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Innovations in cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things continue to drive the tech industry’s profound growth rates. However, with this growth comes a new generation of risks and threats, which we must counter through sound strategy, thorough planning, and capable incident response resources. These factors combine to make cybersecurity one of the fastest-growing employment sectors in the United States.
Businesses, governments, and other private and public sector organizations expect an increased need for cybersecurity professionals in the years ahead. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a massive 31% surge in jobs for information security analysts from 2019-2029.
A cybersecurity doctorate offers an excellent way to benefit from these trends. Candidates with prestigious terminal degrees enjoy access to a full spectrum of high-level jobs and roles, garnering salaries that reflect their importance and organizational value.
This guide explains everything you need to know about getting a Ph.D. in cybersecurity. It also offers a list of current options for top online study opportunities to help guide your program research.
Why Get an Online Doctorate in Cybersecurity?
According to CompTIA, a leading provider of IT certifications, there were more than 500,000 job openings in the U.S. for cybersecurity professionals in October 2020. This speaks to the strong current need for qualified candidates.
Cybersecurity encompasses many specialized roles and job functions. Some career paths, including advanced research positions and university-level teaching jobs, strongly prefer or require candidates to hold doctorates in cybersecurity. Ph.D. credentials also carry significant value in professional circles.
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As demand for cybersecurity specialists continues to rise, competition for high-profile and leadership roles intensifies. Possessing a cybersecurity doctorate helps you stand out in a crowded field of job-seekers. It also demonstrates your commitment to professional development, which employers always value.
Some of the job titles available to an individual with a Ph.D. in cybersecurity include chief information security officer, information security manager, lead data scientist, and technology research and development engineer. Beyond the prestige and high pay associated with these types of roles, an online Ph.D. in cybersecurity also delivers additional benefits:
An online doctorate in cybersecurity maximizes your employment options. A graduate with a Ph.D. can work in academia, research, or business sectors. Few other cybersecurity degree designations open as many doors as a Ph.D.
Deep Professional Insights
Traditional and online Ph.D. programs in cybersecurity delve well beyond the field’s purely technical aspects. They also encompass proficiencies like organizational leadership and advanced research capabilities, which carry a premium in the eyes of employers.
IT and tech professionals with doctorates drive a great deal of tech industry innovation. A Ph.D. in cybersecurity serves as an ideal credential for those seeking to push the limits of the field.
Online Doctoral Programs in Cybersecurity
Capitol Technology University
Laurel, Maryland Doctor
of Science in Cybersecurity Capitol Technology University has a Doctor of Science in
Cybersecurity program that is offered primarily online. Students will need to be in residence at the
university in Laurel, Maryland, for one course a year for the three years of the program. The degree
requires 54 to 66 credits and includes a dissertation. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in
information assurance, computer science, IT, or a closely related field. Additionally, applicants
who do not currently hold one of four industry certifications – CISSP, GSE, CGEIT, or CISM – must
take a comprehensive entrance exam. The university also requires applicants to have at least five
years of relevant work experience. Students may enter the program in the fall, spring, or summer
Dakota State University
Madison, South Dakota Doctor of Philosophy in Cyber
Operations Dakota State University offers a Doctor of Science in Cyber Security that
students can earn in a primarily online format. In addition to taking classes in a web-enhanced
online environment, candidates must complete three onsite research seminars at the campus in
Madison, South Dakota. The research seminars are held annually and last for several days. Applicants
to the program must have a master’s degree from an accredited university and must have earned either
a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer science. The minimum acceptable GPA is 3.0, and students
who earned a GPA of 3.25 or higher are exempt from submitting GRE scores. Students may only enter
the program in the fall semester.
University of Fairfax
Roanoke, Virginia Doctor of Science in Information
Assurance (DSc)Doctorate in
Information Assurance (DIA) The University of Fairfax offers a Doctorate of Information
Assurance for online students. To earn the degree, candidates must complete at least 60 credits
beyond the master’s level, which generally requires three to five years of study. Students will have
both synchronous and asynchronous elements in their coursework. The curriculum includes core
courses, specialization courses, research methods courses, research preparation courses, and
dissertation development courses. The program requires students to take two comprehensive exams and
to complete a research project and dissertation on a focused cybersecurity problem. Students can use
their dissertation to seek publishing opportunities. Applicants should have a master’s degree and a
minimum of five years of relevant professional experience.
What To Expect From Online Cybersecurity Doctoral Programs
Online Ph.D. programs in cybersecurity vary widely in their structures. Most include a standardized curriculum of core and elective courses, which students complete before focusing on their dissertations. The dissertation usually includes a long-form research project on a topic chosen by the student under the guidance and supervision of a senior faculty member.
Though some cybersecurity doctoral programs adopt fully online structures, many feature limited campus residency requirements. Campus residencies typically include symposiums on relevant topics and conferences with cohorts and faculty advisors.
In terms of completion timelines, candidates should expect to commit at least three years of full-time enrollment to the Ph.D. program. Schools typically allow part-time learners up to seven years to meet their graduation requirements.
Doctorates in cybersecurity carry varying degree designations. The Ph.D. usually applies to programs with a primary focus on applied theory and research. Candidates can also consider doctor of science (D.Sc.) programs, which focus on more technical topics, and doctor of professional studies (DPS) degrees, emphasizing practical, job-oriented skills.
Doctoral Admission Requirements
Cybersecurity doctorates universally require a four-year bachelor’s degree in computer science, computer engineering, information assurance, or another related field. Many programs prefer or require candidates with master’s degrees. In many cases, those that stipulate a bachelor’s degree as the minimum education level expect applicants to possess multiple years of professional experience in cybersecurity-related roles.
GPA requirements vary but usually sit in the 3.0-3.2 range. Candidates often must provide GRE or GMAT scores. Not all schools ask for test scores, but applicants can still submit them voluntarily.
Cybersecurity-related professional certifications also strengthen an application. Designations like CompTIA Security+, certified ethical hacker, GIAC security essentials, and many others qualify. Include these in your application package and provide documentation of your certification, even if the school does not formally request them.
Cybersecurity Degree and Specialization Options
Most doctorates in cybersecurity lead to Ph.D. designations, though some culminate in D.Sc. and DPS credentials.
Even though cybersecurity exists as a specialization within the broader field of computer science, some doctoral programs offer niche concentrations in highly targeted areas. Candidates with specific research interests or career goals may wish to explore these study options.
Specialization examples include:
Digital and Cyberforensics
This specialization has strong applications in law enforcement, antiterrorism, incident response, and private investigation.
Information assurance focuses on best practices and security techniques relating to the storage, retrieval, transmission, and use of sensitive or proprietary data.
Leadership and Innovation
Leadership-oriented specializations add organizational management training to a standard cybersecurity curriculum.
Doctoral programs typically facilitate high levels of customization. Thus, learners can also focus their electives, research, and dissertations on areas of particular interest. This effectively allows enrollees to create their own specializations.
Popular Doctoral Program Courses
Course content varies among schools and programs, and degree-seekers at the doctoral level play an active role in shaping their own learning. Most programs concentrate their customization potential in the program’s dissertation components. These usually feature a high level of self-direction, though dissertation topics require faculty input and approval.
In most programs, a standard set of required and elective courses precede the dissertation. Common examples of these courses include:
This foundational course builds on existing networking skills to explore intermediate and advanced topics in wireless computer and cellular telecommunications. Learners engage in theoretical and applied aspects of networking. Each enrollee completes a research project that critically examines a contemporary networking-related cybersecurity issue.
Usually offered as an elective, applied cryptography provides an accelerated survey of techniques used to protect information from unauthorized access. The course emphasizes information theory, number theory, cryptographic systems, and probability. Students also explore methods for decrypting sensitive data for investigative purposes.
Many cyberattacks originate with targeted exploits of vulnerabilities in software applications. In this required course, learners examine common, uncommon, and novel security weaknesses in widely used and specialized forms of software. Students foster a thorough, comprehensive understanding of how to prevent, detect, and remediate software-based attacks.
Governments continue to update laws and regulations associated with data, information, and computing networks. This elective course explores current and emerging topics in the field of cyberlaw and related ethical issues. It also familiarizes students with widely used compliance standards.
The Doctoral Dissertation
Practically all cybersecurity doctorates culminate in an intensive research project known as a dissertation. Most programs offer students wide latitude regarding topic selection, but they almost always require each enrollee to pose a specific, targeted, and relevant research question. The content of the dissertation then draws on original academic investigation and/or fieldwork to answer the research question.
Dissertation courses usually span two semesters in the final year of the program. Candidates begin by formulating and refining their topics with the assistance of dedicated faculty advisors. They then research, write, and revise multiple drafts of the dissertation before presenting their findings to a faculty panel.
Doctoral programs leading to Ph.D. degrees usually prompt candidates to take an academic focus in their research. Programs leading to D.Sc. and DPS designations typically feature a more applied approach, requiring students to demonstrate their synthesis of advanced skills and technical proficiencies gained throughout the program.
How Much Will an Online Doctorate in Cybersecurity Cost?
Earning an online Ph.D. in cybersecurity requires a significant investment of time and money. Accredited programs start around $350-$600 per credit. Top programs at prestigious schools can carry fees in the range of $1,500-$2,000 per credit or more.
In general, private schools charge more than public institutions. Similarly, reputable programs attract more accomplished faculty members, who tend to command higher salaries. Thus, students pay more to attend these schools.
Studying online offers significant savings over the cost of campus attendance, as learners do not need to relocate or commute. Some schools also offer price breaks to online students, such as reduced flat-rate fees for off-campus learners or access to reduced in-state tuition fees.
Despite the cost advantages of studying online, most candidates still need help financing their doctorates. Investigate forms of aid that do not require repayment, such as scholarships, fellowships, grants, and bursaries first. Consider options like government-issued or private loans as a last resort.
Jobs and Salaries for Doctors of Cybersecurity
Cybersecurity professionals work in the public and private sectors. Candidates with doctorates often qualify for leadership roles on cybersecurity and incident response teams. Doctorates also lead to roles in research, academia, and postsecondary teaching. Education-related career paths represent a set of options uniquely available to those with Ph.D., D.Sc., or DPS degrees.
Despite strong labor market needs for capable cybersecurity experts, professionals may struggle to advance into mid-level roles with only a bachelor’s degree. It can take years of on-the-job development to break through such barriers. Advanced degrees offer an alternative path, helping job-seekers qualify for meaningful roles more quickly while also maximizing their career growth options.
Examples of rewarding jobs available to candidates with a doctorate in cybersecurity include:
Information Systems Manager
These professionals direct the design and operation of all computer hardware, software, and networking systems their organization uses. A cybersecurity background provides an excellent foundation for those working in industries that handle high volumes of sensitive, private, or proprietary data.
Data scientists specialize in using technology to solve organizational challenges and business problems. A Ph.D. in cybersecurity qualifies candidates for lead roles on data science and information security teams.
These executives play leadership roles in fulfilling their organization’s technology needs. They develop and implement organizational technology strategies and align organizational goals with existing and emerging technologies.
Postsecondary instructors work at colleges and universities, where they teach courses to undergraduate and graduate students. Many also take on administrative duties and supervise graduate students’ research.
Required Education: Master’s degree plus extensive professional experience, or a doctorate
Each learner holds a distinct set of criteria to identify their ideal program. Depending on your learning goals, career objectives, and personal preferences, you should consider such factors as:
What kind of balance does the program place on core courses, electives, and dissertation research? Candidates seeking to maximize technical skills may wish to pursue more coursework-heavy programs, while those more oriented toward research may prefer schools that place more emphasis on dissertation requirements.
Available Concentrations or Specializations
Degree-seekers with targeted cybersecurity interests should seek programs with curriculum-based support in their preferred areas of inquiry.
Many students value the opportunity to study under the tutelage of accomplished professionals whose achievements mirror their own ambitions.
Proximity to key employment corridors help career networking efforts pay off. Examples of advantageous locations include major metro areas and tech-heavy regions like Silicon Valley and the Dulles Technology Corridor.
Accreditation is another critical consideration. Institutional credentials should always include current and valid national or regional accreditation. Specialized optional endorsements, such as the National Security Agency’s National Centers of Academic Excellence, also signal that the doctoral program meets elite standards.
Why You Should Get Your Cybersecurity Ph.D. Online
As a computer science field heavy on technical concepts, cybersecurity translates well to remote learning. Online delivery formats allow degree-seekers to move quickly through familiar concepts and slow down when handling more challenging material.
Scheduling flexibility offers another significant advantage. Campus-based programs have rigid schedules and require physical attendance, making it very difficult to balance learning with existing personal and professional commitments. Online learning liberates students from these confines, allowing them to study as their schedules allow.
Learners in technical fields related to IT and computer science generally feel comfortable with the independent, self-directed nature of online schooling. Keep in mind that succeeding at the doctoral level demands self-discipline and advanced time management skills.
Finally, remember that most online doctorates in cybersecurity include residency requirements. They deliver plenty of opportunities to enrich your learning experience through in-person interactions with peers, cohorts, and faculty members.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to get a Ph.D. in cybersecurity?
You should expect to spend at least three academic years on your cybersecurity doctorate if you intend to study full time. Candidates making part-time progress toward degree completion usually graduate in 5-7 years.
What can I do with a degree in cybersecurity?
A degree in cybersecurity qualifies candidates to work as cryptographers, cryptanalysts, security architects or engineers, incident response professionals, penetration testers, and IT consultants. Those with doctorates also gain access to research, teaching, and high-ranking management, executive, and C-suite roles.
Is a Ph.D. in cybersecurity worth it?
Given the current boom in the field of cybersecurity, degree-seekers continue to gravitate toward the field in large numbers. A Ph.D. or other doctoral designation can help your credentials stand out in a competitive labor market and help you bypass entry-level roles.
What's the difference between a Ph.D. and D.Sc. in cybersecurity?
Ph.D. programs retain a stronger academic focus, and coursework emphasizes applied theory and research. By contrast, D.Sc. programs center more on the advanced technical skills required of elite professionals.