Technology will forever change and adapt as our society and individual needs change, but one important piece of the puzzle has lagged behind — cybersecurity. National and global news outlets report on cyber attacks daily, showing the holes our technology has created in how personal and corporate data is managed. Getting ahead of the curve is difficult with hackers exposing threats faster than industries can keep up to patch them.

The Cisco 2015 Annual Security Report and the Cisco Security Capabilities Benchmark Study surveyed companies across all industries and found overconfidence in security processes by executive leadership. Organizations that are more sophisticated in their security were identified as having executive leadership that prioritizes security, well-documented policies and procedures, and integrated tools that work together. According to the survey, 91% of executives from security-sophisticated companies consider security a high-priority, but less than 50% of those are using standard tools that can help thwart security breaches, such as penetration testing, endpoint forensics and vulnerability scanning. Among the less-sophisticated companies, only 22% believe security is a high-priority and 0% believe processes are well-defined and understood.

What does this disconnect explain? Cybersecurity is an emerging threat that needs to be prioritized, but security professionals must be constantly learning and evolving with the changing technology.

That’s why Western Governor’s University launched a Cybersecurity and Information Assurance graduate degree program in March. With a focus on up-skilling technology professionals currently in the workforce, this online program provides certification and credentials to prepare them for leadership positions and a knowledge base that will grow with them as technology continues to evolve.

You might be wondering how students could prepare for a cyber attack that the industry has never seen before. WGU’s graduate program offers a series of courses that takes students through cyber warfare techniques that help them recognize and identify threats. In this virtual environment, students can practice with compromised networks by using the best practices taught by their professors.

“We have created labs where students will be presented with a simulated threat. They have to identify it and develop response and recovery plans,” said Tom Atkinson, program manager for the Cybersecurity and Information Assurance degree. “This degree program is not just about picking up a book and reading through course material. There are knowledge checks along the way that include videos to help motivate students and guide them toward understanding the problems.”

Students enrolled in the program will have an understanding of these core competencies: risk management, secure network and software design, ethical hacking, best practices for security policies and planning, and disaster recovery planning, prevention and response.

Courses have been developed in collaboration with internal experts and mentors who teach the courses as well as an Information Technology Program Council of subject matter experts who help guide the development process, assessment and create effective virtual lab environments. This allows WGU to keep up with the constantly changing industry and ensure the curriculum mirrors real world security issues.

Students enrolled in WGU can progress through the online program at their own pace, making it ideal for adults currently in the workforce. Most students will take 12 to 18 months to complete the program, averaging about 20 hours or more of coursework per week, though some may move faster if they have more experience or are transferring credits from another university.

Once students complete the program, they will study for and complete the EC-Council Ethical Hacking and Countermeasures and EC-Council Computer Hacking and Forensic Investigator certifications. Target post-graduate job opportunities include computer security specialist, computer systems administrator, network security administrators, computer systems analyst, computer and information systems manager, and information security analyst.

Click here to learn more about the new graduate degree program at WGU Indiana.