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Cybersecurity vs. Computer Science: What is the Difference?
Years ago, “cybersecurity” was once a little-known term considered the stuff of government and secret federal agencies. Now, with the availability of the Internet and affordable faster bandwidth, businesses and people across the world are now more prone to digital attacks.
Today everyone has anti-virus and malware protection installed to protect their devices against attacks from the ILoveYou Visual Basic script and the anti-virus killer Conficker, to the more recent WannaCry ransomware. But the stakes are much higher than your personal computer being hijacked.
Cybercrimes gained mainstream attention when security breaches and attacks on well-known companies Sony Entertainment, Equifax, Target, and Marriott Hotels made news headlines. In some of these cases, it wasn’t a matter of having better security software and equipment, but of knowing how to detect and prevent vulnerabilities in an organization. Computer science can teach you to do the former, but not the latter. That’s where cybersecurity training comes in.
A 2018 report by McAfee showed between $140 billion to $175 billion dollars has been reported lost to cybersecurity crimes, and the number is increasing. Also, out of every five Americans, three have had their identity and personal information stolen at least once.
Cybersecurity people are people who can wear multiple hats to get the job done. You need to be someone that’s part-detective, part-coder, and part-manager, with a thirst for learning things and making improvements.
Difference Between Cybersecurity and Computer Science
You might ask, “Isn’t cybersecurity just one piece of computer science?” And the answer is, “Not anymore.” It’s all about evolution.
Just like computer science evolved from the mathematics department, cybersecurity is evolving beyond the computer science curriculum. The job market skills needed in cybersecurity can no longer be contained in a few elective courses.
Going to college is a big investment. You don’t want to waste time and money taking classes only to realize it’s not for you, and you change your major later. So it is important to know the differences before making a decision to either go into cybersecurity or computer science.
Similarities Between the Two Degrees
While they may be different branches of technology, cybersecurity and computer science still have the same roots. These “root classes” can include learning Python and C++ languages, networks, and web developing. These courses can be applied toward computer science, cybersecurity, and even computer engineering majors.
What Do Cybersecurity Grads Do?
Cybersecurity graduates have a wide range of career paths to choose from, depending on what is the best fit for your lifestyle.
Typically, computer science or engineering graduates will mostly work with others in their department. As a cybersecurity specialist, you also may be part of the IT department, but you could find yourself teamed with lawyers, law enforcement, or federal agents.
Some of the careers that await a cybersecurity grad are:
- Performing cybersecurity audits for organizations.
- Digital forensic work for local law enforcement and federal security agencies.
- Financial and retail organizations for PCI compliance of digital merchant transactions.
- Vanguard for HIPAA compliance in the medical and insurance industry.
- Risk management of IT assets.
- Part of an Information Security project team to implement security protocols.
- Designing and managing network security.
- Blockchain management for transactions across the network.
What Do Computer Science Grads Do?
Computer science grads can focus on a wide variety of career paths. From testing theoretical limits of computing potential to practical, real-world applications.
Most business demands have been traditionally for coders, especially for APIs and mobile device support, but as data storage has become more affordable and accessible, there is a big demand for those specializing in SQL and big data management and analytics. With BYOD (“Bring Your Own Device”) now the norm at work, IT departments are looking for people with talent in both wired and wireless network management.
If you’re still unsure about cybersecurity—but you are sure you want to be on a computer/information technology path—look for schools that offer a 4-year degree in cybersecurity (or at least has cybersecurity as its own program).
Many schools offer cybersecurity courses, but only a few have a separate program, much less a degree. One of those few schools is CityU’s Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance program offered online.
Once you find a school, take the common root courses that both degrees require. This will give you time to talk to the professors and other students, learning about both programs while taking your core classes. This will give you the confidence in making the best choice for you. Both disciplines offer a wide variety of choices and career directions. The first step is to reflect on what path you want to take.