Information security is one of the fastest-growing career fields in the United States — it is also a field where the supply of well-trained, highly skilled talent lags behind the demand for it. Arapahoe Community College (ACC) offers an Associate of Applied Science in Cybersecurity (AAS) that can help fill that talent and training demand in Colorado and beyond.
Nina Amey, Computer Technology Department Chair and Cyber Center Director at ACC, says retiring baby boomers are one reason for this explosion of cybersecurity jobs. Another contributing factor is society’s increasing reliance on big data and cloud computing, which has expanded the scope of information security careers. Along with that comes a need for reskilling and upskilling.
What is Cybersecurity and Why Does it Matter?
You might be surprised to learn that the word “hack” (in its modern, computer-related definition) was first used in 1955 and that the first hack happened in 1963. While cyberthreats may not be new, computer networks and information technology, in general, have gotten much more sophisticated since then — which means protective measures have also become more high-tech. Cybersecurity is a continually evolving field, which means its definition has also changed over time. So, exactly what is cybersecurity by today’s standards?
DigitalGuardian.com defines cybersecurity as “the body of technologies, processes, and practices designed to protect networks, devices, programs, and data from attack, damage, and unauthorized access.”
Many organizations today are not equipped to handle these growing threats. PricewaterhouseCoopers reported in 2020 that less than half of surveyed business leaders from 80 countries say their companies are sufficiently prepared for a cybersecurity attack. Industries of all kinds and companies of all sizes are vulnerable to information breaches; however, Cyberventures says the 5 most-attacked sectors over the past 5 years are:
- Financial services
The organization predicts 5 additional fields will be particularly vulnerable through 2022:
- Oil and gas/energy and utilities
Cyberventures projects that cybercrimes will cost the global economy $6 trillion annually by 2021. Nearly every day, data breaches, malware and ransomware attacks, and digital fraud make the news, increasing the cyber risks for both users and businesses.
With such a far-reaching impact, it’s clear why the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that the need for information security analysts will grow by 32% between now and 2028, which is significantly higher than the average industry job growth of 5%.
Information Security Analysts and Other In-Demand Cybersecurity Jobs in Colorado
Colorado is experiencing a demand for cybersecurity analyst and related positions. According to the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), in 2020, the state will see 17,996 openings for cybersecurity jobs. NICE also ranks Colorado’s supply of qualified workers as “very low,” compared to the national supply and demand ratio.
“The Denver Tech Center is growing rapidly,” says Nina, adding that the urban hub is within convenient commuting distance from ACC’s Sturm Collaboration Campus at Castle Rock, connected by Interstate 25. Nina adds that the U.S. Department of Defense’s presence in the region presents opportunities for government-related cybersecurity analyst careers.
ACC graduates can find entry-level cybersecurity jobs and positions such as:
- Information security analyst
- Cybersecurity specialist
- Security technician
- Security manager
With further education and cybersecurity training, there’s potential for roles in information security architecture or network security engineering.
Earning a Cybersecurity Degree
ACC’s cybersecurity degree program aligns with the standards set by the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense, which means that the skills you’ll learn during the program meet the needs of today’s cybersecurity jobs. ACC also offers a computer networking associate degree, which touches upon information security.
Nina says the AAS program covers computer networking and server administration basics before diving into programming and topics such as firewalls and vulnerability assessments.
“Our firewalls class is vendor-neutral,” Nina explains, meaning that students are trained to work in more than one type of system. “And a digital forensics class gives you baseline information and provides a beginning to threat analysis.”
The skills and knowledge gained in the associate degree program prepare students to take multiple industry certification exams, which can provide an edge in the job market.
Keeping in mind the needs of working professionals who need flexibility with their education, ACC’s program is available either full- or part-time.
Hands-On Cybersecurity Training
Nina, who was named ACC’s faculty member of the year for 2020, is passionate about her field and building a cybersecurity degree program that aligns with ever-evolving workforce needs.
“One of the things that sets us apart from other programs is that we offer project-based, hands-on, technical learning,” she says. “Students aren’t in a big lecture hall learning theory.”
Instead, ACC’s focus is on practical training that prepares students for entry-level cybersecurity jobs. A prime example of this is the capstone project. “We bring in industry partners, who share real-life problems they have in their work environment,” explains Nina. “Students work in groups to develop solutions and present them to the partners.”
ACC’s cybersecurity degree program also requires an internship. Nina is hopeful both the capstone and internship experience will allow students to make connections that can lead to their first cybersecurity jobs.
Jobs in Cybersecurity: Career Advancement Opportunities
NICE the nonprofit organization dedicated to building a robust cybersecurity workforce), developed an interactive cybersecurity career pathways website called CyberSeek. This guide shows how professionals can move through various stages of computer, software, and networking careers, from entry-level cybersecurity jobs to advanced positions. It’s just one of the many career resources Nina recommends to her students.
After earning an associate degree in cybersecurity, ACC students are job-ready and can launch their careers in the cyber field. ACC's program also prepares students for transfer to a 4-year school, such as CSU Pueblo’s Castle Rock location, where they can earn a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems with an emphasis on cybersecurity. Nina says a skill-based associate degree is adequate for entering the field, but earning a bachelor’s degree might help students advance more quickly into management positions.
As the field of cybersecurity expands and different threats emerge, there will always be something new and exciting to learn, making cybersecurity one of the most dynamic careers today. If you’re interested in starting a cybersecurity career, visit our program page to see how ACC can help you take the first step to reach your goal.