Information Technology Versus Cybersecurity: What's the Difference?
It's important to understand that cybersecurity is a specialized concentration within IT. Therefore, the main difference between an IT degree and a cybersecurity degree is less the breadth of subject matter than the depth of focus on security issues.
IT is a broad field of study encompassing many areas of computer science, including network architecture, database management, software development, and cybersecurity itself. Professors typically incorporate security topics into discussions of most IT subjects, because every aspect of the major has security considerations.
However, cybersecurity programs focus more narrowly on network defense, data security, and information assurance. Students complete coursework on identifying vulnerabilities, devising countermeasures to deter known threats, assessing the potential impact of successful cyberattacks, and preserving digital evidence to use in future cyberdefenses and prosecutions.
Pursuing a Career in Information Technology
A major virtue of an IT degree is its versatility. You can seek a wide range of technology jobs with an IT bachelor's degree in hand, including the following:
Your personal interest may dictate which of these career opportunities you pursue, because many of them call for similar knowledge and skills at the entry level. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor tool O*NET includes decision-making, critical thinking, and complex problem solving among the top skills needed for both computer network architect and database administrator roles.
Although IT is a versatile major, it allows for a degree of specialization. Many degree programs offer a choice of concentrations, such as software development, database administration, or game development. This would let you gain a broad swathe of IT knowledge and skills while funneling electives into a specialized focus area. You may even be able to boost your cybersecurity credentials by choosing this concentration as part of your IT degree.
Many IT degree programs offer a choice of concentrations, such as software development, database administration, game development, or even cybersecurity.
No matter what type of IT job you land, you'll generally need to earn at least one industry certification in your specialty if you want to stay competitive. Organizations that offer certifications include CompTIA and Cisco.
Pursuing a Career in Cybersecurity
According to O*NET, information security analysts require many of the same skills as colleagues in related IT jobs. But a cybersecurity professional's focus is narrower than that of other IT employees: They primarily seek to safeguard networks, databases, and operating systems, whereas other IT employees may aim for functionality and user experience before all else.
Earning a cybersecurity degree is a sign of your serious intent to defend information systems, and it might grant an advantage over applicants without as many credit hours spent immersed in security topics. But there's no guarantee that a generalist IT degree couldn't also help you land a cybersecurity job — as discussed, most IT courses cover security issues to some degree.
You may further distinguish yourself by earning a cybersecurity certification. There are many options available, so you might narrow your choices by reviews job postings in industries that interest you to find the most commonly requested credentials. Popular choices include certifications in digital forensics, ethical hacking, and health information assurance.
Which Degree Is Right for Me?
You can begin to answer this question by asking yourself another one: Do I know for sure that I want to work in cybersecurity? If the answer is yes, then a degree in cybersecurity probably suits you best.
If you answered "No, not for sure" or "I don't know," then a general IT degree may be a safer bet. The goal of these programs is to create versatile IT professionals who can work in a variety of roles. If you're interested in cybersecurity but not convinced that it's right for you, you can apply to an program that offers a cybersecurity concentration — this way, you'll learn the fundamentals of the discipline without necessarily limiting yourself.
Your level of education might also make a difference. You could potentially earn a Bachelor of Science in IT, gain a few years of work experience to figure out what you enjoy doing, then go back to school to earn a master's degree in the specialization of your choice.
Similar Degrees to Consider
Cybersecurity and IT aren't the only majors available to technology-minded learners. We've listed a few additional options here.
Computer science is the wide-ranging study of computer hardware, software, and programming. A typical computer science degree focuses more on theory and mathematics than an IT program, though graduates may qualify for many of the same occupations.
Network administration is an IT specialty concerned with the connections between individual computers. As with cybersecurity, this may be a good field of study if you're set on working in a specific capacity once you graduate. Some programs may have concentrations in network security.
Software engineering involves designing, building, and testing software platforms. This is another math-heavy discipline that features plenty of theory alongside practical coursework.
Web development students learn to design and build websites. This major features a good deal of creativity, though the related web design field focuses more on user experience and aesthetics.
The Bottom Line
Cybersecurity is a subfield of IT, so studying it may limit your career options to security-oriented roles. On the other hand, a broad IT degree might not give you a competitive edge over candidates who specialized in cybersecurity in college. Before deciding on a degree program, it might be helpful to decide on your desired career path — though this can change down the line, one degree may be more useful to you for getting your foot in the door.