Online PhD in Information Assurance and Security

The structure of a PhD Program in Information Assurance and Security is similar to that of any other PhD program: typically somewhere between three to six years, with two distinct components—doctoral coursework, and the doctoral dissertation—separated by a comprehensive General Exam designed to rigorously test students' knowledge and retention of the concepts, data, and skills studied and acquired in class and through research.

Coursework undertaken during the first component prepares students to protect the operational security of organizations by designing and implementing systems, procedures, and protocols that align with legal regulations and policies. They work to introduce and emphasize technical controls, as well as relationships between the law, company policy, and human psychology, so that together all those factors may direct the outcome of security strategems.

Students will also be honing their research interests and skills as they learn, in anticipation of their dissertation, the second major component of a doctoral degree. After they have passed the General Exam, students will propose their dissertation thesis to a committee, and, pending approval from that committee, will begin to plan, research, and compose their dissertation, finally defending it in public forum. A dissertation usually takes two to three years to complete, and is commonly between 250 and 300 pages; it represents for most students the longest, most arduous sustained academic endeavor of their entire career.

About Online PhD Programs in Information Assurance and Security

As compared to conventional programs, the substantive features of online PhD programs in Information Assurance and Security are similar in quality, requirement, and structure—it is only logistically that online doctorate programs in Information Assurance and Security dramatically depart from campus-based programs. The majority of instruction, assignment submission, and communication with professors or other students in online Information Assurance and Security programs is done online from a student's personal computer, on the student's schedule.

Online PhD Information Assurance and Security programs are split into the same two phases as traditional programs (coursework and dissertation). The coursework for an online doctorate in Information Assurance and Security also has the same focus on problem-solving techniques and theoretical discussion of security, with the same ultimate goal of imparting on students a working knowledge of threat and intrusion prevention, as well as organizational system integrity protection. Classes facilitate their understanding of concepts such information confidentiality, intellectual property, and data preservation so that students are well able to thwart security threats and to strengthen technological vulnerabilities to avoid exploitation of perceived weaknesses.

Common courses for an online PhD in Information Assurance and Security include (course material adapted from Northeastern University's course catalog):

Year One:

  • Fundamentals of Computer Networking. A complete analysis of network protocols, focusing on modeling, architecture, performance evaluation, and flow control schemes; introduces a number of key concepts and technical tools, techniques, and protocols.
  • Network Security. An introductory study of the theory and practice of computer security, with a focus on multi-user systems and the internet; covers several categories of threats to security, as well as tools to prevent intrusions. Students will learn basic cryptography, and discuss security protocols for mobile networks.
  • Cryptography and Communications Security. A thorough explanation and history of cryptography studying its design and use, as well as its strengths and weaknesses, its mathematical basis, and the most common forms of attack against it.

Year Two:

  • Local Area Networks and Interworking. Leads students through the origins and development of local area networks, and the later introduction of internetworking, including current advancements in LAN technology, and presents basic programming algorithms and protocols.
  • Security Risk Management and Assessment. Creates the opportunity for competency in the development of information security policies and plans including controls for physical, software, and networks. Discusses different malicious attacks, such as viruses and Trojan horses, detection strategies, countermeasures, damage assessment, and control. Covers information system risk analysis and management, audits, and log files. Uses case studies, site visits, and works with commercial products.
  • Organizations Corporate Computer and Network Security. This course explores the security threats and security management issues in corporations, including access control, site security and disaster response. Students also study how hackers attack organizations and strategies for preventing intrusion.

Year Three:

  • Fundamentals of Computer Network Auditing. Candidates for online doctorate degrees in information assurance and security study the foundation of information technology audit and control, as well as the control of new and existing systems. They also assess security and privacy matters.
  • Information Security and Outsourcing Computer Systems. Individuals evaluate the risks of information technology outsourcing to understand how best to recognize and to manage such dangers. This course heightens awareness of the various issues that organizations must identify, quantify and analyze to make informed outsourcing decisions that are cost efficient from tangible and intangible perspectives.
  • Disaster Recovery and Contingency Planning for the Security Professional. This course provides instruction in disaster prevention and recovery capabilities within organizations. Students learn the principles of disaster recovery planning for physical security consideration, host applications and network security measures.

As part of the online PhD Information Assurance and Security coursework, students will participate in several residencies, which will help in the preparation for General Exams. Following the General Exam, students will propose their dissertation topic, and then continue their original research in information assurance and security. Once the dissertation has been successfully defended, students will walk away with online doctoral degrees in Information Assurance and Security.

Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Information Assurance and Security

As graduates of online doctoral programs in information assurance and security, individuals implement risk management strategies to ensure the defense of computers, technological systems and corporate governance. Not simply a computer science discipline, the field has far-reaching impact across an array of industries, e.g., finance, criminal justice, government and communications. As front-line respondents to complexities that arise in data privacy, business continuity and compliance issues, individuals who possess an online PhD in information assurance and security help to safeguard organizations from threats against safety breaches that would otherwise impair, if not disable, their productivity and efficiency.

While some online PhD programs are still eyed suspiciously by employers, online PhD degrees in Information Assurance and Security are one of the few degrees potentially strengthened by the format of the program. Working, learning, and communicating within a sophisticated information network provides students the opportunity to fully experience the challenges of networks and network security, and the nature of the work they do while in school is directly in line with professional work, which could be an excellent selling point for graduates seeking employment.

Application & Admission Requirements

Most online PhD programs in Information Assurance and Security require a master's degree in a similar field, such as information assurance, information technology management, or computer science, for admission, as well as relevant work experience, e.g. in either administrative, scientific research, or computer science related positions, to demonstrate acumen in the field and an understanding of the subject matter that will be covered in the program.

Additionally, students will fill out an application and submit supporting materials, usually including transcripts, test scores where necessary (GRE or GMAT), at least three letters of recommendation from academic or professional colleagues or supervisors, a resume, and a statement of purpose explaining students' goals in and reasons for pursuing online doctorate degrees in Information Assurance and Security.

Career Options & Job Market

The best online PhD programs in information assurance and security prepare individuals for a range of careers that rely heavily on the skills that they acquire through their coursework and dissertation research. Those who earn an online information assurance and security doctorate are able to assume leadership roles within professions in business, research, academia, and government agencies like the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Graduates of online PhD information assurance and security programs can transition into occupations such as:

  • Computer Software Engineer—Applications These professionals develop and refine computer applications software in accordance with user needs. They implement software solutions to ensure operational security and efficiency, and they may also design databases within an application area. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income for applications computer software engineers is $90,170.
  • Computer Software Engineer—Systems Software Individuals who hold an online doctorate in information assurance and security can research, design and launch operating systems-level software and network distribution software for an array of industries, e.g., aerospace, military, business and general computing purposes, to ensure data protection with limited risk. This career pays an average of $96,620.
  • Computer and Information Scientist Professionals in this career act as theorists, designers and inventors to solve hardware and software challenges, including vulnerabilities that may create exposure to technological threats. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income for computer and information scientists is $105,370 with states in the nation’s beltway—Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC—among the top five with the highest concentration of professionals in this field.
  • Computer and Information Systems Manager These professionals coordinate activities in fields such as data processing and computer programming that help to develop and to sustain technological integrity. On average, individuals in this career earn $120,640 annually.
  • College/University Professor Graduates may decide to teach information assurance and security courses as professors who also engage in field-related research. On average, professors of computer science/technology earn $75,860 annually.

The best information assurance and security PhD online programs equip graduates to play a pivotal in a field that continues to rapidly evolve as people and communications become increasingly more global, thereby necessitating measures that will protect data. An online doctorate in information assurance and security allows individuals to understand and to mitigate the technological risks that organizations encounter so that threats are proactively addressed and safety measures are appropriately enacted.

Where to Find Information

  • Information Systems Audit and Control Association Information Systems Audit and Control Association is a nonprofit organization that recognizes the critical importance of information systems and participates in the development, advocation, and use of information systems worldwide.
  • Information Systems Security Association The Information Systems Security Association is a global community of information security professionals and practitioners that educates the public about and provides peer interaction and development opportunities in the information security field.
  • International Association of Information Assurance Professionals The International Association of Information Assurance Professionals is a certification organization dedicated to training the best information assurance and security personnel and connecting them with employers.
  • Center for Information Assurance and Security The Center for Information Assurance and Security, housed in Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, is a leading research, educational, and practice facility in information assurance and security. Their efforts expand the knowledge and application of security systems and threats everywhere, and their programs trains highly skilled professionals to better protect valuable information.

How to Get Funding

Generally there are two types of funding available to students pursuing an online PhD Information Assurance and Security degree: scholarships and grants. Scholarships are usually need- or merit-based, and can be highly competitive. Grants can take a number of forms depending on the source of the funds—the two most common are government grants, given to students with demonstrated financial need and/or outstanding educational history; and research grants, awarded after a proposal has been submitted to a government department, a corporation, a business, or sometimes an individual, promising to research a submitted topic and return with data and conclusions about it.

Tuition costs for one semester or quarter vary from school to school, but to give a preliminary picture of what total expenses for an online Information Assurance and Security PhD will be, here are the tuition prices of two online universities: 1) Capella University—$4,485 per quarter, with a limit of three courses per quarter (except dissertation quarters, which are $3,945), and 2) Northcentral University—$2,200 per course. That puts total cost for Capella University somewhere between $43,644 and $51,768, and around $22,000 for Northcentral University.

The following websites will be instrumental in a search for funds for an online PhD in Information Assurance and Security:

  • ISSA Scholarship. The Information Systems Security Association offers two $1,000 scholarships for students pursuing campus-based or online doctoral degrees in Information Assurance and Security.
  • Departmen of Defense IAS Scholarship. The U.S. Department of Defense awards scholarships to deserving, outstanding students pursuing an education in Information Assurance and Security. Tuition is paid for in full by the Department of Defense in exchange for a service commitment by the student.
  • (ISC)2 Grant. The International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, Inc. offers a $3,000 grant to one qualified doctoral student pursuing a degree in Information Assurance and Security, to aid in her research.

Essential Advice

  • Even with an impressive master's GPA, solely academic preparation for an online PhD in Information Assurance and Security may not be sufficient for admission, or for successful completion of online doctoral programs in Information Assurance and Security. Consider working in the industry for two or three years before applying to Information Assurance and Security PhD programs online, in order to find out more concretely what the field is like before committing another several years and more funds to an education in it.
  • Research schools thoroughly when applying. Not all Information Assurance and Security doctorate degrees online are created equal; in fact, some programs online are diploma mills that award valueless degrees, degrees that would not have any substance in the professional world. Be wary of any school that will confer a higher degree or higher honors if more money is paid. Worthwhile programs are accredited regionally and will have more demanding admission or graduation requirements than merely paying or paying more.
  • Make sure your foundation in computer science and networking are sound and current. The Information Assurance and Security is a rapidly changing and constantly evolving field, with new threats developed every day, so a solid foundation in the basics is critical, as is a willingness to absorb and adopt new protocols.