Online PhD in Information Security

In order to be admitted to a top online PhD program in Information Security—also known as Information Assurance or Management of Information Systems and Technology—you should have a master’s degree with a GPA of at least 3.0 from an accredited United States institution. These master's degrees can be in any Information Security-related field, such as Computer Technology, Systems Management, Software Design or Information Technology. You may also need to attend occasional on-campus workshops, have at least 3 years of work experience in the field, and have three letters of recommendation. Typically, an online PhD education includes research, hands-on training and extensive writing, and online programs can take about two years to complete if you are studying full-time. If admitted to an online PhD program, applicants who do not have a master's degree may take a total of four or five years to earn their degree. In pursuing an online PhD in Information Technology, a candidate may choose to study a concentration, such as Risk Management, Information Technology Management, or Information Technology Education. Candidates may also be expected to take classes in criminal justice, computer engineering and the social sciences. When looking for the right doctoral program online, it is important to check the residency requirements to see if they can be worked into your schedule.

About Online PhD Programs in Information Security

The skills you learn while studying for your online PhD will enable you to provide leadership in Information Security from an organizational standpoint as well as from industry-wide and global points of view. The online PhD in Information Security includes a mixture of research, theory, and practice. Students will learn how to analyze the research they have conducted or collected from others, write about it, and then apply it to real life situations. While some schools like Capella University offer their Information Security PhD program entirely online, other schools like George Mason University offer course both on and off-campus. The latter type of school may work best for you if there is a residency requirement or any on-campus obligations during the course of your study.

Year One:

  • Network Security. Offered by George Mason University's Information Security and Assurance program, this course serves as an introduction of basic network security concepts such as cryptography, SSL, TLS, security routing protocols and more.
  • Operating Systems Security. Also offered through George Mason University's PhD program, this course focuses on operating system (OS) security topics such as system randomization, defense for attacks on computer systems, and basic OS security techniques.
  • Information Technology Research and Practice. This class is offered through Capella University's online PhD program and teaches students how to research their topics and how to apply that research to real situations.

Year Two:

  • Survey of Research Literature in Information Technology Management. Through this course offered by Capella University, students will learn what the leading published works in information security are and how this literature can help them in their current and future research.
  • Information Technology Technical Foundations. Another course offered by Capella University, this technical foundations class explores the physical reality of computer systems and how they work.
  • Intrusion Detection.. Offered through George Mason University, this course studies methodologies, techniques and tools for monitoring events and potential attacks in computer systems and networks.

Year Three:

  • Security Experimentation. Through this course, students will learn how to capture packets of interest through wired and wireless networks, the intricacies of how shellcodes and buffer overflows work, and how to evaluate security vulnerabilities.
  • Information Technology Delivery. Offered by Capella University, this class will teach students how to make the connections between educational theory and the installation of security systems in various situations.
  • Information Technology Strategy and Management. Also offered through Capella University's online PhD program, students will learn how to plan a comprehensive security strategy and to manage its implementation in a variety of settings.

As part of their colloquia residency requirement, doctoral candidates at Capella University online must attend three week-long conferences before their dissertation is completed. One example of an Information Security dissertation is entitled Exploring Security Certification and Accreditation Using the Agile Software Development Lifecycle Process. Another example is a dissertation entitled, Information Technology (IT) Strategic Alignment: A Correlational Study Between the Impact of Its Governance Structures and Its Strategic Alignment.

Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Information Insecurity

A PhD in Information Security will provide you with the skills and training to safeguard the sensitive information of millions domestic and abroad by creating and implementing secure computer systems and training others to use them. As our society becomes even more increasingly dependent on computers, individuals who can help protect personal data and adhere to growing public privacy concerns are valuable. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job prospects in this field are excellent and employment is expected to grow in the next decade across a variety of industries in both the public and private sectors. As the most advanced degree in this field, a PhD will prove impressive to employers, earn you higher wages and put you at the forefront of an expanding discipline. One criticism, however, is that if you are interested in doing a PhD through a program that has an on-campus residency requirement, doing the rest of it online may not be an option. PhD programs offered exclusively online in this subject are scarce. Another criticism is that as technology advances, so do the tactics used by hackers, fraudsters and other criminals, which makes Information Security a constantly evolving discipline. What you've learned during the course of your degree may prove to not be enough in the future as technological security breaches become more sophisticated.

Application & Admission Requirements

Some online PhD programs allow students with both technical and non-technical backgrounds to be eligible for acceptance. Students who do not have the necessary technical background or experience will have to take courses in computer science, computer engineering, network and systems and other disciplines depending on their post secondary transcripts. Like with any PhD program, your GPA, test scores, official post secondary transcripts, recommendation letters and a resume detailing all previous work experience will play a role in your acceptance. Applicants will also have to submit a completed application and in most cases a personal statement. When crafting your personal statement, it is recommended that you have an idea of the research you would like to conduct towards your dissertation. Applicants who are entering the program with only an undergraduate degree will be required to fulfill requirements towards a master's degree first, which will delay your study by another year or two.

Career Options & Job Market

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job prospects for Information Security are excellent, especially due to the demand for privacy protection in our increasingly technologically dependent society. Once you've earned your online PhD in this discipline, you could work for businesses, universities, or for the government, specifically the Department of Defense. Jobs with the best earning potential include:

  • College Professor. Information security professors teach important and specific knowledge and are therefore in high demand at colleges and universities across the country. The need for these professors will increase as the need for students qualified in information security increases. The average salary for university professors is $115,564, according to
  • Information Security Crime Investigator.This job involves figuring out how online crimes or information theft are committed, gathering evidence, and ensuring that no further security breaches happen. Investigators make up to $80,000 per year.
  • System, Network, or Web Penetration Tester. This job requires trying to break into a computer system and thereby identifying its weaknesses so they can be fixed. According to, these employees earn from $90,000 to $125,000 per year.
  • Director of Security. Directors of Security are in charge of designing and maintaining all information security systems for an organization or institution. They average salaries of $100,000.

Where to Find Information

  • National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies. Located at Bellevue College in Washington, this institute provides educational programs for technological research and professional development in Information Technology based initiatives.
  • Information Assurance Support Environment. The IASE offers up-to-date and comprehensive Information Assurance articles and other resources, as well as online training products. Topics include computer network defense, application security and mobile code security.
  • Archive of Information Assurance. This website offers a selection of papers, books, excerpts and other resources to provide a library of Information Assurance facts and records.
  • Data Management International or DAMA is the leading organization for data professionals with information on academic programs, research and symposiums.

How to Get Funding

Many students of online degree programs at all levels including the doctorate level receive aid of some form. Research and information technology based fellowships are available for online PhD students, while some schools, such as George Mason University, offer scholarships for doctoral students. In addition to scholarships and fellowships, there are also grants and scholarship options for international students, as well. Finally there are student loans, but please keep in mind that it can take several years to complete your PhD. This is important to note as you do not want to acquire too much loan debt over time.

  • United States Department of Defense Information Assurance Scholarship Program. Designed to assist in recruiting students pursuing degrees in Information Assurance to meet the Department of Defense's information technology requirements for national defense and the security of its information infrastructure.
  • Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship. For third and fourth year PhD candidates, this fellowship covers full tuition costs for two academic years and provides a $28,000 stipend to recipients.
  • Open Society Fellowship. For full-time and part-time fellows, this fellowship is awarded for students who are researching ways to solve social, economical and technological problems.

Essential Advice

  • Weigh your options and do the research. You'll need to know for sure whether an additional degree will increase your earning potential more than a bachelor's or master's degree in a similar field would.
  • Try to obtain a scholarship, fellowship or grant. Studying at a PhD level is costly, and you may not be able to predict how many years it will take you to complete it.
  • Talk to current PhD candidates and graduates about course load, time management, what admission materials they submitted and so on. This is the best way to learn if the program is right for you.
  • Check the school's credentials. Once you find a program, make sure it is accredited by an accrediting institution recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.