The Beehive State is abuzz with cyber security activity. From degrees and certificates (see a full list) to professional communities to employment opportunities, we cover everything you need to know about Utah’s cyber security scene.
Studying Cyber Security in Utah
Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University are the only two schools in the state with on-ground baccalaureate and graduate degrees in cyber security. However, you can earn a certificate, complete an online degree, and/or connect to high-level research at a handful of other Utah schools. Here’s a roundup of who’s doing what:
- BYU is recognized by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education. The reason for that accolade is its Cybersecurity & Systems Research Laboratory. The lab’s recent research efforts include using drones to map wireless networks, predicting system and network failures via log files for a project called SEAHORSE, and creating a classification system for attacks against physical infrastructure, such as power plants.
- After a second-place finish in 2016, the BYU cyber defense team took third place at the 2017 National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition in San Antonio. Such students remain active on campus too. The BYU Cyber Security Students Academic Association, known as ITSec, meets twice a month to listen to guest experts, runs a yearlong Capture the Flag competition, and hosts an annual student-led cybersecurity conference.
- Utah Valley University established the Center for National Security Studies, which has begun embracing cyber issues. The Center boasts a lively event calendar and has recently sponsored panel discussions on privacy and protection in the digital age as well as Russia’s use of cyber warfare.
- UVU has also positioned itself to recruit new cyber security junkies. In 2015, it created the annual Math, Cryptography and Cyber Security Conference and invited every high schooler in the state to come take workshops and learn code-making basics from UVU faculty.
- University of Utah doesn’t have a cyber security degree program, but postgraduates can forge a research career under faculty at the School of Computing. Active professors include Matt Might, who won a $3 million Department of Defense grant in 2015 to develop software that alerts programmers to vulnerabilities in their code. That same year, his colleagues, Eric Eide and John Regehr claimed $500K from the National Science Foundation to create Xsmith, which finds software defects in programming language compilers and interpreters.
- Southern Utah University’s Computer Science and Information Systems Department, which runs an online master’s plus an on-ground associate degree in cyber security, partners with app developers TouchMD, BusyBusy and Rocketmade so students can address real-life business challenges both in the classroom and through internships.
Online Cyber Security Programs in Utah
Two Utah schools delve into distance ed and place their cyber security degrees exclusively online. The first is a public institution, Southern Utah University, which launched a master’s program in spring 2016. The second is nonprofit Western Governors University, a competency-based institution with two baccalaureate programs and one master’s degree.
Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Cyber Security
WGU’s Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance is a four-year degree that expects enrollees to have some previous academic or professional exposure to IT. In fact, students who enter with technical certifications can often waive course requirements to move quicker through their degree. WGU builds the price tags and necessary study time of nearly a dozen such certifications into the curriculum, so that students will walk away with CompTIA, (ISC)2 and EC-Council credentials.
WGU’s BS in Information Technology-Security program is also designed for IT pros but based around a different set of certifications (primarily entry-level CompTIA and Cisco credentials). It’s also broader than the Cybersecurity and Information Assurance degree, appealing to aspiring IT managers who need a bit of security coursework, rather than to full-on security specialists. Like the other program, it ends with a capstone project.
Online Master’s Degrees in Cyber Security
The Master of Science in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance at WGU is for potential leaders. Like the bachelor’s program of the same name, it’s anchored by certifications (two from the EC-Council) and a capstone project. As an advanced degree, it only admits students with solid security credentials, requiring students to enroll with a baccalaureate-level IT degree, technical certifications or three years of high-level professional experience. Prove that, and you can get started on the 10-course curriculum, which highlights both offensive and defensive techniques.
Southern Utah University runs its own online Master of Cyber Security and Information Assurance program. Unlike WGU’s degree, it allows students to choose between electives within one of two emphases – 1) Cyber and Web Security or 2) Governance, Regulation and Compliance and IS Controls. While students need a tech baccalaureate to enter, unlike WGU they don’t need prior exposure to security concepts. They’ll start with the basics and work their way to a capstone or internship.
Cyber Security Scholarships in Utah
We found one school, BYU, doing the heavy lifting in terms of cyber security scholarships. That doesn’t mean you won’t get funded if you go elsewhere – just that you have to cast a wider net. As cyber security programs produce more graduates, academic departments and alumni foundations should offer more scholarships.
Brigham Young University-Provo
- BYU Information Technology Scholarship: The IT Department, which houses the cyber security curriculum, has money every year for full-time undergrads with a 3.0 or better. Award amounts vary.
- Fritz-Burns IT Award: One to two grad students in the IT Department receive full tuition for the year through the Fritz-Burns IT Award. Students are nominated by faculty based on their academic efforts.
- Fritz-Burns Travel Funding Award: Get your research paper accepted at a conference and the IT Department will help you get there. Students can receive up to two awards, usually around $500 each, per year.
Cyber Security Events in Utah
Cyber Security Meetups & Communities in Utah
Salt Lake City has a well-coordinated professional scene for cyber security. Joining any of the groups below should put you in contact with members from the others. Plus, the city has its own hackerspace, 801 Labs, that specializes in information security. See its calendar for upcoming events.
- DC801: Salt Lake City’s DEF CON group created 801 Labs, where it meets the third Thursday of the month. In addition to having casual conversations about information security, individuals occasionally put on classes for fellow group members. Past events include a digital first responder training and a locksport night for those intrigued by physical security.
- ISACA Utah Chapter: ISACA members dine at Fleming’s in SLC every third Thursday of the month. Additionally, members can attend seminars that help them work toward advanced certification. ISACA, formerly the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, gives discounted membership to students.
- ISSA Utah Chapter: Salt Lake City members of the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) congregate four to eight times a year to network and learn. A typical annual calendar features half-day spring and fall seminars co-sponsored by ISACA, plus a holiday luncheon. Most events feature one or more guest speakers. Like ISACA, ISSA offers discounted student memberships.
- OWASP Salt Lake Chapter: Members of the nonprofit Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) are interested in exactly that: web application security. They meet nearly every first Thursday of the month at 801 Labs, often in conjunction with UtahSec (see below). Expect a couple of hours of talks on issues ranging from firewalls to security verification standards. All meetings are free to attend.
- UtahSAINT: To become a member of UtahSAINT, a professional organization focused on network security, you’ll need a recommendation from two members. Once in, you’ll be able to do more than attend meetings. Members use their technical expertise on projects and have created their own netflow security tool, website display rotator and visual performance tool.
- UtahSec: UtahSec brings all the above groups, plus others (e.g., the certificate-minded (ISC)2 Salt Lake City Chapter) together under one roof the first Thursday of the month. It capitalizes on the expertise of members, so OWASP might come and present on application security verification standards one month while the DC801 crew might demo IoT security tools the next. Best of all: No membership required.
Cyber Security Conferences & Workshops in Utah
Utah has a packed calendar of cyber security conferences and workshops, which vary in price, formality and purpose. Here are seven to register for:
- BSides SLC: BSides events are locally organized information security conferences that are cheap or even free to attend. The idea is to put people in a room together, have a practitioner present on a topic s/he finds interesting and let the idea flower in unexpected new ways. To catch up on the last several years of BSides SLC presentations, check out the group’s YouTube channel.
- Hack West: Once upon a time, BSidesSLC got so large that it was no longer “community-driven.” So the organizers decided to branch off and create a separate event, Hack West. The idea is the same, but the scale is larger. Starting in 2018, Hack West will become a three-day annual spring tradition.
- Red Sky IT Security Conference: Red Sky Solutions, a security consulting firm in Sandy, organizes a one-day affair aimed at company IT managers. The schedule promises four tracks of corporate speakers from the Western US who, between them, cover topics related to cloud, network endpoint, app, IoT and social media security. The price is affordable thanks to vendor sponsorship.
- SAINTCON: Organized by UtahSAINT, SAINTCON is an October event that incorporates all the usual speakers alongside half-day seminars and workshops for beginners as well as full-day trainings on advanced infosec topics.
- Salt Lake City Tech-Security Conference: This Data Connectors-sponsored event pitches tent in Salt Lake once a year to promote the latest software and hardware. Spend a free day roaming the rows of vendors and/or pop in to a few of the sponsored sessions.
- SANS Salt Lake City: SANS Institute sells weeklong trainings to those who might otherwise take a semester-long course. Teachers come to SLC once a year sporting a catalog of courses that lead to technical certification – from security essentials to strategic planning.
- Utah’s Annual Cyber Security Summit: Perpetual Storage, which operates a digital records vault outside Salt Lake, sponsors a half-day of panel discussions on the intersection of corporate and government efforts to keep data secure.
Cyber Security Jobs in Utah
It’s an open secret that Utah is a great place to land a cyber security job. Literally. The National Security Agency constructed a $2 billion data center in 2013 in Bluffdale. Are there cyber security jobs there? That’s classified. But Hill Air Force Base, 30 miles north of Salt Lake City, is less media-shy. The base anchors Utah’s cyber security economy, with BAE Systems, NOVA, Northrop Grumman and others all bidding for security contracts.
If the defense industry isn’t your thing, there’s a separate tech scene in and around the capital that you can tap into. California-based FireEye is one of the top names in cyber security. When it announced in 2013 that it was building an office in suburban SLC that would employ hundreds of people, it was a big deal. FireEye is joined by smaller firms like Red Sky Solutions, an IT consulting firm in Sandy, and Whistic, which provides risk assessment tools to companies that rely on vendors’ security protocols.
More jobs are reportedly on the way. One of the state’s top employers, Intermountain Healthcare, also happens to be a leader in healthcare security, having built an operations center in SLC in 2014. It announced plans in 2016 to work with other players in the industry, including University of Utah, to build a security operations center that will repel malware and phishing attacks.
Cyber Security Salaries in Utah
The average information security analyst in the Beehive State makes $82,000 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly $10K less than the national average. Since Utah’s cost of living is well below the national standard, Utahns shouldn’t sweat the slight pay differential.
As it turns out, even those in relatively more expensive Salt Lake City have nothing to complain about. Information security specialists there earn $105,000 a year. When adjusted for cost of living, they actually earn more than their colleagues in New York City, San Jose and Washington, D.C. That’s good enough to rank eighth on Indeed’s list of highest-paying cities for cyber security positions (out of the 15 top tech job search destinations).
All Cyber Security Programs in Utah
Below are all the matching programs we found in our directory, from 6 Utah schools.
Brigham Young University-Provo
Salt Lake Community College
Salt Lake City, Utah
Southern Utah University
Cedar City, Utah
Utah Valley University
Weber State University
Western Governors University
Salt Lake City, Utah