Alabama is an emerging hotspot for cyber security, thanks to Huntsville’s strong ties to the defense and aerospace industries. But to land a job in the Heart of Dixie you’ll need a degree. We’ll show you where to look in the state for programs (see our full list), tell you who has the biggest scholarships, and survey the networking landscape.
Studying Cyber Security in Alabama
Five Alabama schools — Auburn University, Tuskegee University, University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of Alabama in Hunstville, and University of South Alabama — receive National Science Foundation (NSF) funding to offer cyber security students a full ride through the prestigious CyberCorps Scholarship for Service. That’s more than California has, and a great indication that you’ll have solid degree options in every corner of the state. But these five schools are not the end point, just the beginning. They’ve joined with two other research universities in the state — Alabama A&M University and University of Alabama — to form the Alabama Cyber Research Consortium so they can share resources and collaborate on projects.
Let’s take a look at what several of these schools have going on:
- Security is a focus for the Auburn University College of Engineering, as evidenced by the Auburn Cyber Research Center. In 2016 researchers with the center won a National Science Foundation grant worth $640,000 over three years to conduct a cloud computing security study.
- Tuskegee University’s Center of Information Assurance Education is led by Dr. Fan Wu, who won a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation in 2016 to teach Alabama high schoolers tech concepts. How? By having them assemble hardware and software for aerial drones.
- The University of Alabama Cyber Institute website is out of date, but that’s probably because the faculty and students have been busy solving felonies with the Joint Electronics Crimes Task Force, which formed in 2014 to assist law enforcement agencies. The task force strengthened its presence by adding the Network Intrusion Lab in 2017.
- University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Center for Information Assurance and Joint Forensics Research is a cross-diciplinary endeavor that has generated funding from the NSF, Comcast, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Food and Drug Administration. It also is an incubator: One of its startups, Malcovery Security was bought by Birmingham-based PhishMe in 2015.
- The Center for Cyber Security Research and Education at University of Alabama in Huntsville feeds directly into Cummings Research Park, the second-largest research park in the nation. But students don’t have to wait until graduation to get hands-on experience: The school built the Davidson Cybersecurity Lab in 2015 so CyberCorps students would have more room to research. And UAH’s approach is so highly regarded that the University of Hawaii System is working with the university to develop its own cyber security program.
- The University of South Alabama received an NSF grant to plan a Center for Advanced Research in Forensic Science. Still in development, the research site will focus on digital forensics information intelligence.
Online Cyber Security Programs in Alabama
Looking for a cyber security degree on-campus? You’re good to go. Online is a different matter, although there are a few high-quality degrees available at the master’s level, including from University of Alabama in Huntsville and Jacksonville State University, both of which are designated National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education. Here’s an overview of all the distance degrees and certificates in the state:
Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Cyber Security
The Criminal Justice degree at Troy University is the only online baccalaureate we could find that would fit the needs of cyber security students. That’s because it features a concentration in Digital Forensics.
Online Master’s Degrees in Cyber Security
Jacksonville State University offers an online MS in Computer Systems and Software Design with a concentration in Information Security and Assurance. It’s designed for those with baccalaureates in a computer-related discipline.
The only alternative is a hybrid program, University of Alabama in Huntsville’s MS in Cybersecurity. To be admitted, students must have excelled at hardcore math and computer science concepts as undergraduates.
Online Certificate Programs in Cyber Security
Troy University runs a Cybersecurity Certificate program out of its Criminal Justice department as well as a Digital Forensics Certificate. Both are undergraduate credentials, meaning they don’t require enrollees to have previous exposure to criminal justice or computer technology.
Cyber Security Scholarships in Alabama
Schools such as Auburn University at Montgomery and University of Alabama at Birmingham make graduate assistantships and/or fellowships available to students in their cyber security programs. And many schools, including Auburn University and Jacksonville State University, use a scholarship management tool to list scholarships online. In addition to the awards you’ll find at such sites, Alabama schools offer a number of scholarships specifically for aspiring cyber security professionals:
- CyberCorps Scholarship for Service: Undergrads who desire a career in an information assurance position, which typically means students within the School of Engineering, can get their junior and senior years paid for and then some. This scholarship, which goes to students with at least a 3.0, includes full coverage of tuition and fees, a health insurance stipend, professional development monies, a textbook stipend and a $25,000 annual stipend to cover living expenses. Graduate students qualify, too. They’ll need at least a 3.5 to qualify and are eligible for all of the above, plus get an extra $5,000 for living expenses. Successful applicants commit to working for a government agency for several years after graduation.
- Computer Science Scholars Program: Freshman enrollees majoring in Computer Science, Information Systems or Information Technology (which features a concentration in Network Administration/Security) can win up to $5,000. The minimum qualifications for consideration are a 3.5 high school GPA and a score of 24 on the ACT’s Math section.
- CyberCorps Scholarship for Service: Tuskegee began offering the SFS in 2017. Graduate students and undergrads are both eligible for the award, which includes full tuition, a health insurance allowance, money to attend conferences and join professional organizations, and a $22,500 to $34,000 annual stipend. Those who win it must work for a government agency after attaining their degree.
University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)
- CyberCorps Scholarship for Service: Graduate students in the Computer Forensics and Security Management (MS CFSM) program can get their tuition, fees, health insurance and textbooks covered through the CyberCorps Scholarship, which also pays $4,000 for professional development activities and $34,000 a year for living expenses. Recipients agree to work for a government agency immediately after graduation.
- InfraGard Birmingham Gary Warner Scholarship: UAB students shooting for a career in computer forensics can apply for this renewable scholarship of varying amounts if they’ve earned a 3.0 GPA.
University of Alabama in Huntsville
- CyberCorps Scholarship for Service: Like the CyberCorps scholarships at other Alabama institutions, this one also covers tuition, fees, textbooks, health insurance and a generous stipend ($22,500 for undergrads and $34,000 for graduate students). Undergraduate upperclassmen in a computer science or engineering program with a 3.0 GPA are eligible, as are graduate students with a 3.2. The “service” part of the scholarship comes after graduation, when recipients work for a government agency for two to three years.
University of South Alabama
- BBVA Compass Scholarship for Cyber Security: Cyber Assurance students with a 3.0 GPA or higher may qualify for this award, which is usually given to students from lower-income families.
- CyberCorps Scholarship for Service: By now, you know the basics: The CyberCorps Scholarship for Service is a full ride. South Alabama students studying information assurance must have a 3.2 (undergrads) or 3.5 (graduate students) to qualify, and accepting the award means working for a government agency after graduating.
Cyber Security Events in Alabama
Cyber Security Meetups & Communities in Alabama
If you live in the Huntsville or Birmingham areas, you’ll find a number of professional organizations and more informal networking groups for cyber security. Here are six of the most active:
- ISACA Birmingham Chapter: ISACA used to be called the Information Systems Audit and Control Association. Its Birmingham chapter meets every month from September to May to hear guest speakers, and members receive help studying for a variety of ISACA-sponsored professional certifications. Student members are welcome.
- ISACA Huntsville Chapter: ISACA’s Huntsville chapter meets every month of the year for guest speakers. Like other ISACA chapters, student members are welcome and all members can take the association’s certifications.
- ISSA North Alabama Chapter: ISSA, which stands for Information Systems Security Association, also welcomes student members. Those in the Huntsville area can attend monthly luncheons with professionals in the field for lively discussions about security topics.
- HackBama: Geared toward seasoned professionals, HackBama meets two Sundays out of the month to strengthen the abilities of the Huntsville area’s hacker community in pen testing, vulnerability analysis and digital forensics.
- HUNTSEC: A free group, HUNTSEC accepts people with all levels of information security expertise. Every second Thursday, they descend upon a Huntsville brewery for informal networking and beer.
- OWASP Alabama: The Open Web Application Security Project’s outpost in Birmingham comes together monthly for presentations and discussions. It’s free to drop in.
Cyber Security Conferences & Workshops in Alabama
To get advanced word of conferences and workshops in the state, we recommend taking two steps. First, join one of the communities above, many of which sponsor events or travel as a group to conferences. Second, bookmark these two sites that keep event calendars: Cyber Huntsville and TechBirmingham. Here are seven annual events you’ll likely find on one or both sites:
- Air Force Information Technology & Cyberpower Conference (AFITC) : The focus of the AFITC is making America safer. Government staff and military members have three days of trainings and presentations in Montgomery to learn how. While the conference isn’t open to the public, students are allowed to register.
- Alabama Cyber Now Conference: This fledgling Birmingham event held for one day each spring is big on breakout sessions and exhibits aimed at businesspeople and IT professionals.
- Alabama Digital Government Summit: Similar summits, held by the group Government Technology, take place in capitals across the U.S. The Montgomery version is for state-employed staff who may have limited exposure to security protocols and tech best practices.
- BSides Huntsville: BSides conferences are put on by local volunteers across the world each year for anyone interested in information security. At Alabama’s only event, there are two tracks, each packed with expert speakers drawn from the north Alabama tech community. You can find archived presentations from each daylong conference extending back to 2014 on the website.
- National Cyber Summit: Students benefit from heavily discounted tickets to this three-day annual event in Huntsville, which features a mix of short keynotes and tracked presentations aimed at management, education professionals or IT pros. Highlights include the Cyber Cup competition and a job fair.
- Power Grid Defense Conference: Launched in 2016 as an annual event, the Power Grid Defense Conference’s title pretty much explains its mission. It takes place in Huntsville because of the city’s connections to the defense and space industry. The public is welcome to buy tickets for the conference on the first day, but the second is reserved for a planning committee that will make recommendations to Congress.
- TakeDownCon Rocket City: Put on by the EC-Council, TakeDownCon Rocket City is yet another Huntsville event. This one is for ethical hackers who have two days to devote to presentations, lock picking and Capture the Flag.
Cyber Security Jobs in Alabama
Birmingham may be Alabama’s biggest city, but Hunstville is where you want to head for cyber security jobs. SmartAsset ranked the city the third-best in the country for tech jobs in 2016, using a formula that factored in wage ratio, cost of living, unemployment rate and the percentage of city employed in tech. And NerdWallet rated the city the top destination for STEM grads in 2016, right above Silicon Valley.
What does Huntsville have going for it? For one thing, Cummings Research Park is truly massive, and tenants include cyber security employers such as Boeing, SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation), COLSA Corporation, Raytheon and Teledyne Technologies. If you’re confused at why there’s such a concentration of tech companies in Huntsville, it’s because of the Redstone Arsenal, a military installation that houses not only the Marshall Space Flight Center, which is NASA’s largest research facility, but also the Missile Defense Agency and Missile and Space Intelligence Center. That means there’s a surfeit of high-quality government jobs to go along with those in the private sector.
Cyber Security Salaries in Alabama
Not only are the tech jobs plentiful, but they’re also high-paying. Huntsville came in seventh on SmartAsset’s 2017 list of Top 25 Places for Pay in STEM, thanks in part to its low cost of living. Information security analysts in the state at large pull in nearly $86,000 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, just shy of the national average of $90,000. But those at the bottom end of the pay scale (the 10th percentile) can count on making around $55,000 a year, about eight percent higher than the national average, meaning it’s a great landing spot for recent college graduates who want to build up their work experience.
All Cyber Security Programs in Alabama
Below are all the matching programs we found in our directory, from 8 Alabama schools.
Auburn University at Montgomery
|Auburn University, Alabama||NSA
Jacksonville State University
Snead State Community College
University of Alabama at Birmingham
University of Alabama in Huntsville
University of South Alabama