Cybersecurity Programs in California
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Two words: Silicon Valley. The hub of technological innovation is the perfect launching pad for a cybersecurity degree, with internships and job openings at the world’s most recognized companies around the corner. If you’ve already made that turn, navigate to our list of all the cybersecurity programs in California. Otherwise, take the scenic route and read our explainer on California cybersecurity degrees, jobs and scholarships.
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Studying Cybersecurity in California
Though Silicon Valley, which houses San Jose and San Francisco, is the prime spot for jobs, some of the state’s most highly regarded university programs are outside the Bay Area. University of Southern California is perhaps the most prominent: IT experts ranked it the seventh best school in the nation for cybersecurity. But the Naval Postgraduate School, University of California, Davis, and Stanford University are all also well-respected. (Okay, so one of them is in the Bay Area.)
Here are a few notable cybersecurity initiatives at California universities:
- Three hundred miles south of Google and Facebook headquarters, University of Southern California is up to its elbows in real-world security. It houses the government-funded Cyber Defense Technology Experimental Research Laboratory (DETERLab), a virtual sandbox for governments, businesses and researchers to test out hacks — and solutions to them. The university is also part of a yearlong initiative, the Integrity and Reliability of Integrated Circuits program, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It aims to help designers build circuits that can rebuff hardware hacks.
- Back up the coast, the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey runs the Center for Cybersecurity and Cyber Operations (NPS C3O). You may take classes from Dorothy Denning, a leading cryptographer and a member of the first class inducted into the National Cybersecurity Hall of Fame.
- University of California, Davis is one of three California schools (along with the Naval Postgraduate School and UC Irvine) designated by the National Security Agency as a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Research (CAE/R). No wonder: Professor Matt Bishop literally wrote the book on computer security, with his textbooks commonplace in introductory courses nationwide.
- In 2014, the Hewlett Foundation furnished Stanford University with a $15 million research grant to establish the Stanford Cyber Initiative, a cross-disciplinary body that explores the intersection between technological advances and societal change. Since then, it has received further funding for research into consumer privacy, cyber data breach costs, and government policies toward encryption, just to name a few examples.
Online Cybersecurity Programs in California
Many schools dabble in distance learning, but it’s the extent to which they do that’s important. Cal State Fullerton has two online programs — Computer Forensics I and Cybersecurity Analysis — but they’re both certificates. Other schools, such as USC, reserve distance ed for graduate students. There are no schools in the Golden State with online cybersecurity programs at every degree rank. Instead, most of the big online players concentrate their offerings around one academic level.
Online Associate Degrees in Cybersecurity
Although there are plenty of certificate programs out there, an associate degree is the first academic credential most budding cybersecurity professionals target. After taking both general education classes and introductory courses covering basic security concepts, operating systems administration and networking, students can either apply their associate degree toward a bachelor’s or enter the workforce. Most California schools, including Cuyamaca College and Los Medanos College, eschew fully online associate programs in favor of handpicked online courses. This allows traditional students to get a taste of distance learning on the way to their associate degree.
At Sacramento City College, for instance, students can take both Introduction to Information Systems Security and Disaster Recovery online. Three additional courses are on tap in a hybrid format in which students meet in person with instructors but attend classes and do homework remotely. The program is ideal for students with or without previous exposure to cybersecurity principles who want to become network administrators. It prepares them for professional certifications such as the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) Security+ exam and certain Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) exams.
Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Cybersecurity
More advanced cybersecurity jobs, such as those with federal agencies, require employees to hold a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity (or at least a degree with a security concentration). There still aren’t that many online degrees at that level in California, however. Mt. Sierra College is one of the few, and it’s a great pick if you’re uncertain whether you’ll like the distance learning format. That’s because it uses something it calls FlexLearn, which allows students to take courses online or on campus as the mood strikes. FlexLearn is optional, so if you’re sure distance education is for you, you can work exclusively online toward a BS in Information Technology with a concentration in Information Security.
Online Master’s Degrees in Cybersecurity
Several master’s degrees in cybersecurity are available online because it’s at that point that students can really branch out and pursue a narrower focus, as opposed to with a broader computer science or IT degree. There’s enough variety in delivery formats among California-based online master’s programs to find one that fits around your work or personal schedule.
If you have enough time to occasionally step on campus, for instance, you might consider USC, which has the top online graduate information technology programs in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report. Through DEN@Viterbi, enrollees in the MS in Computer Science (Computer Security concentration) or MS in Cybersecurity Engineering attend live streamed lectures with their on-campus counterparts and call in to ask questions. Or they can access lectures at their leisure. Students based in southern California must come to campus for exams, while all others take proctored tests.
If you’re not in the area and want more flexibility, you have options as well. For example, unlike USC, the University of San Diego online learning environment is not integrated with on-campus programs. This means online students have their own teachers and lectures and don’t interact with campus-based students. Lectures are asynchronously delivered, so students have flexibility within each seven-week term. Students interact via chats, email and discussion forums. National University employs a similar online-only format, but it adds in specializations, with students either learning how to be ethical hackers or exploring government security policies in depth.
Online Certificate Programs in Cybersecurity
Certificates come in several shapes — undergraduate or graduate — but one standard size: one year or less. Undergrads can pursue an online certificate if they’re curious about the field but don’t want to commit to a two-year associate or four-year bachelor’s. Graduate students can grab a certificate to build upon their existing computer science knowledge so they can transition into a new or expanded professional role.
Offering certificate programs is also a way for universities to dabble in the emerging field of cybersecurity without rolling out a higher-level degree program. Some California schools have built quite a catalog of certificate programs, including California State University-Fullerton, which maintains two distinct online programs through its University Extended Education portal. Both are intended for law enforcement professionals who have to handle evidence from cyber crimes or respond to online attacks.
Elsewhere, California State University-San Bernardino prides itself on its cybersecurity center, which does some interesting things, like combine an MBA with a cybersecurity concentration. But its online certificate program is narrower in focus, aimed at giving future network administrators the basic tools to do their job.
Stanford has two options for distance learners—the four-course cybersecurity graduate certificate or the longer, six-course advanced computer security certificate. The first option deals with fundamentals (e.g. operating systems, computer and network security, introduction to cryptography, etc.) and is open to anyone with a bachelor’s degree. The second option is much more sophisticated, with a lot of heavy technical work. This is for folks with a BS in computer science and a background in security.
If you’re a military officer or civilian government official, the Monterey-based Naval Postgraduate School’s graduate certificate courses should prepare you for high-stakes hacks against the U.S. government. The cybersecurity defense graduate certificate, for instance, first shows practicing cybersecurity specialists how to sniff out potential attacks by analyzing network traffic and then how to respond quickly to hacks.
Cybersecurity Scholarships in California
As you ascend the ranks, sources of funding for degrees shift. At the master’s and PhD levels, you can target your funding search at private organizations interested in your research. Possibilities for fellowships, teaching assistant positions and graduate research posts also pop up. But one thing that stays consistent at all academic levels is the prospect of institutional scholarships. Here’s a list of what’s reserved for cybersecurity students at California colleges:
California State Polytechnic University-Pomona
- Scholarship for Service Program: Cal Poly Pomona received a 5-year grant from the National Science Foundation CyberCorps Scholarships for Service program to train students in cybersecurity. Scholars undergo rigorous training, including hands-on research, competitions, and industry certifications. Students will go on to help government agencies improve the security of the national information infrastructure.
California State University Sacramento
- Computer Science Departmental Scholarship: The department offers three $1,500 scholarships per year for its students. The College of Engineering and Computer Science, which the Information Assurance and Security program falls under, lists its own awards on a full page; each has its own requirements.
California State University-San Bernardino
- CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service: Full tuition is the tip of the iceberg with this award for upperclassmen in a bachelor’s-level Information Assurance program who are headed to graduate school. Recipients also get a stipend, a summer internship with the federal government and a job placement after graduation.
Naval Postgraduate School
- Information Assurance Scholarship Program (IASP): The National Security Agency funds a scholarship for master’s and PhD seekers in computer science and engineering fields at the Naval Postgraduate School.
- Scholarship for Service: Naval Postgraduate School students can have their tuition waived and earn $34,000 a year plus benefits if they agree to a two-year civilian cybersecurity post with a federal agency after graduation.
Sacramento City College
- Computer Information Science Department Scholarship: This $250 award is open to Information Systems Security students with a 3.0 GPA.
University of Southern California
- DEN@Viterbi Scholarship: This partial award goes to online students who also work full time without getting employer funding for school.
- Ming Qu and Ying Wu Memorial Scholarship: Chinese students with a 3.8 GPA can apply for a $10,000 award toward residential master’s studies at Viterbi School of Engineering.
- Xinran Ji Memorial Scholarship: Like the Ming Qu and Ying Wu Memorial Scholarship, this is a $10,000 award for students with a 3.8 GPA. The primary difference is that Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau residents are also encouraged to apply.
- Viterbi Squared Program: Online graduates who go back to Viterbi for a second degree receive special discounts, including a three-unit fellowship their final term.
Cybersecurity Events in California
Cybersecurity Meetups and Communities in California
From the Bay Area to the Mexican border, California is loaded with cybersecurity communities. Hackers are everywhere, but the nice ones congregate at Meetups. You can find some at Hacker Lab, a physical and virtual space in Sacramento; Los Angeles Hack Night, a gathering of hackers working on individual projects in each other’s company; and OpenLate, which features talks and hack nights at OpenDNS headquarters in San Francisco. There are plenty of cybersecurity meetups where hacking is less emphasized: The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) is a nonprofit with active groups in San Diego, the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Here are a few large groups to consider joining:
- Bay Area Cybersecurity Meetup: Equal parts informational and interpersonal, this group is just as likely to network at a happy hour hotspot as it is to listen to incident response presentations from invited guests.
- Bay Area Cybersecurity Startups: Organized by TechCrunch contributor Mahindra Ramsinghani, this exclusive group is reserved for startup founders, entrepreneurs and techies in the cyber sector. Monthly meetups are structured around intimate conversations with CEOs and CISOs.
- LETHAL – L.A. Ethical Technical Hackers And Leets: LETHAL meets monthly, without Anonymous masks, to listen in on presentations from its 500+ members. Lots of them are new to the cybersecurity world, so the group runs regular trainings on ethical hacking.
- CyberTECH Cybersecurity: A San Diego-based meetup, CyberTECH Cybersecurity brings together security and Internet of Things experts with investors and tech incubators. Its home base is the NEST, a coworking space for tech entrepreneurs and freelancers.
- Data Mining for Cybersecurity (SF Bay Area): SF-based researchers, engineers and hackers who want to explore how data collection and analysis can be used to keep computers and networks secure should join this group. It doesn’t meet as regularly as some other Meetups, but its events are too specific to find elsewhere.
Cybersecurity Conferences and Workshops in California
Because California is the epicenter of the tech revolution, several big cybersecurity conferences come through the Golden State every few years, many of them hosted by professional organizations. (Think: Information Systems Security Association.) Others go on the road to run trainings throughout the year: The SANS Institute runs multi-day workshops on cybersecurity in major California cities. But a few conferences have established roots in the Golden State and are held at the same location each year:
- Annual Computer Security Applications Conference: Held in Los Angeles, ACSAC is a chance for researchers, private sector security experts and government staff to come together for workshops on industrial control system security, layered assurance, and software security and reverse engineering.
- IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy: IEEE held its first symposium in San Jose in 1980, and the conference remains a fixture on researchers’ and professionals’ calendars. The three-day program is built around dozens of 20-minute presentations, with participants encouraged to stay a fourth day to attend a workshop of their choice.
- International Cryptology Conference: Conference-goers convene annually in Santa Barbara to present the latest research on passwords, encryption and ciphers.
- Network and Distributed System Security Symposium: The NDSS Symposium has roots in San Diego. Researchers, CTOs and security analysts and administrators go to listen to presentations and discuss their implications.
- RSA Conference USA. RSA brings together cybersecurity pros to San Francisco for a week of trainings and presentations on everything from DevOps to recent legislation to technology infrastructure. Newly launched products also compete for funding at the conference’s Innovation Sandbox Contest.
Cybersecurity Jobs in California
There were more than 28,000 unique job postings for cybersecurity professionals in California in 2014, the most of any state. But let’s put things in perspective: California is also the most populous state, so the proportion of cybersecurity jobs compared to the overall economy is actually only a bit higher than the national average.
But the state’s government isn’t resting on its laurels. In 2013, it created the Cybersecurity Task Force, a collaboration between tech companies, policymakers, educators and researchers. The goal: making the state a leader in cyber affairs and expanding its cybersecurity workforce.
It’s well-placed to do so. The task force has already partnered with the state’s Innovation Hub (iHub) Network to encourage cybersecurity innovation while creating jobs in the field for entrepreneurs. And it’s home to USC’s Center for Computer Systems Security (CCSS). Up I-5, UC Berkeley, Stanford, and San José State University operate the Team for Research in Ubiquitous Secure Technology (TRUST), which develops business-centric solutions to cybersecurity problems.
Plenty of businesses rely on research produced by those hubs. Over 10 percent of Fortune 500 companies called California home in 2015. While these include tech titans and networking biggies clustered in the Bay Area, jobs for cybersecurity pros can be found as far south as San Diego. And don’t overlook other CA-based corporations with obvious needs for cybersecurity staff. Think banks and lenders with a lot of consumer financial data. The major players include:
- Silicon Valley, the southern part of the San Francicso Bay Area, is where you’ll find the headquarters of Google (Mountain View), Apple (Cupertino), Cisco and eBay (San Jose), and Facebook (Menlo Park). Oh, and startups for everything under the sun. All of them need help keeping users’ data private.
- San Francisco is just around the Bay but has its own scene. It’s where the GAP opened its first store, and it’s also the site for Wells Fargo’s and Charles Schwab’s corporate offices. All three handle a lot of money via online transactions and have vested interests in protecting it.
- San Diego‘s Qualcomm is a global leader in wireless solutions and a sunny stopping point for cybersecurity grads. But half of SD’s 6,000+ cybersecurity experts work for the United States Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR).
Cybersecurity Salaries in California
Although living in California is reward enough, you might also earn a good salary in the state. Four of the 15 best-paying cities for information security specialists are in California and, in case you’re wondering, that’s after adjusting for cost of living. The “three Sans” — Francisco (average adjusted salary of $119,346), Jose ($99,075) and Diego ($98,303) — along with Los Angeles ($86,072) are all worthy destinations.
Return on investment (ROI) is another helpful metric to forecast potential earnings. Of the top 30 entries on Payscale’s College ROI Report exploring 20-year net ROI for computer science-related majors, 14 are California schools. These include three schools with cybersecurity programs: Stanford (#1), UC Davis (#23 with in-state tuition) and UC Irvine (#27 with in-state tuition).s
All Cybersecurity Programs in California
Below are all the matching programs we found in our directory, from 27 California schools.
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Are you ready to find a school that's aligned with your interests?
Find the right education path to take advantage of this fast-growing industry and join the front-lines on technology and security.