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Part of the Silicon Prairie, Iowa is filled with tech entrepreneurs who recognize the need for cyber security. We’ll explore Iowa employers who are active in the industry, networking opportunities that can lead to job offers, and scholarships that can fund your education. Speaking of education, we’ve also got a list of all the cyber security programs in the state, so keep reading.
Studying Cyber Security in Iowa
Iowa State University is the most prestigious destination for aspiring cyber security researchers and professionals in the state. The school is Iowa’s lone National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education and Research, a distinction applied by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. Here are five quick facts about the university:
- Iowa State University leads the Iowa Cyber Alliance, a consortium of schools, businesses and government bodies that works to improve cyber security education and training within the state.
- Staff at ISU’s Information Systems Security Laboratory (ISSL) train IT employees in Iowa as well as test products for companies within the state.
- In addition to the physical ISSL, ISU has a virtual laboratory, ISEAGE, used by K-12 and college students across Iowa for cyber defense competitions and research.
- The school’s Information Assurance Center helped craft the state’s first-ever cyber security strategy in 2016.
- ISU has received an average of $500,000 a year from the National Science Foundation since 2001 to provide full scholarships to master’s students in a cyber security program.
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Online Cyber Security Programs in Iowa
If you’re set on an online cyber security program in Iowa, look to Iowa State University, which runs graduate level programs. Unfortunately, bachelor’s and associate degrees in the subject haven’t yet found their way online.
Online Master’s Degrees in Cyber Security
ISU’s Master of Engineering in Information Assurance is only available online. There’s no thesis, but you’ll still work hard to complete the 30-credit program, which looks for students with a baccalaureate in an IT field (and, ideally, at least three years of work experience). Alternatively, students can opt for the Master of Science in Information Assurance, which comes in thesis and non-thesis forms. Practically speaking, there’s not a lot of difference in the degrees, except for the addition of a capstone in the ME program.
Online Certificate Programs in Cyber Security
The Graduate Certificate in Information Assurance is an online-only program comprised of four courses that transfer to the ME or MS in Information Assurance. Because it’s meant for students testing out distance education and/or information assurance coursework, the admissions requirements are the same as the ones for a master’s degree.
Cyber Security Scholarships in Iowa
To help pay for college, look for the three “ships”: scholarships, fellowships and assistantships. The latter two are typically reserved for graduate students in particular departments, but you can find scholarships at all levels. We’ve discovered several cyber security scholarships in Iowa offered through college foundations and academic departments:
Indian Hills Community College
- Allender Technology Perpetual Scholarship: The Allenders set aside two $600 scholarships — one each to an incoming and returning student — for academically excellent full-time students working toward one of four advanced technical degrees, including the AAS in Computer Networks & Security.
- Chuck Poncy Memorial Scholarship: Another $600 goes to a full-time (preferably nontraditional) student in one of two tech programs, including the Computer Networks & Security program.
North Iowa Area Community College
- Communication 1 Network, Inc. Scholarship: A local telecommunications company bestows an annual scholarship on students from Kanawha, Klemme, Corwith or Britt. Recipients typically are enrolled in one of the four Information Technology programs, which encompasses Information Assurance & Security.
Scott Community College
- Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) – Information Technology Majors Scholarship: Scott Community College, part of Eastern Iowa Community Colleges, gives two $500 awards to IT students who are AITP Club members. Recipients must have earned at least 15 credits at a 3.0 level and have financial need.
Cyber Security Events in Iowa
Cyber Security Meetups & Communities in Iowa
As you’d expect, most of the cyber security organizations and gatherings in Iowa are clustered in the capital, Des Moines. But Iowa State University’s impressive information assurance research means that Ames is represented, while there are sporadic events for professionals from Cedar Rapids to Davenport. For instance, both Ames and Davenport are large enough to accommodate 2600 meetings, monthly gatherings of hackers and all others who are interested in informally discussing security topics. Below, we’ve listed the most active groups in the the Hawkeye State:
- Iowa InfoSec: Every third Wednesday of the month, this group meets up in Des Moines for happy hour at Wellman’s Pub. Strictly designed for networking and socializing, Iowa InfoSec meetups are a great way to meet other members of the capital’s security community.
- ISACA Iowa Chapter: Des Moines area professionals interested in information systems audits and controls can join ISACA. The Iowa Chapter’s 200+ members meet monthly for luncheon presentations, and its leaders regularly schedule trainings. Students who want to join receive a discount. ISACA also maintains an Illowa Chapter covering east of Cedar Rapids, but it meets infrequently.
- ISSA Des Moines: Iowa’s chapter of the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) gathers on the fourth Monday of each month for networking and presentations from area experts. As a professional organization, ISSA costs money to join, but students get a huge discount.
- OWASP Ames: The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) is a worldwide organization that’s free to join. The Ames chapter meets quarterly for fascinating presentations from ISU research scientists, local security analysts, and even FBI field agents. Des Moines and Iowa City also have registered OWASP chapters, but it’s unclear how active they are.
- SecDSM: One last recurring date for your monthly calendar: the third Thursday of the month. That’s when another group of security pros, many who also attend Iowa InfoSec events, come to The Forge in Des Moines. Unlike Iowa InfoSec, SecDSM combines its drinks and apps with short presentations.
Cyber Security Conferences & Workshops in Iowa
From Des Moines to the Quad Cities, there are events you should be going to if you want to extend your network and grow your technical expertise. Here are five just for you:
- BSidesIowa: Organized by members from Iowa InfoSec and SecDSM, BSidesIowa has been rocking since 2012. Two tracks of local presenters give hour-long presentations covering everything you wanted to know about security but were too afraid to ask. For a fun diversion, SecDSM runs a concurrent Capture the Flag competition. Tickets for the daylong event, which is usually held in Des Moines, are free.
- CornCon: Quad Cities gets in on the fun with its own daylong conference for hackers, which includes kids events alongside two tracks filled with provocative presentations plus Capture the Flag. The topics are serious but the approach is lighthearted, so be prepared for a lot of corn-y puns.
- Data Connectors Des Moines Tech-Security Conference: Data Connectors rolls through Des Moines every February to present the latest security products. The exposition is free to attend and includes sponsor demonstrations.
- CyberCon: The Iowa Communications Alliance organized a one-day summit in suburban Des Moines in 2016, which brought in speakers from state government, local colleges and businesses. By the following year, the telecommunications-centered conference had grown to span two days.
- Secure Iowa Conference: The two-day Secure Iowa Conference in Ankeny has been organized by the Des Moines ISSA Chapter since 2012. It features two tracks — one for technical professionals and one for managers — so everyone can get something out of it. Although the conference is free, the daylong pre-conference workshop is not.
Cyber Security Jobs in Iowa
Iowa needs more cyber security workers. It has the third-lowest supply compared to demand in the U.S. And even though 4,200 cyber security pros call Iowa home, employers advertised positions for another 2,800 in just a year, according to a 2016 report from CyberSeek. That’s because, while there are plenty of applicants holding starter certifications such as the Security+, employers cannot find enough qualified workers with CISSP or CISA certifications.
So who’s hiring cyber security professionals? Des Moines got its nickname, Hartford of the West, because it’s an insurance hub like its Connecticut namesake. Principal Financial Group is based there and, along with Wells Fargo and Nationwide Insurance, is one of the city’s top five employers. All three advertise for information security analysts. So does Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, the biggest health insurance company in the state.
If you’re looking to be in a company that treats security as its bread and butter rather than as a support function, you have a couple of options. Integrity, which offers InfoSec consulting to businesses, keeps its national headquarters in the capital. On a smaller scale, Tier 3 Technology in Des Moines hires entry-level workers to supply small businesses with basic network security services. Or start your own thing: The startup scene in Iowa and around the Midwest is so vibrant that many refer to the region as Silicon Prairie.
Cyber Security Salaries in Iowa
Iowans with STEM backgrounds not only have employment opportunities but also earn good salaries. Out of the 330 largest metro areas in the U.S., Cedar Rapids and Ames both place in the top 25 on WalletHub’s list of Best Places for STEM Grads 2016, which analyzed wages and cost of living as well as job concentration and unemployment rates.
Cedar Rapids and Des Moines are even better for tech workers specifically. The two cities placed sixth and eighth, respectively, on SmartAsset’s 2016 list of Top 10 Cities for Tech Workers. Both cities earned high marks for their low unemployment rate for college grads and the large concentration of tech workers within the local economy, but an average salary of $77,000 paired with a cost of living more than 10 percent lower than the national average got Des Moines extra attention. The average information security analyst anywhere in Iowa makes nearly that amount, $74,000, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
All Cyber Security Programs in Iowa
Below are all the matching programs we found in our directory, from 8 Iowa schools.
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