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The Land of Lincoln features a solid mix of degree programs and jobs for anyone interested in cyber security. To see your choice of colleges, visit our list of Illinois schools with cyber security programs. For info on what the state’s cyber security educators and businesses can offer in terms of scholarships, networking opportunities and career paths, read this guide.
Studying Cybersecurity in Illinois
Illinois’ colleges and universities are the main drivers of cyber security research in the state. Several address the topic through annual conferences, such as University of Illinois at Springfield’s Cyber Defense and Disaster Recovery Conference and Illinois Institute of Technology’s ForenSecure.
Other public and private universities — and even community colleges — are involved in cyber security education. Here are some of the most active:
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the Prairie State’s sole entry on HP’s 2014 list of the country’s best cyber security schools. Its Information Trust Institute is a hub of security-related activity, featuring a distinguished lecture series and weekly seminars on assured cloud computing as well as trust and security. Its research focuses include energy systems, where it runs the U.S. Department of Energy’s Cyber Resilient Energy Delivery Consortium (CREDC), and health information, where it directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Strategic Healthcare IT Advanced Research Projects on Security (SHARPS).
- Illinois State University is one of six 4-year colleges in the state to be recognized by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as a Center of Academic Excellence. ISU, which already has a BS in Information Systems with a specialization in Information Assurance and Security, is adding a Cyber Security major in 2017. Its Center for Information Assurance and Security Education receives advanced hardware and software donations from area security firm Trustwave.
- The NSA and the DHS have also designated two Illinois community colleges as Centers of Academic Excellence: John A. Logan College and Moraine Valley Community College. In 2014, the latter welcomed educators from across the country to the first annual Community College Cyber Summit. In 2017, it hosts the midwest regionals of the Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.
- DePaul University has standalone BS and MS programs in Cybersecurity, but it also wins points from security company CloudPassage for the number of security electives available to its Computer Science majors: nine. That’s the third-most of any of the 121 top-rated schools for tech in the country.
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Online Cybersecurity Programs in Illinois
Unlike most states, Illinois has online cyber security programs at all academic levels up to a master’s. Though no one school dominates in distance learning, collectively the state’s public universities and community colleges provide state students with opportunities to study in the discipline while seizing on lower in-state tuition rates. Private colleges, meanwhile, pick up the slack in the graduate school category.
If you’re not committed to an entire online program but would like to take coursework via distance learning, check with the Illinois Community Colleges Online (ILCCO), which lists courses available through the state’s nearly 50 community colleges.
Online Associate Degrees In Cybersecurity
An associate degree can be the first stopping point for students interested in cyber security because it’s the typical minimum requirement for an entry-level job in the field. There are two main options for Illinois students who want an online associate degree. The first is to just get that security degree. Though most schools don’t have fully online programs, McHenry County College does. Its AAS in Network Security is for aspiring computer network architects, computer network support specialists and computer systems analysts. Notice that the word “security” doesn’t fit into any of those career titles. If you want something more specialized, you’ll likely have to earn a bachelor’s degree in cyber security.
And if you’re heading that direction anyway, it’s worth considering the second option — taking an online transfer degree like the one at Shawnee Community College. Essentially, you’ll get all your general education credits out of the way without taking coursework related to a major. The degree is designed to transfer easily to bachelor’s programs at Illinois colleges, such as the ones below.
Online Bachelor’s Degrees In Cybersecurity
Getting a four-year bachelor’s degree is advisable if you want a higher salary and a role specifically in security. But where can you get one online in Illinois? Look at two spots. The first is University of Illinois at Springfield. Before you can be admitted to its BS in Information Systems Security program, you must have two semesters of Java programming experience under your belt, along with a semester each of advanced math, calculus and statistics. That should give you some idea of the level of coursework for the degree. A second option is Southern Illinois University’s Bachelor’s in Information Systems Technologies with an emphasis in Network and Information Security. Whereas the UIS degree has a strong foundation in computer science, this degree looks at practical applications, which means much less in the way of math.
Online Master’s Degrees In Cybersecurity
The average cyber security specialist with a master’s degree can earn more than the average specialist with a bachelor’s degree. That’s because the more skills you attain — and the more professional certifications you accrue to prove it — the higher up the employment ladder you can go. There are three primary places in Illinois to look for an online program that will move you up the ladder.
- Lewis University offers an online Master of Science in Computer Science with a Cyber Security concentration. You’ll come in with a tech degree and graduate with an expanded understanding of systems, theory and programming.
- If you don’t have a tech background — or even if you do — look to DePaul’s MS in Computer, Information and Network Security. Its introductory coursework is intended to get you up to speed on programming and systems, but it goes light on the theory (i.e., you might get away with less math).
- Northwestern’s online Masters in Information Systems Specialties (MSIS) with a specialization in Information Systems Security is a good choice for folks who don’t have an extensive background in IT or computer science. It covers fundamental technical skills (e.g. securing network systems, designing secure systems) and managerial topics (e.g. risk management, disaster recovery, policy development, etc.).
Online Certificate Programs In Cybersecurity
There are two reasons to enroll in a certificate program. First, you’ve already got a bachelor’s degree in tech and want a year of cyber security training to advance your career. Second, you don’t have an undergraduate degree and want to quickly become employable in the cyber security field, perhaps as you continue on in an associate or bachelor’s program. One example of the former is the graduate certificate in Computer Security at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It’s three courses long and assumes no prior knowledge of computer security. An example of the latter option is Elmhurst College’s undergraduate certificate in Cyber Security. Structured as a five-course overview of the topic, it also assumes no prior knowledge of security. Its aim is to prepare students for standard professional certifications.
Cybersecurity Scholarships in Illinois
There are several scholarships out there for cyber security students specifically and even more for tech or STEM students generally. However, you won’t have to search for all of them. That’s because colleges often use standardized scholarship application forms that put students’ names into consideration for institutional awards they qualify for. Here are examples of relevant cyber security scholarships schools are offering:
- Deutsche Boerse Systems, Inc. Tarik Bicakcic Memorial Scholarship: Senior students in Computer Science, Information Systems, Information Technology or Network Engineering and Security with a 3.0 and financial need qualify for this award. Apply online through DePaul’s Scholarship Connect tool.
- Rubinow Endowed Scholarship: Graduate students enrolled in the Computer Information and Network Security program qualify for this award, which goes to students with financial need. Use Scholarship Connect to apply.
Eastern Illinois University
- Caterpillar Homeland Security Scholarship: Caterpillar wants to help construct your future. If you’re in a graduate certificate program related to homeland security and the FAFSA shows you to have financial need, apply for the scholarship by the end of March.
- Kate & Cliff Strandberg Graduate Assistantship in Technology: School of Technology students can get $8,100 to spend nine months teaching, researching or serving the school. Of course, you’ll still have to complete your own coursework as well.
- School of Tech Alumni Scholarship: Seniors and graduate students in the School of Technology are eligible for this award, provided they have a 2.75 GPA and are enrolled in at least six credits.
Illinois State University
- Graduate Trustee’s Tuition Waiver: Haven’t received funding for graduate school? There’s one last option: a tuition waiver from the School of Information Technology. To apply, email an application to the IT graduate advisor.
- School of Information Technology Graduate Assistantship: Your first shot for graduate funding in the MS in Information Systems program should be with an assistantship. In exchange for 10 to 20 hours of teaching, you’ll receive a tuition waiver and stipend. Apply online through the Office of Human Resources.
- IT Family and Friends Scholarship: Everyone chipped in — faculty, staff and supporters of the university — and put together $1,000 for outstanding students in the School of Information Technology, including those studying information assurance or network security. Apply for this and four other School of IT awards through a single application.
- State Farm Companies Foundation Scholarship: Here’s one of those other awards. It’s worth $4,000 to new undergrads. Why apply? Two reasons: First, there are five of them, so your odds are good. Second, they’re looking for students in specific areas of study, including Security/Network Defense, so your odds are even better.
- Dana Dominiak Scholarship in Computer Science: Would you take $1,000 toward your Computer Science degree? Of course you would, especially if you have demonstrable financial need. So earn the 3.14 GPA you need to qualify, and apply via the school’s single scholarship application.
- Raymond E. Klump Memorial Scholarship: Here’s another $1,000 award for undergraduate Computer Science majors with financial need. A 2.75 GPA is enough to qualify.
- William and Nanci Greene Scholarship in Computer Science: The Greenes throw in a bit extra to make it $1,250 for Computer Science majors with financial need. Again, a 2.75 qualifies you.
- William L. Walz, FSC Endowed Scholarship Here’s the one most Computer Science majors really want, but you’ll have to wait until senior year to apply. It’s worth $5,650 and goes to students with financial need who’ve been leaders on campus and are interested in bringing that spirit to an internship with Christian Brothers Services.
McHenry County College
- John and Marilyn Krenger Scholarship: McHenry has limited awards for cyber security students specifically, but you are invited to apply for the Krenger Scholarship, where you’ll compete with other students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines for $4,000. The Friends of MCC Foundation bases its decision on financial need, academic standing (3.0 GPA required) and a personal essay. Apply via the link above.
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
- Boeing Information Systems and Applied Technologies Scholarship: You’re reading this because you’re interested in information security. Now get paid from Illinois-based Boeing to continue your undergraduate security studies (e.g., via a BS in Information Systems Technologies with a Network and Information Security emphasis) at SIU’s School of Information Systems and Applied Technology. Register with Academic Works and submit the SoISAT Scholarship General Application Form to apply for this and the Phelix Scholarship below.
- Camelle W. Logan & Sonia Veronica Phelix Scholarship: Ms. Logan is looking to fund students who envision a career in information systems and have the academic record to get there. Financial need is not necessary.
University Of Illinois At Chicago
- CyberCorps Scholarship for Service: Didn’t think UIC had a cyber security program? It doesn’t. But undergrad Computer Science majors who plan to max out their elective course load with security-related classes can get their tuition and fees waived and a handsome stipend in exchange for an agreement to work with a federal agency in information assurance after they graduate.
- HS-STEM Scholarship: Computer Science grad students have their own award. Like the SFS, their tuition and fees are taken care of and they’re given a monthly stipend. However, they are not obligated to work in the field after graduation.
University Of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign
- Illinois Cyber Security Scholars Program: There are multiple routes to earning this full scholarship (plus stipend) for both undergrads and graduate students — even law students can qualify — but it’s reserved for students who commit to working in cyber security with a federal agency after graduation.
Cybersecurity Events in Illinois
Cybersecurity Meetups & Communities In Illinois
What do you want to get out of a cyber security community? Do you just want to grab a beer and a bite with people in the field? If so, go to a CitySec group. There are four in Greater Chicago under the Burbsec umbrella. Springfield residents can attend the similarly themed SpiSec. If you want something more substantial, say, seminars or structured networking events, at least one of the meetups below should be right for your level of knowledge and engagement:
- Chicago Security Meetup: Every two months the self-professed ninjas, hackers and pirates of the Chicago Security Meetup gather at 6:00 to listen to an expert outside speaker. Sample session titles include “Mr. Human: Vulnerability Management from the Attacker’s Perspective” and “A Data Centric Approach to Information Protection.” Membership is open to anyone who clicks “join.”
- Evolve Security Academy: With everything from workshops to presentations in an open mic night format, EvolveSec tries to have something for cyber security enthusiasts of all levels, including those who’ve never touched a keyboard. It meets in Chicago.
- ISSA Chicago: The Information Systems Security Association’s Chicago chapter meets every month to grab a drink and listen to interesting professionals. Past speakers have included the Chief Information Security Officer of the FBI.
- NCC Group Security Open Forum: The structure: Meet every quarter and listen in on three half-hour presentations from fellow members. Meetings typically take place at recognizable Chicago businesses, such as Basecamp and Braintree, which hints at the networking opportunities available.
- OWASP Chicago Chapter: The Open Web Application Security Project has chapters all over. Like the NCC Group, OWASP Chicago also meets at area tech companies. Once there, OWASP members mingle, take care of chapter business and then discuss topics ranging from random number generation to DevOps.
Cybersecurity Conferences & Workshops In Illinois
Meetups and chapter meetings provide steady year-round communities. But conferences provide an opportunity for continuing education credits and networking beyond your immediate reach. Here are six events that represent the best of what’s on tap throughout Illinois:
- Chicago Cyber Security Summit: In case you didn’t know this one-day event targets senior execs, the concluding cocktail mixer is sponsored by a cigar company. You’ll be there someday.
- Chicago Suburbs Tech-Security Conference: A mix of exhibition booths and speaker presentations, this Data Connectors event is a free, easy way to see what’s going on in the field.
- Cyber Defense and Disaster Recovery Conference: Hosted by the Center for Systems Security and Information Assurance at the University of Illinois at Springfield, the daylong CDDRC should appeal to students and security professionals alike. Choose between multiple tracks throughout the day to sit in on the presentations you’re most interested in.
- ForenSecure: The Illinois Institute of Technology’s annual event showcases IIT’s work in cyber security and forensics, while also leaving time for presentations from professors and professionals from throughout the country.
- Thotcon: You can go to this conference for Chicago hackers, but first you’ll have to find it. The location is top secret.
Cybersecurity Jobs in Illinois
Greater Chicago has the fourth-most information security specialists in the country, with over 2,600. But it’s hungry for more, with 9,623 job postings in 2014, according to Burning Glass Technologies. Its 164 percent growth rate in postings from 2010 to 2014 places it fifth on that list, meaning its already strong market for cyber security professionals is nowhere near saturation. Competitors DC, New York and Silicon Valley can’t argue the same.
Illinois doesn’t have the same volume of cyber security firms as other states, but there are a few to keep an eye on. In particular, five firms made Cybersecurity Ventures’ list of the hottest 500 companies in the field: Cimcor (#75), NowSecure (#124), Trustwave (#157), Flexera Software (#174) and Kenna (#338). They may not be big name companies, but you should look into them for employment because they may be looking at you, literally. For instance, Trustwave sponsors the Illinois Technology Association’s annual Tech Challenge, partly so it can snatch the top competitors away for internships.
Still want bigger names? Boeing. United. Discover. State Farm. Allstate. All Fortune 500 companies based in Illinois with information — financial or otherwise — that needs to be protected from hackers. Notice anything else about this list? Two of the biggest insurance companies in the U.S. are on it. In fact, insurance is Illinois’ biggest industry. With companies being hacked left and right, insurance companies are now offering cyber policies worth billions in premiums. To insure against security breaches, though, they have to understand the risks they pose, and TechCrunch anticipates the insurance industry to be a major growth area for cyber security professionals in the coming years.
Cybersecurity Salaries in Illinois
At $87,690 per year, the median average salary for information security analysts is a shade behind the national average of $90,120, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, because Illinois’ cost of living is several ticks below the national average, there’s not much to worry about.
But perhaps that’s too general — most cyber security specialists will work in the Chicago Metropolitan Area, which is a little more costly to live in than the state of large. Even so, Indeed.com found that after adjusting for cost of living, Chicago placed sixth for average salary among the site’s 15 most popular search destinations for tech jobs. That’s better than rivals New York, DC and Los Angeles.
All Cybersecurity Programs in Illinois
Below are all the matching programs we found in our directory, from 21 Illinois schools.
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