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How to Become a Cybersecurity Specialist | A Career Guide

Cybersecurity Specialist keep global data safe.

Today, daily living is connected with technology more than it has ever been in the history of humankind. The benefits of technology are numerous, from modern conveniences and instant information to automation technology and the Internet of Things. Despite all the advantages of technology, there are dark sides to it. Potential dangers lie behind every platform and device. And one of those dangers is cybersecurity threats. Learn how to become a cybersecurity specialist and help keep the digital space safe.

There has been a steady growth in the rate of cybercrime. According to the Global Risk Report for 2020, the World Economic Forum states estimates that the chance of detecting the perpetrators of cybercrime is an underwhelming 0.05 percent.

A report from Ponemon Institute and IBM showed the average cost of one cyberattack was $4.24 million in 2021. This figure represents the highest level of damage in the last 17 years. The rise in data breaches has increased the demand for cybersecurity experts globally. Big and small companies alike are striving to protect their cyberspace. These companies need security specialists to handle these attacks. In this article, we explore cybersecurity, salaries, job outlook, and how to become a cybersecurity specialist.

What is Cybersecurity?

Simply put, cybersecurity is the act of shielding networks, programs, and systems from digital attacks. Digital attacks, also known as information technology (IT) attacks, aim to change, access and destroy sensitive data. The result is an interruption in the flow of business. An IT attack also seeks to extort money from unsuspecting victims.

Businesses find the challenge of implementing effective security measures daunting. One reason is there are more electronic devices than humans today. Also, cyber attackers are devising new ways to carry out their crimes.

Types of Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity involves many processes, technologies, and methods to protect data, networks, and computer systems from attacks. The field is broad, and to understand it better, we have to divide cybersecurity into different subdomains.

  • Application Security

Application security involves using multiple defenses in an organization’s services and software to ward off potential threats and attacks. Cybersecurity specialists in this sub-field often have to design secure application structures, write safe code, and implement rigorous data input validation methods. All of these serve to reduce the risk of unauthorized modification or access to application resources.

  • Cloud Security

This subfield involves creating secure cloud applications and architectures for cloud-based service providers such as Google, Amazon Web Services, Rackspace, Azure, and the likes.

  • User Education

Cybersecurity specialists cannot protect the organization’s systems all by themselves. They need the cooperation of others. This is where user education comes in. The staff of different organizations has to understand computer security basics and have an ‘’above-average’’ knowledge of cyber threats. Professionals in this field teach staff about the procedures and policies of their organization, industry best practices, and how to monitor and report suspicious or malicious actions.

  • Data Security and Identity Management

Data security and identity management specialists are concerned about the frameworks, activities, and processes involved in authorizing and authenticating approved people to an organization’s information systems. They implement robust storage tools to protect data in transition and computer servers. Additionally, this sub-dominion employs authentication protocols which may be multi-factor or two-factor.

  • Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Planning

Some cybersecurity threats are a result of natural disasters or accidents. Cybersecurity specialists in the Distance Recovery and Business Continuity (DR/BC) subfield monitor and implement alerts, processes, and plans. They do this to keep an organization’s data secure. In the event of fires, power outages, and natural disasters, these professionals work to ensure that they can recover and resume operation as soon as possible after an incident.

  • Mobile Security

Today, mobile security is a vast field, as people now rely more on mobile devices than ever. Professionals in mobile security work to protect personal and organizational data stored in mobile devices such as laptops, tablets, and cell phones. Threats to these devices include malware, unauthorized access, loss, theft, viruses, and much more. Additionally, they also educate users while using authentication to boost security.

  • Network Security

Software and hardware mechanisms that defend the infrastructure and network from unauthorized access, disruptions, and other attacks are all a part of network security. It also shields organizational assets from different internal and external threats when done correctly.

Why is Cybersecurity Important?

Company Reputation

Apart from the financial implications of data breaches, a firm can quickly lose its reputation after a cybersecurity attack. And this is because consumers might no longer trust that their information is safe with the brand.

Cyber Attacks Are More Sophisticated

Over time, cybercrime has grown in sophistication. Attackers have a vast pool of resources and tactics. Some of these methods include ransomware, malware, and social engineering.

Financial Implications

A study by McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) examined the financial burden of attacks. The study, titled The Hidden Costs of Cybercrime, estimates that the world loses over $1 trillion annually to cybercrime. Apart from money, some other motives for cybercrimes include ethical, social, and political incentives.

What is A Cybersecurity Specialist?

Cybersecurity specialists are professionals in information technology who protect an organization’s network system or software. They design, test, execute and assess security systems.

Cybersecurity experts must have a solid knowledge of vulnerability testing. They must also be able to detect potential vulnerabilities. Furthermore, they need to be familiar with products and know effective threat intervention and prevention strategies.

Responsibilities of A Cybersecurity Specialist

These specialists typically work in organizations to help prepare and install new cybersecurity systems. Most security specialists work on short-term projects for a large part of their careers. Occasionally, they may be able to land permanent roles.

Below are the typical duties and responsibilities of a cybersecurity specialist:

  • Track and assess the organization’s network to prevent data breaches and attacks
  • Analyze and evaluate potential threats to the organization’s network
  • Create technical reports on the organization’s security status
  • Implement programs such as impenetrable passwords, encryption, and firewalls to prevent breaches
  • Educate other departments within the organization on the significance of cybersecurity
  • Stay up-to-date with the latest trends in international cybersecurity

Steps To Becoming A Cybersecurity Specialist

Your path to becoming a cybersecurity specialist can take many forms. However, the most important requirements are previous experience, technical knowledge, and cybersecurity certifications.

Irrespective of the exact job or organization, these steps can guide you to a successful cybersecurity specialist career:

Step 1. Get Educated

While not all cybersecurity roles require formal education, some employers prefer candidates with some form of schooling. An associate’s degree with adequate work experience might suffice depending on the state and employer. To be on the safe side, prospective cybersecurity experts should consider earning a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology, Cybersecurity, or Computer Science.

Most information technology and computer science programs offer a concentration in cybersecurity. Such a focus helps students develop relevant skills and knowledge in the field. Coursework for these programs includes database design and administration, digital/computer forensics, and cryptology. Several schools offer affordable online Cybersecurity degrees.

Step 2. Get Certified

Although certification is not needed for all entry-level cybersecurity roles, having one can boost your resume and demonstrate competencies to potential employers. Cybersecurity specialists who expand their skill set and are up-to-date with the latest frameworks and regulations are typically more valuable in any organization. They also command fatter salaries.

Professional organizations administer certifications. The type of jobs you pursue plays a considerable role in determining the certificate or combination of certificates best for you. Below are some of the leading cybersecurity specialist certifications available.

  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) credential offered by the Cybersecurity and IT Security Certifications and Training (ISC2) is one of the most recognized certifications in the country. A CISSP credential demonstrates to employers that the holder can create, implement and monitor a cybersecurity program. Furthermore, they are also versed in IT security.

The CISSP certification exam is for professionals with at least five years of experience in two or more cybersecurity domains. Paid internships and part-time work count towards this experience. Likewise, a four-year degree in computer science can represent one year of the total requirement. Purdue University Global offers an online Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity / CISSP Certification Preparation.

  • Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

Another highly recognized certification for cybersecurity specialists is the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) credential. The Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) offers the certificate. This program benefits mid-level information technology workers seeking to move up the professional ladder. A CISA credential demonstrates expertise in reporting on compliance, evaluating security vulnerabilities, and creating and implementing controls.

Applying for a CISA certificate requires five years of experience in IS or IT audit, assurance, security, or control. A two-year degree counts for one year of experience. In contrast, a four-year degree takes the place of two years of experience.

  • Security+

Entry-level cybersecurity specialists gain the most from the Security+ credential. It demonstrates the essential skills for cybersecurity roles. The certification, which CompTIA administers, also shows that holders understand risk and compliance regulations. They can also evaluate an organization’s security.

Anyone can take the Security+ exam, but it’ll be helpful to earn a Network+ credential first and gain experience in IT with a concentration on security.

  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

White hat or ethical hacking is the process of hacking organizations lawfully to discover weaknesses in the security before malicious hackers do. Professionals can earn a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) credential from the EC-Council.

Cybersecurity specialists with this certification think like hackers and take proactive measures to protect systems. The requirement for the CEH exam is two years of work experience in information security or completing the EC-Council’s official training.

Other certifications include:

  • Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
  • GIAC Security Essentials Certification (GSEC)
  • Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP)
  • CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP+)
  • GIAC Certified Incident Handler (GCIH)
  • Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)
  • EC-Council Network Security Administrator
  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Routing and Switching

Step 3. Gain Experience

Certification and education are essential in cybersecurity specialist positions. However, employers typically prefer those with relevant work experience in the IT or computer science fields.

You can gain experience through entry-level jobs or college internships in either computer science or information technology. Some roles that may be open to interns include security administrator, network administrator, or system administrator. Such work experience boosts your resume and allows you to network with professionals, which can be helpful when searching for jobs.

Step 4. Develop Hard and Soft Skills

Every internship or entry-level job allows you to build on the knowledge and skill you learned in college. We can split the skills into two groups; hard and soft skills.

Hard or technical skills are necessary to perform the duties of a cybersecurity specialist. In contrast, soft skills like leadership ability can help professionals grow in the field. Both sets of skills are important to building a great career.

  • Hard Skills

Technical skills are essential for cybersecurity experts, and the exact skills you need may vary from one workplace to another. Below are the skills of every cybersecurity professional:

  • Design and assess network architecture
  • Understand the basics of cloud computing and computer networking
  • Build and manage operating systems
  • Command of programming languages such as Python, Java, and C++
  • Extensive knowledge of security audits
  • Solid understanding of fundamental VPNs, antivirus principles, and firewalls
  • Acquaintance with MySQL database platforms
  • Knowledge of protocols used to detect and prevent firewall breaches

Cybersecurity specialists also need to learn about the workings of network infrastructure to understand how it can be used or misused. This involves learning about hacker skills and the breaching of security systems. Their knowledge must allow them to take defensive or preventive measures in the event of an assault.

  • Soft Skills

Technical skills are needed to secure the job, but you also need some soft skills to complement your abilities. Some of the top soft skills for cybersecurity specialists include:

  • Research
    No one knows it all. This is especially true in the ever-changing field of cybersecurity. The ability to swiftly connect the dots is critical in any cybersecurity position. Security is a constantly-evolving field. To stay on top of the game, professionals have to be vigilant, follow trends, and learn new techniques. People in cybersecurity typically have to learn emerging skills to stay up to speed. Often, this involves learning an entirely different set of skills in the course of your career.
  • Communication
    One of the most desired skills in any industry is communication. Cybersecurity specialists will most likely work with other tech experts. Such teamwork requires strong communication skills. You will need to interact with other team members, share opinions on the best solutions for problems, and resolve any disagreements with others. Technical writing is also a significant aspect of the job. Cybersecurity experts often have to write technical reports on the status of the organization’s security.
  • Leadership
    Qualities such as leadership are essential traits in organizations. Hiring managers often look for these skills. Security specialists with solid leadership traits tend to embrace more responsibilities. Because of this, they advance in their careers faster than those who do not lead well.
  • Networking
    This skill is also vital for cybersecurity specialists, as they constantly have to share theories and ideas with like-minded people. Networking can also help professionals advance their skills and roles in the industry.

Careers in Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is a broad field. There are so many pathways to explore. The job titles might be different from one company to another, but these are some of the roles:

Network Security Engineer

Managing their organization’s network security, from routers to VPNs and firewalls is what network security engineers do. Big organizations tend to be the main employers.

Cybersecurity Generalist

As the name implies, cybersecurity generalists do a bit of everything. These professionals usually find themselves employed by small organizations with slim budgets.

Cloud Security Engineer

These professionals defend cloud-based platforms from attacks and threats.

Identity and Access Management Engineer

Identity and access management specialists focus on authorizing digital identities within their organizations. They defend the systems from unauthorized use.

Application Security Specialist

Application security specialists focus on defending applications from threats using a wide range of software and hardware.

Security Architects

These professionals design, build and manage computer security and network implementation for their organizations.

Security Trainer

Security trainers educate employees on the best practices in cybersecurity and ways to avoid compromising the organization’s safety.

Malware / Forensics Analysts

Malware and forensic analysts detect and dig out any malware in the organization’s system.

Incident Response Analyst

Incidence response analysts respond to security breaches and work to control the damage.

Cryptographer

Cryptographers encrypt sensitive organizational and personal data to enhance corporate privacy.

Penetration Tester

Also known as white hat or ethical hackers, penetration testers hack into software systems legally to pinpoint weaknesses in the security system.

Cybersecurity Engineer

A cybersecurity engineer builds and implements different solutions to fight cyberattacks. They do this by first identifying potential threats and loopholes in software and systems. They then create security protocols and firewalls that protect an organization’s data against unauthorized access.

Cybersecurity specialists have to expand their skill sets to take on more administrative and technical responsibilities at the entry-level position. With the right level of experience and skills, they can advance to director and analyst positions.

Where Can A Cybersecurity Specialist Work?

Cybersecurity professionals can work in a wide range of industries, including:

Banking

The banking sector faces a high level of assaults from cybercriminals. They operate in one of the most regulated environments. As a result, banks always need cybersecurity specialists.

Government

The US government spends an estimated $28 billion annually on cybersecurity. To work for the US government, cybersecurity specialists must complete and earn all the certification courses approved for DoD 8570/8140.

Utilities

Cybersecurity professionals often work in the utility sector, such as electricity, power, and water. This is because hackers can cut off utility supplies, causing the country to lose vast sums of money.

Law

A lawyer can choose to specialize in information security. They will handle liability resulting from security breaches.

Salary for Cybersecurity Specialist

The Bureau of Labor Services (BLS) puts cybersecurity into the broader information security analysts category. According to the BLS, in 2020, information security analysts earned a sizeable income of $103,590. This figure is slightly higher than other computer professionals make at $91,250.

In a further breakdown, entry-level professionals earned less than $60,060, which is still higher than the national average wage—those in the top 10% made above $163,300 annually.

Professionals who worked in information took the most considerable average wage at $107,310. Those in finance and insurance earned $106,430, while their counterparts in administrative and support services earned an average of $99,860.

Job Outlook for Cybersecurity Specialist

The BLS estimates that the employment rate for information security analysts would grow by a whopping 33 percent from 2020 to 2030. The average for all occupations is a relatively pale 8%.

For every year between 2020 and 2030, the BLS projects that there will be around 16,300 job openings for information security analysts.

The demand for cybersecurity specialists and information security analysts, in general, is expected to skyrocket. Cybercrimes have seen an unprecedented increase over the last couple of years. More professionals will be needed to stop cybercriminals from stealing valuable data.

As more small and medium-sized businesses adopt cloud services, they risk cyber assault. Additionally, banks, financial institutions, and healthcare institutions will need to increase their immunity against cybercriminals. As such, they’ll employ more security analysts to create innovative methods to stop cybercrime in its tracks.

Summary

The demand for cybersecurity specialists bodes well for the profession. There is no sign of slowing down anytime soon. Now is the best time to get your foot in the cybersecurity door. You can explore the seemingly endless opportunities to reap significant financial rewards while helping to keep malicious elements at bay. Visit our educational resource center to learn more about cybersecurity and other careers.

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