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My degree: Cybersecurity

Following our previous article, ‘My degree: Data Science,’ we spoke with Saksham Jain about his master’s degree in Cybersecurity at Pennsylvania State University. We at Cybernews Academy wish to explore the different elements that encapsulate the discipline while demonstrating why you should consider a degree in cybersecurity.

What is cybersecurity?

In Saksham’s words, cybersecurity is information security, “which deals with protecting the digital sphere –which is the internet and all things that are on it.” Saksham states that “cybersecurity protects computer systems, networks, or digital data from theft, damage, unauthorized access, and other forms of cyber threat. Cybersecurity professionals aim to secure the three significant triads: confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information in the digital realm. “This field encompasses many technologies, processes, and practices like network, application, and cloud security.

Undergraduate years

Saksham’s interest in cybersecurity arose while completing his electronics and communications engineering undergraduate degree at Vellore Institute of Technology, India. “I was in my junior year, basically the third year of studies, and I chose electives related to cybersecurity because I had experience with these subjects at high school.” Saksham had previously participated in workshops related to cybercrime in high school, which influenced his decision to pursue cybersecurity electives at an undergraduate level. “After learning in-depth about this field, I wanted to start completing certifications, and then I thought of doing a master’s degree in cybersecurity as this would allow me to follow my passion.” Saksham always knew that he was destined to defend cyberspace, as cybersecurity at master’s level was his goal. “Initially, my interests were in cybersecurity and how the digital sphere could be protected. Now, I’m most interested in how I can contribute to the cybersecurity of applications. That was my thought when I applied for my master’s degree.”

Describing cybersecurity

Saksham described his master’s degree as a flexible, two-year course that anyone could complete, even working in a relaxed environment that allows them to take a one-year break to learn about digital security. You can complete it in a year, in one and a half years or two years.” A regular master’s program is two years, so Penn State has created a flexible program for people who want to complete their master’s early. “This degree is a specialized academic program designed to equip an individual with the knowledge, skills, and expertise to protect digital systems, networks, and data from cyber threats.” Saksham’s program comprises various topics within the field of cybersecurity, which addresses the network of growing challenges posed by cyber criminals in ever-evolving technologies. Saksham described his degree as “an educational pathway focused on preparing individuals to safeguard the digital environment from cyber threats.”

Cybersecurity at university

Cybersecurity is a dynamic field encompassing various facets of computer science and information technology through digital security. Saksham told Cybernews Academy how his incredible course is structured. “Pennsylvania State University has provided an amazing cybersecurity program that has been incredibly enriching. We cover courses such as cyber security analytics, which deals with artificial intelligence in cybersecurity. This course has helped me gain insight into industry patterns and trends while demonstrating what problems the industry is currently trying to solve.” Saksham has also participated in network management (threat hunting) and some exclusive courses at Pennsylvania State University. “There are programs such as offensive cybersecurity, which are exclusive topics that the college introduced to help students gain a strong foundation in cybersecurity.” A degree in cybersecurity has also helped Saksham develop an understanding of the industry while helping him understand his discipline further. “My cybersecurity degree has helped me apply my knowledge to ongoing problems in the cybersecurity world.”

Structuring cybersecurity

The various components that comprise cybersecurity are often taught throughout your time at university. Saksham outlined cybersecurity experts' framework, which is similar to the cybersecurity life cycle.

  • Identify - the first stage of the cybersecurity lifecycle, where students must catalog and understand the resources, security systems, assets, and individuals and the cybersecurity risks to these resources
  • Protect - this phase is concerned with implementing safeguards to ensure the delivery of critical services that will protect these resources. This will include measures like information protection processes, procedures, and protective technologies.
  • Detect - by implementing the appropriate protective measures, cybersecurity students should be able to identify cybersecurity incidents quickly. This phase includes continuous monitoring and detection processes to detect cybersecurity threats effectively.
  • Respond - students should devise a response plan once the threat has been detected. This involves deploying and implementing actions that will mitigate or eradicate the threat.
  • Recover - the final phase of the cybersecurity lifecycle involves developing and implementing processes that recover or restore the once-impaired service caused by the cybersecurity incident.

Laying your foundation

Saksham also recommends laying your cybersecurity foundation by completing certifications in the field. “I did certifications before going into my master’s,” which consisted of a few online courses, such as the Introduction to Cybersecurity Tools and Cyber Attacks by IBM and Cybersecurity and the Internet of Things at the University of Georgia. There is also a known national (Indian) certification that laid the foundations of my cybersecurity knowledge and gave me an understanding of the tools I can use to tackle cyber threats. This is called Cybersecurity Essentials by IT-ITeS SSC NASSCOM.” This helped Saksham contextualize his master’s degree and understand the practical knowledge that a cybersecurity degree demands.

Saksham’s routine

Salsham told us of his weekly routine so we could catch a glimpse at the life of a cybersecurity student. “I only take three or four classes per week, so I have a lot of time for self-study and to reflect on my work in class. I have a lot of time to research and fully understand the different cybersecurity technologies in place right now. Penn State provides a flexible curriculum for students' personal and academic development.” On top of these classes, Saksham also has weekly assignments and discussion posts that he has to do throughout the week. “These assignments require students to research and provide their opinions surrounding the topics they’re learning.” For example, students are expected to complete assignments where they program using Python for machine learning.

Gaining cybersecurity skills

We asked this cybersecurity student what skills you need to complete a cybersecurity degree. “You need good problem-solving skills because cybersecurity demands out-of-the-box solutions to solve daily issues,” Saksham emphasized. “You will also need strong technical skills such as scripting, understanding of control frameworks, and network security,” Saksham adds. The cybersecurity degree at Penn State has helped Saksham learn uniquely by visualizing how cyber threats and scenarios are represented in the industry and how to solve them. This cybersecurity degree has taught Saksham the importance of continuous learning while equipping him with an amalgamation of skills needed to train as a cybersecurity professional.

Cybersecurity projects

During our discussion, Saksham told us of one of the projects he had completed while at university. “While studying my cyber security analytics course, I worked on a project that gave me hands-on experience and helped me put my theoretical knowledge into practice. This project was related to host-based and network intrusion detection. I used Python scripts to analyze data to detect potential security breaches to complete the project. I also developed a deep neural network to detect network traffic related to DNS poisoning attacks. These tools enhanced our ability to identify and respond to security threats that caused these attacks. These attacks are common in the ransomware cybersecurity attacks we see within the industry.” On top of this project, Saksham participated in an independent project that involved detecting and mitigating bugs in VPN. This project helped Saksham explore another path and gain insights into how software can be guarded against cyber threats. “It also helped me understand software security, how to patch systems, and how software security can be implemented.” This is another example of how this course allows you to apply theoretical knowledge to a broader context.

In the future, Saksham wants to enter the industry: “I would like to contribute effectively to the cybersecurity landscape through what I have learned.” Currently, Saksham is exploring various aspects of cybersecurity, such as network and cloud security. “Upon graduating, I would like to gain industry experience and contribute to developing cybersecurity applications that address the emerging challenges faced within the industry today.

We at Cybernews Academy suggest that you follow in Saksham’s footsteps and consider the following things before jumping into your new degree in cybersecurity:

  • Curate your course - choose specific courses that will set you up for success. Saksham took an undergraduate degree and chose electives that fit his master’s course.
  • Find the fundamentals - complete courses surrounding your chosen field and learn the basics of your discipline. Develop fundamental concepts like networking information and systems. This will help you lay the foundations of your degree in cybersecurity
  • Gain practical experience - participate in projects where you can exercise your theoretical knowledge by engaging in hands-on practical work.
  • Self-study - take time to constantly develop your skills in your own time, as a cybersecurity degree (and career) demands continuous learning, development, and growth.
  • Stay curious - Saksham encourages each student considering a degree in cybersecurity to stay curious and keep learning because the world of cybersecurity is ever-evolving.