Doing a PhD in Cyber Security

What Does a PhD in Cyber Security Focus On?

A PhD in Cyber Security equips students with expert knowledge in computing, cybercrime and digital technology policy. A PhD involves original research into a specific field of cybersecurity and can allow cyber security graduate students to work with emerging technologies and tools to tackle issues society faces as technology rapidly advances.

According to the UK National Cyber Security Strategy 2016-2021, there will be an estimated shortage of 350,000 cybersecurity professionals by 2022. There is therefore a high demand for cyber security graduates and doctorates. A PhD in Cyber Security could lead to a career in an emerging industry.

A list of Cybersecurity topics at doctorate level is provided below:

  • Cryptography
  • Artificial Intelligence and Robotics
  • Systems Security and Testing
  • Cryptocurrency and Blockchains
  • Privacy, Confidentiality and Ethics
  • Cybercrime
  • Dark Web
  • Software Security
  • Digital Forensics
  • Security Risk Management
  • Network Security
  • Digital Technology Policy
  • Quantum Computing
  • Copyright

Minimum Entry Requirements for A PhD in Cyber Security

UK Doctoral Cyber Security programmes usually require graduate students to possess, or expect to achieve, as a minimum a 2:1 upper second class bachelor’s degree in computer science, or related subject such as Mathematics. It should be noted that due to the interdisciplinary challenges in cyber security, related subjects can vary depending on the focus of research and may include areas such as Electrical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Social Sciences, Psychology and Law. A lower second class (2:2) bachelor’s degree may be accepted if the graduate student has a master’s degree or graduate cyber security work experience. Applicants with international equivalent qualifications are also considered.

Another requirement for research projects is proof of English Language ability. Universities will expect international students to provide English Level Qualifications, for example IELTS, TOEFL (iBT) or Pearson PTE scores.

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How Long Does It Take to Get a PhD in Cyber Security?

In the UK, a full time cybersecurity research project lasts around 3 to 4 years. The first year is usually probationary and will be used to develop a thesis proposal that outlines your research degree. The remaining time will be used to carry out your research, produce and submit your thesis and undertake the Viva. Part-time cybersecurity projects may take 6 to 7 years to complete. A full-time cyber security MPhil usually lasts for 1 to 2 years.

In addition to developing your thesis proposal, the first year is also used to allow your supervisor to identify additional cybersecurity training that would assist in your research project. This may come in the form of online PhD cybersecurity training modules, online doctorate lectures, or placement opportunities to give you an insight into the cyber security industry and real world applications in your chosen field.

Costs and Funding

A UK doctoral student can expect to pay around £5,500 per year in tuition fees for a 2021/22 PhD programme in Cyber Security. Typical tuition fees for EU and overseas students are around £25,000 per academic year. Part-time tuition fees are normally proportioned according to the research programme length.

Most institutions have Centres for Doctoral Training in Cyber Security, which offer a number of Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) studentships to eligible applicants. These studentships and grants cover tuition fees, and can provide a maintenance stipend and research travel expenses.

You may also be eligible for a Postgraduate Doctoral Loan which helps with course fees and living costs associated with a cyber-security research project.

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PhD in Cyber Security Salary and Career Paths

As companies become more reliant on technology, the risk of cyber-attacks and other compromises in security becomes more pressing. In fact, according to The Annual Crime Survey in 2017, two thirds of UK businesses were hit by cyber-attacks. Because of this, and the recognised shortage of cybersecurity professionals and graduates/doctorates, companies, both public and private, are investing large amounts of money into developing their cyber security. These companies look to a PhD student with a cyber security degree as someone who can help develop this. A PhD in Cyber Security reflects the demand for security specialists.

Typical employers for cybersecurity doctorates include Intel, NASA, Microsoft, Google and Lloyds TSB, though the full list of employers is extensive due to the increasing reliance on technology in almost all industries, and the overlap with other disciplines such as computer science and information science. The doctoral degree also allows for international reach, as it is a highly applicable field of knowledge for any country. Many of the employers are based in the US, for example, NASA and Google. Common jobs for Cyber Security PhD students include:

  • Cyber Security Analyst – Perhaps the most logical career path for cybersecurity doctorates is to become a cyber-security analyst. Doctorates in this role are responsible for detecting, managing and preventing cyber-attacks, and developing cyber defences to protect a company’s IT infrastructure. Senior cyber security analysts in the UK can earn around £50,000. Those with managerial duties or expert knowledge can earn over £80,000. As such, the PhD in cyber security salary tends to be higher than counterparts with similar levels of experience.
  • Penetration Testing – In this role, cybersecurity PhD students carry out controlled cyber-attacks on a company’s IT infrastructure to find weak points in security. This will then be used to advise the company on how to manage cyber risk and prevent such attacks from real cyber criminals in the future. One of the advantages of penetration testing is that it lends itself to freelance work. With experience, freelance penetration testers can earn over £500 a day. Again, a cybersecurity doctoral degree is a valuable qualification to hold as it demonstrates your credibility and expertise.
  • Teaching – Some doctoral students use their cybersecurity degree to stay in Higher Education. Here they can continue their study as a researcher working in a University School or Faculty alongside other researchers, or transition into a teaching role as a professor or lecturer. As a lecturer, you can tailor your study content and also supervise a doctorate in cybersecurity in your field of interest.

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