning your graduate journey, you're setting yourself up to play a leading role in making the information networks a safe place for commerce and communication.
- Best Business Schools and Best Information Science Schools Specialty Ranking: Information Systems, U.S. News & World Report (2010).
- Computer and Information Systems Managers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 Edition. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, U.S. Department of Education.
- IEEE Computer Society.
- Information Systems Security Association (ISSA).
- Information Systems Security Degree Concentration, Colorado Technical University.
- MBA with an Information Security concentration, Keller Graduate School of Management.
- National Training Standard for Information Systems Security, NSTISS.
- Programs in Computers, The Sloan Consortium.
- Search Accredited Programs, AACSB International.
- National Plan for Information Systems Protection: Executive Summary. The White House (2000).
- Search Accredited Programs, ABET.