North Carolina doesn’t have the cyber security reputation of its neighbor Virginia, but Charlotte’s financial businesses, the Research Triangle’s labs and the Piedmont Triad’s universities all need experts in the field. If you already have a good sense of the territory, our list of North Carolina schools with cyber security programs will help you decide where to enroll. If not, keep reading to learn more about research initiatives, student scholarships and job opportunities in the Tar Heel State.
Studying Cyber Security in North Carolina
North Carolina is home to six colleges and universities recognized by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as National Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance/Cyber Defense. Here’s what a few of them are up to.
- Forsyth Tech is one of just two community colleges in the state to earn the NSA/DHS distinction (Rowan-Cabarrus Community College is the other), and it’s the only one to offer an associate degree. The school hosts cyber security events throughout the year, including its 2016 Cybersecurity Symposium.
- In 2015, the federal Cybersecurity Workforce Pipeline Consortium gave North Carolina A&T State University a $1.6 million grant, which it plans to put toward fellowships and summer internships for graduate students researching cyber security.
- The Wolfpack Security and Privacy Research (WSPR) Lab at North Carolina State University received $1.3 million in grant funding from 2013 to 2015 alone to produce research on everything from improving Google Play Store security to using text analytics to increase security on mobile phone apps.
- The University of North Carolina at Charlotte offers more academic programs in cyber security than any other school in the state. Students there can listen to outside speakers during the CyberDNA Research Center’s biweekly research seminars or take part in the school’s DHS-funded research on mobile security for federal agencies.
Online Cyber Security Programs in North Carolina
As of 2016, North Carolina did not have a statewide plan to address cyber security via education and workforce development. Instead, individual schools are taking the initiative to establish programs that meet the need for cyber security professionals. One example is North Carolina A&T’s membership in CECOR (Consortium Enabling Cybersecurity Opportunities and Research), a project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to create a K‐20 cyber security workforce pipeline.
Yet there are still relatively few academic degree programs inside the state — and even fewer online options. Students are hard-pressed to find bachelor’s and master’s level programs via distance learning in North Carolina because most colleges are dabbling in online certificates (at both the undergraduate and graduate level), perhaps as a prelude to placing full degree programs online.
Online Associate Degrees in Cyber Security
As two-year credentials, associate degrees are designed to be transferred toward a four-year bachelor’s degree. They get most of the general education requirements of a baccalaureate program out of the way and lay the foundation for further studies in a specific field. Although students are under no obligation to continue their studies, an associate degree has limited utility: It can help students pass industry certifications and land an entry-level job peripherally related to security but not ascend the ranks.
There are few options for an online degree in the field in North Carolina. One that is available is Southwestern Community College’s AAS in Cyber Crime Technology. It’s designed for students pursuing employment with local and state law enforcement agencies.
Check with the North Carolina Community College System’s Virtual Learning Community for a list of online degree programs, but keep in mind that some are hybrid, meaning you’ll be required to show up on campus during certain periods. Also keep in mind that colleges change their offerings and program titles regularly, so this resource is a guide, not gospel. If you do use it, it’ll be helpful to understand the state’s standardized program numbering system to make sure you get precisely the program you’re looking for.
Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Cyber Security
A bachelor’s degree is the standard credential needed for careers in the field, including job titles such as computer security specialist and information security analyst. Unfortunately, you may not be able to get there via distance learning in North Carolina. Since cyber security is a relatively new academic pursuit, the state’s public universities have not yet placed their bachelor’s programs in the field online. That should change in the near future, so keep checking UNC Online for program additions.
If you absolutely must do an online bachelor’s degree in North Carolina, look into East Coast Polytechnic Institute. It’s a regionally accredited for-profit university with locations in the state and online bachelor’s programs focused specifically on network security.
Online Master’s Degrees in Cyber Security
You don’t have to start from zero when pursuing a cyber security master’s. That’s because while graduate programs require enrollees to hold a bachelor’s degree, it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the field.
The primary route of entry for an online master’s in North Carolina is the MS in Network Technology with a concentration in Information Security from East Carolina University. It’s for network administrators working in the field who hold certifications in CompTIA Network+, Microsoft Network Essential or Cisco CCNA. Through the program, they’ll learn how to set up and protect networks against hacks.
Online Certificate Programs in Cyber Security
Certificates are semester- or year-long programs for one of two types of student: 1) undergrads looking to explore the world of cyber security and potentially apply those credits to an associate or bachelor’s degree, and 2) bachelor’s degree-holders with minimal exposure to cyber security coursework who want to leverage a certificate for professional certification or a job promotion. Both options exist online for North Carolina students.
For an undergraduate certification, your best bet is with the state’s community colleges, and with Rowan-Cabarrus in particular. Its Cyber Investigations certificate is a four-course program exploring how to recover data for criminal investigations, and its Cybercrime Essentials Certificate is a five-course program focused on securing networks and investigating hacks. For something more applicable to the corporate world than to criminal justice, try Craven Community College’s IT Cyber Security Concepts certificate, a five-course program covering network and information security basics.
At the graduate level, two public universities offer certifications. East Carolina’s Cyber Security Professional certification is meant to qualify students to become information security specialists or network security analysts. It builds into the school’s MS in Network Technology program but doesn’t require security prerequisites. Elsewhere, UNC Greensboro’s certificate in Information Assurance, Security and Privacy is also meant for students considering a master’s degree. Since the program emphasizes both theoretical and practical components, it’s structured to lead to either an MBA or an MS in Information Technology and Management.
Cyber Security Scholarships in North Carolina
The best approach for finding cyber security scholarships is to explore STEM funds available to science, technology, engineering and math majors. Though it’s a much broader category than cyber security, there’s a concerted focus amongst educators, businesses and government leaders alike to push students into these fields. Some money is starting to trickle down to cyber security specifically, but it will take time for funding to be consistently and generously available. Don’t despair, though. There are several good — and a few fantastic — scholarships available exclusively to cyber security students. Here are some of the awards to look into:
Fayetteville Technical Community College
- Yen L. Phung Memorial Scholarship: Through the Phung Scholarship, computer students, such as those in the IT – Systems Security & Analysis concentration, have a last resort for funds if they don’t receive any other financial aid. It’s worth $500.
- Cybersecurity Scholarship: Montreat is going all-in on cyber security. Students who major in it can apply for a renewable $2,000 scholarship if they have a 3.25 GPA.
North Carolina A&T State University
- Carolinas Cyber Defender Scholarship: Through the CyberCorps Scholarship for Service Program, Computer Science grad students at A&T who are focused on cyber security can get their tuition and fees paid for as well as a $25,000 a year stipend. In exchange, they’ll intern over the summer and work in the security sector for the government for two years after graduation.
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
- Carolinas Cyber Defender Scholarship: UNC Charlotte received the same National Science Foundation grant as A&T to provide full scholarships and stipends to cyber security students. In this case, students enrolled in the BS in Software and Information Systems, BS in Computer Science, MS in Information Technology or MS in Computer Science programs are eligible. Undergrads in the program get a slightly smaller stipend but are still required to work for a government agency after graduation.
- College of Computing and Informatics GAANN Fellowship: Students seeking a PhD in Computing and Information Systems may qualify for a five-year fellowship that would pay their way plus provide ample funding for living and professional development expenses. They’d also have full privileges at UNC Charlotte’s Information and Infrastructure Security and Privacy Lab.
- STARS Computing Scholars: The National Science Foundation gives the school’s College of Computing and Informatics, which houses its various cyber security programs, money to provide renewable $10,000 scholarships to undergrads and graduates with both financial need and academic merit.
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
- ISSCM Faculty and Staff Student Award: Students in the Information Systems and Supply Chain Management (ISSCM) Department, including those pursuing a certificate in Information Assurance, Security, and Privacy, can apply for this award from the School of Business & Economics.
- Piedmont Triad Transportation Association Scholarship: This is another award of unspecified size that all ISSCM students should apply for.
Cyber Security Events in North Carolina
Cyber Security Meetups & Communities in North Carolina
You may have to search a bit harder for cyber security communities in North Carolina than you would in San Francisco or New York, but they’re out there. Here are several to join:
- Information Systems Security Association: ISSA is an international professional membership association, but it welcomes students to its ranks. It offers training and networking opportunities through local chapters in Charlotte, the Piedmont Triad and Raleigh, the last of which puts on Triangle InfoSeCon every year.
- Open Web Application Security Project: OWASP is a free organization that welcomes everyone — regardless of professional level or expertise — to attend its meetups. There are two in North Carolina. OWASP CLT gathers about eight times a year to sit in on demonstrations of “web and browser-based vulnerabilities, tools and solutions.” Its counterpart in Raleigh, OWASP Triangle, is just as active and follows the same format.
- RTP Security + Beers: Don’t care for formal meetings after working hours? Just grab a drink with peers working in the Research Triangle and talk about security…and whatever microbrew you’re trying that month.
- Triangle TechBreakfast: Okay, so this isn’t strictly a cyber security community, but it’s one of the biggest tech meetups in the state. The group convenes every month to see short demonstrations of technologies people are developing in the area. Croissants and coffee included.
Cyber Security Conferences & Workshops in North Carolina
In the U.S., there are cyber security conferences and workshops dedicated to every subspecialty and experience level. But how about in North Carolina? While there’s less diversity in terms of specialty options, there are solid events at every level put on by colleges, professional associations and tech enthusiasts.
One place to scan for events is Duke Law School’s Center on Law, Ethics and National Security. While not devoted exclusively to cyber security, the subjects overlap. In fact, the theme of its annual conference in 2017 is “Cyber Security & Surveillance: Truth & Consequences.” Another big event organizer is Data Connectors, which hosts annual tech-security conferences and expos, such as the Charlotte Tech-Security Conference and the Raleigh Tech Security Conference. Both are good places to see the latest software and hardware and listen in on industry presentations. Here are four more annual staples on North Carolina’s cyber security calendar:
- CarolinaCon: For one weekend every spring, security specialists gather in Raleigh for talks, contests and networking. This conference is infused with a festive atmosphere, featuring trivia nights, Capture the Flag and a lockpicking village. Organizers keep the cost low so more people can afford to come.
- RETR3AT: Montreat College organizes a one-day conference packed with breakout sessions and panel discussions featuring local professors, managers at federal agencies and tech professionals. High school and college students attend for free.
- Security BSides: There is no one BSides conference — there are many, all of which are organized by local security professionals. The event planners are less concerned with structure and timekeeping than with producing awesome conversations that can expand beyond their community origins. There are annual events in Asheville, Charlotte and Raleigh. Tickets cost $20 or less.
- UNC Charlotte Cyber Security Symposium: Like RETR3AT, the symposium is a one-day event where attendees choose between several panels and presentations throughout the day. Speakers are nationally recognized experts in their field and have included Dan Geer, a member of the National Cyber Security Hall of Fame.
- Triangle InfoSeCon: This is the area’s largest annual Information Security conference, put on by the Raleigh Chapter of the Information System Security Association. Their goal is to train as many people as possible on the importance of Information Security and related topics.
Cyber Security Jobs in North Carolina
In 2014, North Carolina ranked 12th in terms of cyber security job postings, according to a report by Burning Glass Technologies. Charlotte’s need for cyber security experts grew 147 percent between 2010 and 2014 — the seventh-highest rate in the country — but it still accounted for fewer than half of the open positions in the state. That means graduates have options outside of “Metrolina,” particularly in the Research Triangle. Three places to look: SAS Institute, a software developer in Cary; GFI, a Durham company that handles email and network security for clients; and OnWire, which handles security integration for IBM products from its Raleigh offices. But there’s also the Piedmont Triad, a rival region made up of Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point. Several of its schools, namely North Carolina A&T and UNC Greensboro are closely tied to cyber security and have established Gateway University Research Park to make the area a tech hub.
All of which is to say, North Carolina is a strong place to end up for research positions in cyber security. But if you want to be in the field — or, more precisely, a business office — you can do that too because there are plenty of big businesses in the state. Bank of America and BB&T, headquartered in Charlotte and Winston-Salem, respectively, are both Fortune 500 financial companies. In fact, the state’s largest industry is credit and financial services, ranking third in the nation behind California and New York. Most of that activity is centered in Charlotte, which would be the nation’s largest banking city if not for NYC. The upshot is that all that financial data needs to be secure. Hint: That requires a lot of cyber security experts.
If you need some help becoming one of those experts, a few workforce development programs are in the works. For veterans, Fayetteville State University’s Center for Defense and Homeland Security has established a “Cyber Security Academy.” It offers two certificate programs for vets looking to leverage their military experience into entry-level security jobs. And in late 2016, the NSA tapped Forsyth Tech as one of six Cybersecurity Regional Resource Centers in the country. Over the next few years, trainings should reach students at all levels.
Cyber Security Salaries in North Carolina
The most recent (May 2015) figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that information security analysts in North Carolina make a median average of $87,580 a year. That’s only a few thousand off the national average of $90,120. And recent college graduates should be happy: Security specialists on the lower end of the pay scale (the 10th percentile) actually make a bit more than their colleagues nationwide. Therefore, North Carolina is a good spot to land an entry-level job. And its below-average cost of living means it’s an affordable place to settle down for a long career.
All Cyber Security Programs in North Carolina
Below are all the matching programs we found in our directory, from North Carolina schools.