What’s the difference between a cybersecurity degree and a computer science degree?

by NU Online on 2/27/20 10:15 AM

For over two decades, the path into the field of cybersecurity involved earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science and then acquiring more specialized skills on the job or through certifications. Although keeping up with the latest coding languages, software, and hardware is par for the course as a computer science professional, proliferating online threats have created a second, nearly parallel pathway: the cybersecurity degree.

two men looking at code on computer screen

In a nutshell, a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity streamlines the coursework toward security-specific occupations, and shortens the often winding route through extra undergraduate math courses and massive open online courses (MOOCs) many computer science professionals take to get into the field and stay ahead.

At the same time, the programs reflect shifting business needs. For years, businesses assumed antivirus software and avoiding social engineering tactics would protect them against threats—until breaches at Facebook, Equifax, and even Dow Jones exposed just how vulnerable large, seemingly secure companies and their data are. For small to medium-sized businesses, these incidents illustrated how essential protecting company, customer, and client information is. The effects of ignoring or minimizing cybersecurity, then, reach far beyond a business’s physical walls; breaches threaten to damage a business’ reputation and can even result in high-dollar lawsuits that can cause a company to close up shop. It’s a risk no entity can afford to take.

As a result, businesses of all sizes have been on the lookout for cybersecurity professionals to identify vulnerabilities, secure the network, and protect valuable data against third-party intrusions. Based on a recent study by Cybersecurity Ventures, demand for cybersecurity professionals is predicted to grow 350% by 2021, resulting in 3.5 million openings across the globe. Yet, a skills deficit exists, creating a high number of unfilled cybersecurity jobs.

That’s where earning an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in cybersecurity comes in handy. Think about the following points when deciding between the specialized cybersecurity program and the more traditional computer science degree.


Comparing Coursework

Computer Science: Programming Language and Math Heavy

Due to increased demand, many computer science degree programs now offer a cybersecurity minor or concentration. Traditionally, however, computer science programs have focused on the “how” angle of software and hardware, and thus gear the curriculum toward careers in software development, engineering, and analysis.

This degree usually begins with a series of math and science core requirements, going over linear algebra, probability, statistics, discrete mathematics, differential calculus, and advanced physics. Then, during the second year, the program shifts toward more advanced coursework, covering programming languages, algorithms, data structures, logic and computation, machine learning, information theory, hardware topics, and computer architecture. Topics may be influenced by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society and CSAB, Inc. (formerly the Computing Sciences Accreditation Board, Inc.).

The foundation developed by most computer science degrees is versatile and relatively adaptable, opening the doors to a range of software-, hardware-, and technology-based careers. Languages and technologies, however, are ever-changing. To remain on top of recent developments, computer science professionals never truly stop their education, absorbing new topics through MOOCs, studying for specialized certifications, or taking advantage of employer-sponsored education programs to expand their skill set.

For students interested in this field, Norwich is launching a new online bachelor’s degree program in computer science September 2020.


Cybersecurity: Strong Network and Information Security Emphasis

Three significant factors differentiate a cybersecurity degree from a computer science degree. First, the math- and science-heavy core course load is dwarfed drastically. Second, due to rapidly evolving threats and the skills needed to identify them, the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security frequently have a hand in shaping a program’s curriculum.

As a result, computer science and cybersecurity programs overlap to some degree, but the latter branches out into data analysis, identifying cyber threats, network security, cryptography, information security, network and systems administration, information assurance, and forensics. In line with growing litigation and industry standards, cybersecurity programs may further delve into the legal side of IT, touching on developing network security policies, data ethics, and legal and industry compliance concerns.

As a third factor, schools often craft cybersecurity curricula with a clear career path in mind, thus shaping it around more hands-on instruction and distinct job responsibilities. Hands-on instruction, however, isn’t strictly for on-campus programs. Online cybersecurity degrees incorporate real-world scenarios into the curriculum and require virtual lab exercises. For example, Norwich’s online bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity provides real operating systems in a virtualized web-based environment.

Among these hands-on skills, students gain the ability to evaluate a computer network; learn ethical hacking techniques; have the knowledge to develop a company-wide IT policy; and are prepared to continuously monitor and troubleshoot network vulnerabilities based on the latest trends and threats.

Yet, as with computer science programs, students working toward a bachelor’s or master’s degree in cybersecurity may have the option to select a concentration. At Norwich, for instance, students may select between a concentration in Computer Forensics and Vulnerability Management or Information Warfare and Security Management. This specialized coursework may offer more insight into cloud computing, legal and compliance issues, or forensics, providing a stronger understanding of current criminal tactics and the tools to analyze evidence. 


To Whom are Cybersecurity and Computer Science Programs Marketed? 

Because of its widely applicable curriculum, schools frequently gear computer science programs toward high school students looking to earn a bachelor’s degree. The coursework’s nature often provides a solid, reliable introduction to IT concepts and expectations, and should students decide the major is not for them, the core and programming courses carry over to other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs.

Because cybersecurity offered a career-enhancing credential for many computer science and IT professionals until fairly recently, the programs—from certificates and associate degrees through a master’s—retain this perspective from multiple angles. Beyond the knowledge, cybersecurity programs are geared toward helping professionals gain CompTIA, Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP), and Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) certifications.

As a result, schools may position an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s in cybersecurity as a back to school–type program, in which working computer science or IT professionals can transfer some undergraduate credits, take several network and information security courses on a part-time basis, and earn a career-specific degree in two or three years. For convenience, such programs may be structured in online or hybrid formats. For Norwich’s online bachelor’s in cybersecurity, learn more about the program’s convenient yet comprehensive structure.

Students should evaluate their program choice based on career goals and ideal college experience. Those seeking a more well-rounded, math- and science-based curriculum may be advised to work toward a computer science degree, with a minor or concentration in cybersecurity. Students who want to jump into a programming- and security-focused curriculum may find a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity to be a more beneficial track.


Examining Potential Career Outcomes

Regardless of the degree program, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that careers in computers and information technology are expected to grow 12% from 2018 through 2028. Opportunities for software developers are expected to increase 21%, and for information security analysts, companies will have 32% more openings.

The outlook for students with a cybersecurity or computer science degree appears positive. However, demand for cybersecurity professionals is predicted to outpace most other IT occupations threefold, based on a recent study from Burning Glass Technologies.

Considering these outcomes, the question is no longer “Which is better for my career?” but “What can I see myself doing?”

To simplify things, cybersecurity professionals, regardless of specialization, spend more time:

  • assessing networks for vulnerabilities;
  • conducting penetration testing;
  • developing IT policies to prevent a breach; and
  • identifying why and how a network was breached.

Even within this relatively straightforward description, certain cybersecurity jobs lean more toward programming skills and software development, while others cross over into project management, analytical, and legal roles. Openings, too, cover a wide swath of industries. Although the government generates a high level of demand, education, nonprofits, manufacturing, finance, research, healthcare, retail, and any industry where customer or client information needs to be kept secure require knowledgeable, certified cybersecurity professionals.

Common cybersecurity jobs include:

  • Security Analyst
  • Security Administrator
  • Security Architect
  • IT Security Engineer
  • Penetration Tester
  • Security Auditor
  • Vulnerability Assessor

Computer science degrees, by contrast, cast a wider and more expansive net. Coursework sets the stage for several technical IT, software, and development roles, and the degree’s versatility provides a platform for advancement, provided the computer science professional continues to procure various in-demand professional certifications—including in cybersecurity.

With at least a bachelor’s in computer science, students may find themselves working as a:

  • Software Developer
  • Hardware Engineer
  • Computer Programmer
  • Database Administrator
  • Web Developer
  • Systems Analyst

For whichever path aligns with your career goals and schedule, Norwich University accommodates a range of students with our online cybersecurity bachelor’s degree program and our upcoming online computer science bachelor’s degree program. To learn more about our degrees, browse our program pages or  request additional information today.

Norwich University Online
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This post was written by NU Online

Norwich University Online offers several master’s degrees and bachelor’s degree completion programs as well as certificate and enrichment programs. Designed to accommodate students’ varied work schedules and lifestyles, our programs are delivered through a virtual and highly interactive learning platform that connects Norwich’s exceptional faculty and curricula to students across the country and around the world.

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