The difference between cybersecurity vs. computer science is subtle since cybersecurity is a specialization within computer science. Cybersecurity specialists primarily deal with protecting companies, data, and systems from cyberattacks, like ransomware, viruses, or phishing attempts. On the other hand, computer science is a broad discipline and includes different specializations like data engineering, software development, and web design.
What Is Cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity is an area of computer science and engineering that protects people, data, companies, and systems from cyberattacks. Implementing cybersecurity practices in your personal life or business can keep you and your data confidential and safe.
Cybersecurity specialists use risk analysis, cryptography, threat analysis, and information security processes to protect users and their data from attackers. Wrongdoers use various methods to steal information and data or shut down systems.
For example, an attacker may use phishing emails that appear legitimate to try and steal your data, like login credentials or credit card information. Or, a hacker could use social engineering, where they use text, email, and social media to trick people into giving them information.
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Specializations in Cybersecurity
Many people on the cybersecurity career path specialists in cybersecurity work as analysts, focusing on a specific area of cybersecurity.
One central area is communications cybersecurity. In this specialization, security engineers and analysts “focus on analyzing data traffic and on the parametrization of the underlying infrastructure to maximize protection while preserving functionality,” says Sergio Tenreiro de Magalhaes, associate professor and chair of cybersecurity programs at Champlain College.
Another subdivision of cybersecurity is forensic cybersecurity analysis, which involves “identifying what happened in a security incident in an organization, including any internal actors, or assisting law enforcement in collecting evidence of computational devices used while committing a crime,” says Tenreiro de Magalhaes.
Other areas of cybersecurity include:
- The internet of things (IoT): protecting internet-enabled devices from cyberattacks
- Risk analysis: reviewing and finding ways to avoid potential risks in computer systems and applications
- Compliance: ensuring programs and systems align with company policies and local, state, and federal regulations
- Application security: keeping application programs safe for users
- Network security: controlling computer networks, ensuring the network is secure, and keeping users abreast of ways to keep themselves and the network safe
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What Is Computer Science?
Computer science is an area of technology that encompasses a broad range of topics and study areas, such as computer software development, algorithms, data science, and information theory. One main priority in computer science is determining what actions or systems computers can handle entirely through automation and artificial intelligence.
Ultimately, computer science is typically considered an academic discipline, with many different careers and specializations stemming from it. Data is a core part of most computer science careers since data is necessary to form a foundation for automated systems.
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Specializations in Computer Science
Many careers in computer science center around computer programming and software engineering. Some software engineers focus on back-end development or the parts of an application or operating system that a user doesn’t see. Others handle front-end development, which is the areas of a program that users do see, such as web pages, widgets, fonts, and images. Full-stack engineers handle both back- and front-end processes.
“Usually big companies prefer a more niche skill set for a specific task, such as back-end software engineer for API [application programming interface] development and front-end developer for UI [user interface] development,” says Shashank Agarwal, senior decision scientist at CVS. “But, in small startups, a full-stack engineer is usually responsible for both these tasks.”
Other types of roles and specializations in computer science include:
- Cybersecurity and information security analysts
- Data engineers
- Web designers
- Computer user support specialists
- Data scientists
“My daily routine as a data scientist involves data exploration, algorithm development, and problem-solving,” says Agarwal. “I clean and preprocess data, write code for mathematical and statistical algorithms, and collaborate with domain experts and software engineers.”
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Computer Science vs. Cybersecurity Salaries
Salaries in computer science vary depending on the specialization. For instance, computer user support specialists make an average of $61,580 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the other hand, data scientists have an average annual salary of $115,240.
Cybersecurity careers similarly have different salaries depending on specialization, location, level of seniority, and company. For instance, information security analysts make an average of $119,860 annually, but those working in industries like web search portals, computer manufacturing, or motion picture production often see higher salaries.
>>MORE: Learn more about the highest-paying software engineering careers.
How to Get Into Cybersecurity vs. Computer Science
Education and Background
While some computer science roles may not require a degree, Agarwal recommends pursuing at least a bachelor’s degree in an area like programming, math, or digital systems.
“Consider advanced degrees like a Master’s for specialized positions,” adds Agarwal.
Getting into cybersecurity is a similar story — a bachelor’s degree may not always be required, but it can help you build a foundation of skills and knowledge. Most cybersecurity professionals study computer science, but others pursue engineering or non-technology-focused disciplines.
A degree can set you up for success by giving you a broad understanding of computer science systems. Agarwal suggests that pairing your degree with more specialized or industry-specific experience and having a proven track record of being able to code in a variety of settings and contexts can set you apart from other candidates.
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Professional certifications are an easy way to show employers you have specialized knowledge. Tenreiro de Magalhaes advises students to consider certifications throughout their academic journeys.
Some certification options for computer scientists include:
- CompTIA A+: The CompTIA A+ certification shows essential information technology (IT) skills, such as software, operating systems, and computer repair.
- Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE): The CCIE certification is a senior- or expert-level credential for professionals who want to prove high-level competencies in building, maintaining, and troubleshooting complex networking infrastructures.
- Microsoft’s Azure Data Fundamentals: Microsoft’s Data Fundamentals certification helps build your database knowledge, data storage, and data analytics skills.
- Amazon Web Services (AWS) Certified Developer: The developer certification from AWS shows high-level skills in creating and maintaining applications on the AWS platform.
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Cybersecurity specialists can consider certifications like:
- CompTIA Security+: A Security+ credential displays fundamental knowledge of security processes and IT security.
- EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH): The CEH designation shows a deep understanding of ethical hacking practices and experience with the latest tools available to ethical hackers.
- ISACA Cybersecurity Fundamentals: A cybersecurity certification from the ISACA denotes having hands-on experience with forensic practices, penetration testing, and threat detection.
- ISC2’s Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP): The CISSP is an advanced certification to show expertise in information security.
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You can stand out to employers and be successful in your career by having the right skills.
Cybersecurity specialists need a mix of hard and soft skills like:
- Comprehensive knowledge of information technology
- Familiarity with network security engineering
- Understanding of fundamental security concepts, like access control and spotting phishing attempts
Tenreiro de Magalhaes adds that cybersecurity analysts must understand “how people interact with computational skills and that the systems exist to serve the organization.”
If you know the ways people use different programs or networks, it can help you determine any weaknesses in security practices.
“This profession requires constant professional development as the field evolves quickly,” adds Tenreiro de Magalhaes.
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Skills for computer science specialists depend on what area of computer science they work in, but some common skills needed in these career paths include:
- Coding and programming skills in languages like Java, Python, and C++
- Understanding of core computer science concepts like application programming interfaces (APIs), cloud computing, and data storage and analysis
- Time management
- Attention to detail
Computer scientists also must “stay up-to-date with the rapidly evolving field by pursuing continuing education credits, attending industry conferences, or enrolling in relevant courses,” says Agarwal.
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Bottom Line: What’s the Difference?
Since cybersecurity is a subset of computer science, the difference between the two is difficult to define. Ultimately, cybersecurity focuses on identifying, preventing, and solving cyberattacks on users, applications, systems, and networks. On the other hand, computer science is a broad discipline, ranging from computational theory to software engineering to user experience (UX) design.
|Primary Function||Protect systems, users, networks, and programs from cyberattacks like ransomware or phishing attempts||Build, maintain, or study technological products like websites and mobile applications depending on specialization|
|Education and Background||Degree in computer science or engineering, practical experience through certification courses, internships, or entry-level roles||Degree in computer science, practical experience in chosen area of specialization through bootcamps, internships, or certifications|
|Technical Skills||Cybersecurity concepts like access control and types of cyberattacks||Programming languages|
Data analysis and management
Attention to detail
|Types of Job Titles||Cybersecurity analyst|
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