Information Assurance Education and Degrees
Information assurance (IA) as a term encompasses all the measures that protect and defend information systems, thus ensuring continued integrity, confidentiality, authentication and non-repudiation. Information assurance along with information systems security together comprise what is known as cyber security. Information systems security protects information systems from unauthorized access to, or modification of, information, whether in storage, transit or processing. As the cyber security industry continues to grow, jobs for people working in computer systems security will also continue to increase.
Bachelor’s and master’s degree programs are springing up in response to the need for more trained personnel in this complex and challenging role. People who wish to enter this profession can apply to bachelor’s, master’s and certificate programs to learn the necessary skills and knowledge for the job. Online and traditional classroom options exist for most of these degree and certificate programs.
Bachelor’s degree programs incorporate training in a variety of computer disciplines. They will learn strategic risk management of information systems, to defend against hackers and viruses. Information assurance is interdisciplinary and requires knowledge of accounting, forensic science, management, systems engineering, criminology, fraud examination, computer science and security engineering. IA professionals must also consider privacy, regulatory compliance, auditing, business continuity and disaster recovery. Coursework will include some computer programming classes as well as a concentration of computer security classes such as security risk management, ethical hacking, vulnerability assessment and management, database security, computer forensics and operating system security.
Master’s degree programs in information assurance train individuals in the leadership and management skills needed for this profession. Building on a student’s existing computer experience, the master’s degree program provides in depth studies of risk management, security and implementing best practices in information security and management. Master’s degree programs usually offer a few concentrations within the discipline, such as managing cyber crime or computer forensics, business continuity or continuity of governmental operations.
A wide variety of certificate programs exist for both undergraduate and graduate levels of study. Some certificate programs can take up to two years to complete. Certificate programs offer courses such as program design and development, information systems security, building an information protection program, information systems threat assessment, cryptography and information security safeguards. These courses develop the skills to detect and resolve information systems threats. Students will learn to asses, audit, evaluate and test networks and systems security.
Besides a certain amount of computer programming classes such as C++ programming, introduction to UNIX and fundamentals of database systems, certificate and degree programs will offer a number of computer security classes including:
- Introduction to computer security
- Security risk management
- Principles of network security
- Scripting with Perl
- Assessing vulnerability
- Database security
- Forensics for computers
- Security architecture
- Business continuity
- Disaster recovery planning
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that job opportunities for information security analysts will increase by 22 percent through the next 10 years. However, in Maryland, where many Homeland Security and Defense Department organizations have their offices, the cyber security field is expected to grow by 41 percent over the next eight years, as reported by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. Cyber attacks are becoming more frequent and more sophisticated and complex. All organizations, businesses and local, state and federal governments require computer systems security personnel to protect their critical information technology systems. As the healthcare system moves to electronic medical records for all patients, cyber security has become increasingly important to protect patient privacy and personal data. Information assurance will continue to grow as a career.
The BLS gives the annual median wage of information security analysts as $75,660. Nearly all businesses and governments hire information assurance personnel. Some industries pay higher salaries for information security professionals than others. For example, information assurance personnel working in securities and commodity contracts brokerages paid salaries of $109,480 to their computer security people, while wired telecommunication carriers paid $87,800. States paying the highest wages for workers include Virginia, California, New Jersey and Maryland.
Information Assurance FAQ
What types of jobs can I expect with an information assurance degree?
People with degrees in information assurance generally work full time, usually in offices. Should a crisis or hacking incident occur, people involved with computer systems security would be expected to be on call until the crisis is resolved. Various businesses, organizations and governments hire computer security people, so jobs exist in all industries.
How long will it take to earn a degree?
A bachelor’s degree in information assurance will take four years to complete; a master’s degree will take one to two years after that. Cybersecurity certificate programs will vary depending on the program. Some take 18 months, others two years. Check with each individual program.
Where are the highest paying jobs for information assurance professionals?
Staffing agency Robert Half Technology’s “2012 Salary Guide” reports that salaries of information security personnel will increase by six percent, netting a base compensation of between $89,000 and $121,500, based on sector, experience and geographic location. The metropolitan areas paying the most for information security specialists included Reading, Pennsylvania at $117,260 and San Jose, California at $115,320. In contrast, non-metropolitan areas such as southwest Montana and west central Kentucky paid $50,950 and $59,150, respectively.