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Raise your hand if you want to study cyber security in the Volunteer State. Good. To get started, click on the list of Tennessee schools with programs or read our full guide. It explains what the state offers students and graduates in terms of everything from scholarships to salaries.
Studying Cybersecurity in Tennessee
Tennessee has no shortage of good academic programs in cyber security. But some schools are more involved in propelling the field forward than others:
- Jackson State Community College is the only two-year institution in the state recognized by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education. In addition to its academics, it’s doing something a bit unusual for a community college: It’s leading a National Science Foundation-funded project to incorporate “puzzle-based learning” into classroom STEM learning.
- That project is being coordinated with the Center for Information Assurance at University of Memphis, whose researchers also won an NSA grant in 2015 to create an adaptive multi-factor authentication system incorporating passwords, biometric data and other features. Memphis is also a stopping point for middle and high schoolers to receive cyber hygiene training; it hosts free weeklong GenCyber Camps in the summer.
- The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga InfoSec Center is less focused on research than University of Memphis, which isn’t to say it hasn’t kept up with the latest developments – the Infosec Center’s co-directors edit the International Journal of Information Security and Privacy.
- Tennessee Tech is one of the most influential higher education actors in the state. It gave life to the Women in CyberSecurity (WiCyS) Initiative in 2013 to increase female participation in the security workforce. WiCyS now runs an annual conference that moves to a new city each year. Tennessee Tech built then founded the Cybersecurity Education, Research and Outreach Center (CEROC) in 2015. In addition to managing WiCyS, CEROC runs Gen-Cyber Camps and dives into research. Some recent faculty-led projects have involved using graphs to detect potentially dangerous anomalies and creating energy meters that keep data private to protect homeowners from would-be burglars.
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Online Cybersecurity Programs in Tennessee
Tennessee’s bounty of on-campus cyber security programs have yet to move to an online format. The sole exception is a baccalaureate from an NSA/DHS-recognized university, Fountainhead College of Technology.
Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Cybersecurity
For-profit Fountainhead runs a Bachelor of Applied Science in Network Security & Forensics. It’s a completion degree, meaning that students should enter the program already holding an associate degree in a technical field. The curriculum will take it from there, covering a broad range of skills meant to prepare students for work either with a law enforcement agency or as specialists within an IT department.
Cybersecurity Scholarships in Tennessee
We uncovered a trio of scholarships available from three NSA/DHS-recognized institutions, just by looking at departmental websites. Outside of departments, keep an eye on federal initiatives to promote cyber security education. For instance, students at University of Memphis and other National Centers of Academic Excellence may be eligible for the Department of Defense’s Information Assurance Scholarship Program.
Jackson State Community College
- OIT Scholarship: Jackson State’s Office of Information Technology wants more students to take computer classes, making anyone majoring in Computer Information (including those with a concentration in Cyber Defense) eligible for $250 a semester. To claim funds, just register for a computer class and submit a personal statement and recommendation.
Tennessee Technological University
- CyberCorps Scholarship for Service: Roughly six of seven undergraduate upperclassmen in the Computer Science Cybersecurity track win this full scholarship every year. It comes with health insurance, professional development funds, a book allowance and, best of all a $22,500 living stipend that ratchets up to $34,000 when they enter grad school. Students will “pay back” the award by agreeing to work for a government agency after they graduate.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
- CyberCorps Scholarship for Service: UT Chattanooga receives the same funding Tennessee Tech does to offer this full scholarship. The benefits are the same, but the eligibility requirements are slightly different. The award is open to both undergraduates and graduates in a computing degree who are ninja-level programmers and love cyber security.
Cybersecurity Events in Tennessee
Cybersecurity Meetups & Communities in Tennessee
A primary strength of Tennessee’s cyber security scene is the vitality of its professional associations and hacker societies. Each of its four largest cities – Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga – supports at least one group for students and/or practitioners to join. Here’s an overview of the most active ones:
- DEF CON: DEF CON is an annual hacking conference held in Las Vegas, but some people can’t wait to go. That’s where DEF CON groups comes in. Tennessee’s information security lovers gather via DC423 in Chattanooga the last Wednesday of each month. The website was clearly designed by someone who grew up running code on Commodores from the 1980s. Drive up I-75 to Knoxville to join DC865 the last Saturday of the month. The group is more focused on mentoring new entrants to the field than DC423, using informal discussions and Capture the Flag competitions to do so. Meanwhile, if you loved Zork as a kid, DC615 in Nashville is on tap for the last Thursday of the month, where in addition to hacking wifi, members make their own vintage gaming consoles.
- Information Systems Security Association (ISSA): ISSA is a professional organization that charges dues, but students are admitted for next to nothing. The group has two active chapters in the Volunteer State. The Chattanooga Chapter meets quarterly for presentations from area practitioners. The Middle Tennessee Chapter, meanwhile, gathers monthly for similarly constructed presentations. Expect to hear talks with titles such as “Analyzing User Behavior in Mobile Security” and “Application Security as a Business Driver.”
- ISACA: ISACA is now just an acronym, but it used to stand for Information Systems Audit and Control Association. This professional organization has vibrant chapters in Memphis and Middle Tennessee. The former gathers monthly at the Crescent Club for guest talks that veer toward organizational and management practices. The latter interweaves networking breakfasts and chapter meetings with training events and certification review courses.
- (ISC)2 Middle Tennessee Chapter: Have an advanced technical certification? Want one? (ISC)2 members in Nashville meet monthly for guest speakers. They also receive discounts on seminars from Clearwater Compliance, a local training group.
- NashSec: Not in the mood to pay dues to ISSA, ISACA or (ISC)2? Mosey on over to share a drink with fellow InfoSec practitioners at Two Bits on the third Thursday of the month. Don’t ask for an agenda – there isn’t one.
- Nashville 2600: Nashville 2600 has been promoting technical literacy since the 1990s. Members meet at Emma Bistro (with or without computers) the first Friday of each month to discuss cyber security advances, or lack thereof, in a casual environment. 2600 groups are an international thing, with unofficial groups popping up elsewhere. Knoxville has its own group that meets the same time and date at the West Town Mall food court.
- OWASP Knoxville Chapter: The people behind the Open Web Application Security Project want to make software safer. Knoxville OWASP members pay no membership fees for their quarterly meetings at the Blue Coast Grill & Bar (though they will be expected to buy their own drinks). Meetings take various formats, from presentations on DevOps to hacking demonstrations to good old fashioned Capture the Flag competitions.
Note that OWASP and ISSA both have outlets in other Tennessee cities that have been inactive for a few years. OWASP has members in Chattanooga and Nashville, and ISSA has a Memphis branch. Use the contact info on their homepage to get the band back together!
Cybersecurity Conferences & Workshops in Tennessee
Memphis and Nashville are the 24th and 25th most populous cities in the US, respectively, so it’s only natural that big trainings (e.g., SANS Institute Security Awareness Summit in 2017) or tech expos (Data Connectors Tech-Security Conferences) would periodically hit the state. But there are plenty of events that come back year after year, and they’re not limited to the two biggest cities:
- BSides Knoxville: BSides Knoxville came onto the scene in May 2015. A daylong conference that showcases homegrown InfoSec thinkers, BSides inundates attendees with presentations on application security, attacker strategy, defender strategy, digital forensics, pen testing and reverse engineering. The cost is cheaper than a UT football game ticket.
- BSides Nashville: Nashville’s take on BSides maintains the grassroots feel of Knoxville’s event but spices things up with multiple tracks. The tech talks in the Blue Track are about, naturally, defensive tactics, while Red Track talks get pretty offensive. Not following the whole concept of red teams and blue teams? Take the Green Track for InfoSec newcomers.
- EDGE Security Conference: Sword & Shield Enterprise Security, based in Knoxville, puts on this two-day October affair in the Marble City. The inaugural 2016 conference featured a keynote from the former White House CIO and multi-track presentations and panels with business executives and government officials. Student attendees receive a discount.
- PhreakNIC: Since 1997, Nashville 2600 has put on PhreakNIC. The locally organized two-day hacker convention has since evolved to embrace a litany of geeky obsessions, but it’s still an InfoSec con at heart. So in between seminars on nootropics and games of Settlers of Catan, you’ll have lots of quirky presentations on cryptography, social engineering and how to use Legos to teach technology.
- SkyDogCon: Hackers and makers with an information security infatuation convene in Nashville every October for three days. Like PhreakNIC, SkyDogCon keeps it fun, inserting a Capture the Flag competition, Lockpick Village and Hacker Jeopardy alongside presentations delivered by hackers from a couch.
Cybersecurity Jobs in Tennessee
Nashville’s tech market had the second-highest rate of growth in the nation from 2010 to 2015, second only to Charlotte. Cyber security was a part of that growth, with job postings doubling over roughly the same time period. Yet Tennessee still has far too few cyber security positions given the size of its population; job demand concentration is half the national average. One group working to change that is the Cyber & Information Security Consortium. Its members include the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and University of Tennessee along with some of the bigger names in the state’s cyber security atmosphere, such as Sword & Shield Enterprise Security (sponsors of the EDGE Security Conference). The Consortium seeks to expand R&D around cyber security in the state and produce a “pipeline of talented cyber security professionals” for its members.
As it stands, Knoxville-based graduates could do far worse than working for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which houses a Cyber & Information Security Research Group comprised of more than 30 of the country’s best thinkers on cyber warfare and security infrastructure. Moving west into Nashville, graduates might also target jobs with a couple of members of the Cybersecurity 500, a list of top firms in the industry. Kroll, in the top 100, has a global reach to complement its big office in the Music City, and does just about everything from policy reviews to pen testing. A homegrown company, Clearwater Compliance, ranks just outside the top 10. It handles risk management in the healthcare sector. Speaking of healthcare, the Hospital Corporation of America operates facilities throughout the US and UK from its Nashville headquarters, and needs security engineers to keep them running smoothly. It’s been on the Fortune 500 for more than two decades.
Over in Memphis, the big employer is FedEx, another Fortune 500 company. It needs information security analysts and advisors to oversee its massive delivery infrastructure, and freight shippers U.S. Xpress Enterprises need a similar workforce in their Chattanooga headquarters.
Cybersecurity Salaries in Tennessee
Tennessee tech workers do well wage-wise. Data from Indeed.com shows that security engineers ($95-100K) and information security analysts ($80-85K) make around the national average for their positions, as do IT security specialists ($105-115K) in Nashville and Oak Ridge. Official numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks information security analyst postings, tell a slightly different story. The BLS places median 2016 wages at $76,000 compared to over $92,000 nationally. But with a cost of living over 10 percent lower than the rest of the country, Tennesseeans can likely live with the lower salaries. After all, Nashville is nowhere near as expensive as New York.
All Cybersecurity Programs in Tennessee
Below are all the matching programs we found in our directory, from 10 Tennessee schools.
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