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Getting an Online Degree in Information Security

Dec 5, 2007 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Education.org Columnist | 0 Comments

As technology improves, so do our methods of protecting digital information.  But hackers and identity thieves are just as innovative as software companies.  As long as organizations have valuable information to safeguard, there will be people trying to steal it.  

That’s where an information security specialist comes in.  Their job is to protect corporate data, employee and customer information, product specs, and other valuable information from unscrupulous data thieves.  As more and more organizations go digital, the demand for people with these skills increases.  As an information security specialist, you can find work with government, corporate, or nonprofit employers.

What You’ll Learn


Many online colleges offer general degrees in information technology with a concentration in information or network security.  In many programs, you’ll learn the basics of managing a network, as well as relevant programming languages and certifications for an IT career.  Some IT degrees also incorporate business and economics classes.

Within the information security concentration, you’ll usually learn how to secure networks and applications, maintain internal network security, online security tactics, and how to identify threats and hackers.  You may also learn how to design custom security solutions and create firewall systems.

Where To Get Your Degree


There are many different colleges offering Bachelor’s, Master’s, and certificates in information security online.  Here are just a few of your options.

Peirce College. This school was founded in 1865 to serve adult and non-traditional students.  It’s a private college based in Philadelphia that offers both online and campus curricula. Peirce relies heavily on online education in all its courses; even its traditional classes have accompanying websites. 

The school offers both an Associate’s and a Bachelor’s degree in information technology, with a concentration in information security.  The Associate’s degree prepares students for Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) certification, and it also lays the foundation for CompTIA A+® and Security+TM certifications.  The Bachelor’s focuses on preparing students for Certified Information Systems Security Professional(CISSP) exams.  Both prepare students for security specialist positions in both corporate and government environments.

Westwood College was founded in 1953 as the Denver Institute of Technology, a traditional campus school.  In 2002, the school developed seventeen completely-online degree programs.  Today, Westwood boasts over 4,000 enrolled students.  

The school offers a Bachelor’s degree in information systems security—one of the few online degrees that concentrates solely on security.  Students learn how to identify threats, design counter-security measures, implement security processes, and more.  They are also given a well-rounded education that includes business courses.

University of Phoenix.  Founded in 1976, the University of Phoenix is one of the oldest online colleges in the country.  It offers a Bachelor’s degree in information technology with a concentration in information security. Students learn programming, database development and management, project planning, online technologies, and principles of online and internal security.

Western Governors University.   This is the only online school to be accredited by four regional accrediting agencies.  They rely on a competency-based system that requires students to prove their ability to perform certain tasks in order to advance in a degree program. 

The school offers a Bachelor’s in information technology with a concentration in information security.  In addition to the general IT skills students learn, such as programming, network administration, and database management, students prepare and test for nine different IT industry certifications, all of which are built into the cost of the class.

What to Look For in a Degree Program


A rigorous course load.  It usually takes about four years to earn a Bachelor’s degree, two years to earn an Associate’s, and another two or three to earn a Master’s.  This is no different in online programs.  Legitimate online schools are more prone to accelerating their programs in order to better serve their adult students, but watch out if the degree program you’re considering will take you months, not years, to complete. 

Qualified instructors.  At both traditional and online schools, professors and instructors usually have at least a Master’s degree—if not a Ph.D.  There are a few exceptions, but only for those who have been working in their industry for decades and have star reputations.  Look for a school that provides instructors with a proven track record of success.

Professional certifications.  There are a large number of certifications available for IT professionals.  Many of these are required to land a job in your field.  Some online schools prepare you for certifications, and some include certification as part of the class.  When choosing a school, ask to see what certifications the class prepares you for.  Some colleges have the cost of certification worked into the tuition price, while others may require you to pay separately. 

As companies eliminate paper records in favor of digital archives, move companies and information banks overseas, and guard customer information against the growing threat of identity crime, information security specialists are likely to be in demand for a long time.  A degree in information security prepares you for an important career with a strong outlook for the future.

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