Cybersecurity vs. network security: How an information systems degree can prepare you for this growing employment landscape

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Information systems and cybersecurity professionals have much to consider in the current threat environment, not the least of which is overall cybersecurity and internal network security. Within the past few years, several big-name organizations have been the victims of data breaches, shining a spotlight on the importance of safeguarding sensitive data and critical network assets.

In fact, according to the Breach Level Index, a staggering number of data records have been lost or stolen since 2013, surpassing 14 billion. This boils down to about 6 million records stolen every day, or more than 288,000 each hour.

Worse still is the fact that these high-profile network breaches and associated data thefts are continually on the rise. Seemingly with each day, hackers boost their malicious capabilities and attack sophistication, spurring more successful intrusions. Currently, the number of breaches in 2018 represents a more than 133 percent increase versus the first half of 2017.

Image of a digital lock on top of binary code and microchip background.

What does this mean for the information systems landscape?

In this type of environment, organizations are heightening their demands for individuals who have the skills, talent, and expertise to help safeguard sensitive data from advanced cyber-attacks and bolster protection across the network. Positions like computer network architect and information security analyst are increasingly in demand, growing at 6 percent and 28 percent, respectively, through 2026, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The cybersecurity and network security industries have been operating with a talent shortage for a few years now, meaning that there simply aren’t enough individuals to fill open positions. As CSO reported, there are currently more than 350,000 open cybersecurity jobs in the U.S. alone, as well as a global shortage of 3.5 million through 2021.

This shows that not only are cybersecurity and network security skills more valuable than ever before, but gaining this important knowledge and expertise can put one on a particularly beneficial information systems career path that can support success.

Cybersecurity vs. network security: What’s the difference?

However, the first step on this road is an important one, and involves becoming more familiar with the key terminology and concepts in the information systems industry. While cybersecurity and network security may sound similar ― and do overlap in certain areas ― there are key differences that information systems students and professionals should understand.

Cybersecurity falls under the information security umbrella, and involves the processes and practices carried out to safeguard and defend an organization’s network, devices, and data (including stored and newly created data) from elements like unauthorized access, attack, damage, or theft. Different elements are used to make this defense possible, including specific technologies, processes, and best practices, which we’ll delve into a bit deeper later on.

Network security, on the other hand, is considered a subset of cybersecurity, and focuses on the network supporting an organization’s applications, platforms, and other systems. The goal is to secure the network to ensure that unauthorized users cannot access it, or the applications, assets, and data it supports.

The network represents one of an organization’s most valuable assets. Without a protected and properly operating network, many of a company’s key daily processes ― including things like accessing email, working on documents, or accessing and using important applications or solution platforms ― would be impossible. This makes network security a critical priority in businesses and organizations in every industry sector.

Cybersecurity: A deeper look

One of the most important aspects of information systems and cybersecurity is being aware of the current top strategies used by malicious actors. Often, ahead of attack, hackers will carry out a process known as social engineering, where they look to find out as much as possible about the target business and its employees. Using this knowledge (much of which is publicly available), hackers can enable attacks including:

  • Phishing, which includes a carefully crafted email or chat directed to a certain individual in a company. The email might include a malicious link or attachment that, when opened by the recipient, launches harmful code or directs the user to an infected website.
  • Ransomware, which may start similarly to a phishing attack. Through social engineering, hackers learn about company employees and then target a recipient with an email or message addressed to them. Once opened, a malicious link or attachment executes the ransomware sample, which uses strong encryption to lock users out of their files, applications, and important data until a ransom is paid in untraceable bitcoin.

These only scratch the surface when it comes to cybersecurity. Professionals in cybersecurity will look to guard against these and other common and emerging threats with practices like data backup and cybersecurity awareness training for staff members, as well as the use of antivirus, anti-malware, and security monitoring solutions that can help identify potential attacks.

Network security: Main processes

Network security includes protecting servers, applications, and files in an organization’s infrastructure, and ensuring that only authorized users are able to access the network. The SANS Institute defines network security as, “the process of taking physical and software preventative measures to protect the underlying network infrastructure from unauthorized access, misuse, malfunction, modification, destruction, or improper disclosure, thereby creating a secure platform for computers, users and programs to perform their permitted critical functions.”

Network security encompasses key processes like:

  • Access controls, or setting up usernames and passwords for authorized users, and potentially leveled-access privileges that enable only certain individuals to access highly sensitive data.
  • Application security, to help safeguard important applications. This includes a patch management strategy to help ensure that when software vendors release a security update, it is applied as soon as possible.

How an information systems degree can help prepare you

An information systems degree can prepare students for employment in the fast-paced and in-demand cybersecurity and network security industry. The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Bachelor of Science in Information Systems offers core courses in Business Programming, Enterprise Systems, Database Management, Systems Analysis, and more.

To find out how these and other courses can help get you ready for a career in the information systems field, connect with us today.

Recommended Readings:

Computer systems administrator vs. computer systems analyst: What’s the difference?

Best cities for IS jobs

Why UAB? The benefits for online students


BLS – Computer network architect

BLS – Information security analyst

Breach Level Index


CSO Online



UAB BSIS Course Descriptions