If you're an information technology professional, recent statistics about cyber crime may not surprise you.

Last year, more than $400 billion was spent worldwide on cyber security breaches. Forty million Americans had personal information stolen. And 97 percent of small to mid-size businesses were hacked.*

As alarming as those statistics are, according to Saint Leo University's Dr. Vyas Krishnan, there's something even more disturbing: these cyber threats are only the tip of the iceberg.

"Cyber security threats are a moving target, and new vulnerabilities emerge on a daily basis," says Krishnan computer science professor in Saint Leo's Donald R. Tapia School of Business.

Krishnan says that because of the increasing dependence of businesses and organizations on transactions via the Internet, it's essential to pay attention to emerging threats. However, because of the complexity of the skill sets that are involved in being a cyber security specialist, there is a shortage of capable professionals.

This critical need for information security specialists who can predict, prevent and react to such events swiftly and precisely is what motivated Krishnan and his team of computer science faculty – all seasoned IT professionals – to design Saint Leo's newest graduate degree program: the Master of Science in Cyber Security.

Distinguishing features of Saint Leo's cyber security program

Here are five distinguishing features about Saint Leo's cyber security program that make it ideal for IT professionals who are serious about advancing in this in-demand field.

1. The program is industry relevant.

Krishnan says faculty took three important steps to ensure the program met current industry needs.

First, faculty talked extensively with business leaders and conducted an in-depth survey to identify the specific skills necessary to perform effectively on the job.

Second, they analyzed the National Security Administration's (NSA) well-documented recommendations for graduate programs in cyber security and designed the curriculum to follow those criteria.

And third, since industry certifications are critical in the cyber security field, the team analyzed the body of knowledge from leading industry-recognized certifications, such as the CISSP® certification, and integrated the skills into the program that will prepare graduates to earn those certifications.

2. The program is highly technical

Krishnan says that since cyber security has become so complex over the last five years, Saint Leo's program needed to be highly technical. No foundational computer science concepts are taught in the 36-credit program of 12 courses. Prospective students must already have a computer science, engineering, or related degree or be a current cyber security or IT professional.

"There's a definite level of technological sophistication that is required for this degree program that is based on industry and government standards."

3. All courses are 100 percent focused on cyber security.

Saint Leo's technical prerequisite means all students have the same information technology foundation; therefore, all 12 courses that comprise the graduate program specifically address cyber security issues.

According to Krishnan, the program is not an MBA or a master of computer science program with electives to create a cyber security specialization. Rather, it is a unique combination of courses that are solely focused on the skills and knowledge required to advance in the cyber security field.

"Even the two courses that are less technical -- Cyber Security Compliance and Legal Issues and Cyber Security Risk Management -- are tied directly to key areas of the cyber security field to help create a well-rounded, concise body of knowledge for students."

4. The program develops managers who are specialists.

Students will learn how to take a managerial as well as highly technical approach to cyber crime prevention and defense. That means graduates will be able to lead a team of IT professionals but will also have the skills required to dig in and perform technical functions.

5. The program offers practical, hands-on training in an academic environment.

Saint Leo is not a technical college, nor a for-profit career-school, but a regionally accredited university. That means that the new, state-of-art cyber security lab for running simulations takes an academic as opposed to a vocational approach to skill development.

"It's a rigorous program that offers a hands-on approach using our new cyber security lab in the School of Business building. On-ground as well as online students will be able to take advantage of this state-of-the-art facility and the simulations it offers through secure, remote access."

MBA-Information Security Management option

For over five years, Saint Leo has offered a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree with a concentration in information security management. This concentration is designed primarily for business executives who need a foundation of knowledge to be cyber aware, so they can make strategic business decisions and provide guidance for their businesses.

"If you look at today's IT infrastructures, we have networks, web interfaces, operating system vulnerabilities, software vulnerabilities; we have cloud computing, which is also an important resource so there are vulnerabilities from that side of the IT infrastructure. The information security management concentration, by itself, was not adequate to cover all the bases to create today's information security specialist," says Krishnan.

"So that was the strong motivation for us to create this new master's degree program in cyber security."

*Statistics based on 2014 McAfee Report on the Global Cost of Cyber Crime and 2014 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report.

Other posts you may be interested in reading:

5 Reasons SLU's Cyber Security Program Is Right For You

Do Graduate Degrees Pay Off? [Infographic]

Careers in Cyber Security: What Women Need To Know

For The Best Cyber Security Jobs, Don't Overlook Certification

Image Credits: Brian A. Jackson on Shutterstock and Jo-Ann Johnston, University Communications