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Computer networks allow organizations to connect with employees, clients, customers, and suppliers. The more organizations rely on these advancing and expanding technologies, the more problematic network threats and challenges become. An accredited master's degree in network security positions graduates to provide valuable support to organizations in this ongoing battle.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 33% growth for information security analysts between 2020 and 2030, making it one of the fastest-growing occupations in the country. Master's graduates in this field qualify for these in-demand positions, along with many other computer occupations.
Here, we explore the online network security master's and rank the best programs in the field.
Avg. annual net price: $15,016
Application fee: $90
San Diego, CA
Avg. annual net price: $32,460
Application fee: Not publicly available
Avg. annual net price: $14,607
Application fee: $30
Avg. annual net price: $26,839
Application fee: $35
Avg. annual net price: $22,284
Application fee: $25
To create the list below, we rely on carefully curated information and expert insight from industry and educational professionals. ZDNet's ranking methodology involves weighing information from publicly available national datasets and from the specific schools and programs.
Unless otherwise indicated, data is drawn from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and College Scorecard.
About the program: UofA's 33-credit online cybersecurity master's program provides training in cyberthreat intelligence, information security risk management, and cyberwarfare. UofA is designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense.
About the program: A Catholic institution, USD runs a 31-credit online cybersecurity operations and leadership master's program. Students complete courses in applied cryptography, secure systems architecture, and network vulnerability detection.
About the program: EIU's 32-semester hour online cybersecurity master's program includes training in database security and reliability, facility security, and biometric security.
About the program: RMU's online cybersecurity master's program combines information security and management training. Students complete courses in enterprise operating systems, computer network security, and secure programming. RMU is designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education.
About the program: UC's 30-credit online cybersecurity master's program features courses in cyberoperations management, cyberpsychology, and legal issues in cybersecurity. Students can concentrate in cybersecurity strategy, information assurance, and cyberintelligence.
About the program: A Baptist college, MC offers an online cybersecurity and information assurance master's program with training in cryptography and network security, computer and network forensics, and ethics and law in information security.
About the program: DeSales' faith-based 36-credit online cybersecurity master's program includes core training in IT security, wireless technology management, and vulnerability assessment. DeSales is home to the Center for Homeland Security.
About the program: A Catholic institution, Saint Leo offers a 30-credit online cybersecurity master's program with courses in cybersecurity compliance, secure software design, and cybersecurity risk management.
About the program: Champlain's online digital forensic science master's program features between 30-36 credits in courses like the practice of digital investigations, mobile device analysis, and digital investigations for civil litigation. Champlain is designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education.
About the program: Embry-Riddle's 33-credit online information security and assurance master's program features core training in risk management and business continuity, quality management for information assurance, and incident management and information forensics. The program also offers concentrations, such as information systems security and protecting business intelligence.
About the program: Maryville's online cybersecurity master's program provides training in ethical hacking, cybersecurity incident response, and legal aspects of privacy and compliance. Students can choose from leadership, technical, and general focuses.
About the program: Webster's 36-credit online cybersecurity master's program provides core training in cybersecurity communications, infrastructures, and strategic operations.
About the program: UMGC's 36-credit online cybersecurity technology master's program includes courses in prevention of cyberattack methodologies and digital forensics technology. UMGC is designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education.
About the program: Excelsior's 30-credit online cybersecurity master's program offers courses in ethical leadership, network and communication security, and strategic talent management. Excelsior is designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education.
About the program: Stevenson's online cybersecurity and digital forensics master's program covers topics in network penetration testing, mock intrusion and response, and file systems forensic analysis.
Network security master's programs can take various approaches in their curriculums. Typically, they focus on preventative security strategies for networks, software, and information systems. Students learn to monitor and identify threats before they take place.
Some programs may emphasize the legal side of cybersecurity, including ethics, privacy laws, and digital forensics. In general, master's students build on undergraduate information technology foundations. They learn to solve more advanced and complex technological problems through theoretical explorations, research, and extensive practical exercises.
While online and on-campus programs feature similar material, online learners usually have more schedule flexibility. Therefore, they may need to demonstrate more independence and ambition to complete their studies. Some cybersecurity programs receive designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education from the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.
The type of courses in a network security master's differ by program. Students may encounter courses focusing on network, database, software, and general systems security. In most cases, cybersecurity-related programs aim to equip learners with a diverse skill set to thwart equally diverse cyberattacks.
Students may also study more broad information technology concepts, such as design, architecture, and management. The following list of courses examines some of the most popular core topics studied at this level.
Secure systems architecture
This course teaches students how to design and build secure computer systems. Learners gain a familiarity of the security needs of various systems, along with the proper frameworks and processes.
In this course, students learn to conduct system and network vulnerability assessments. Learners examine effective checklists and penetration testing methods, along with the methods for addressing exposed threats.
Students in this course learn the most practical applications and aspects of cryptography. They explore various authentication protocols, random number generation, and public key encryptions. They also look at the issues with these applications.
Cybersecurity incident response
This course examines the protocols and strategies for cybersecurity professionals in the event of an attack. They learn how to identify and respond to attacks, investigate and report them, collect evidence, and recover from the damage.
At all levels, cybersecurity programs provide students with applicable and practical training. With each subsequent degree, the complexities of the training and the professional opportunities available after graduation grow. Here, we look at the different levels and what they can provide learners.
Network security programs at the associate level usually emphasize the basic principles of cybersecurity. Students learn the primary methods for protecting systems and networks, along with the main types of attacks and their motivations.
These programs also provide degree-seekers with foundational information technology training. Graduates can pursue entry-level positions in the field or continue their training with a bachelor's degree.
Network security bachelor's programs provide students with information technology fundamentals, along with specialized cybersecurity training. Students learn to identify threats and protect against them using various methods and technologies. Degree-seekers can often specialize in the field of their choice, exploring network, database, or systems security.
Bachelor's training blends theoretical and practical training, and many programs feature internships in the later years. A cybersecurity degree at this level qualifies graduates for many computer occupations, including entry-level cybersecurity positions.
A network security master's program delves into more specialized cybersecurity practices and technologies. Students learn to protect a large number of systems in very effective ways. They also acquire more advanced risk prevention, testing, and response strategies, while gaining a solid understanding of cybersecurity laws.
Master's students perform extensive research and engage in many practical experiences throughout their studies. After graduation, they can pursue most computer occupations, often in managerial or analyst roles.
Doctoral programs in network security are the most advanced available. Students at this level conduct very specialized research in an area of their choice. In addition to mastering existing cybersecurity practices and technologies, they seek out new and improved methods and innovations.
These programs usually involve incredibly in-depth research and practical experiments. Graduates typically pursue positions in academia and research and development, but management and consulting roles are also available.
Network security master's graduates have access to many computer occupations, particularly those dealing with network administration, architecture, and security. The top-ranked programs listed above represent some of the best training available in this field. Prospective students looking for more information should contact the schools and program departments directly.