MIT’s Technology Review estimates that by 2021, 3.5 million jobs in information technology will be available in the cybersecurity field. There will also be a shortage of qualified candidates: approximately fewer than one in four will have the required education, skills, and experience. There is no better time with such hopeful statistics than now to read through an ultimate guide to becoming a cybersecurity specialist.
IT security or cybersecurity is a vast industry that has a place in all other industry types. When most sensitive information is stored online, data, system, and network protection are crucial in doing business in this digital age. In 2018 alone, there were 80,000 cyberattacks per day – roughly 30 million attacks in one year!
Suppose we add the fact that the average cost of a cyberattack on an organization is $2.4 million. In that case, it is no wonder that companies are investing in cybersecurity like never before. Cybersecurity specialists are highly valued and desperately needed. If you’re planning to become one, you should first learn exactly what type of a job this is, in what ways you can advance your career, and how you can get your foot in the computer security industry door.
Cybersecurity Specialist Job Description
The main goal of all cybersecurity professionals is to protect information. This information can be anything from a list of a company’s clients and their contact information to highly sensitive and confidential data on which entire governments depend. A specialist may protect the information directly, but they may also be in charge of protecting entire information systems as well as networks through which that information spreads.
While a security specialist is a broad job title, it usually includes any combination of the following duties:
- Developing, testing, analyzing, and implementing security systems
- Assessing and managing security vulnerabilities
- Responding to security breaches, threats, and other incidents
- Developing strategies for threat prevention
- Generating reports for administrators regularly, and more
Different positions within the IT security sector will have different responsibilities. Even two identical job titles in two different companies likely won’t have the same duties. Your specific role will depend on your level of experience, your organization’s type of business, and your job’s specific responsibilities.
Cyber Security Job Opportunities
- Cybersecurity Specialist
In the computer security world, the exact position of a cybersecurity specialist is an entry-level job. It is a starting point from which you can branch out, depending on what suits you and what skills you continue building. A security specialist typically monitors the existing security infrastructure, suggests improvements, runs system checks, and researches potential new risks.
- Computer Forensics Analyst
A computer forensics analyst can also be called an information security crime investigator. Professionals in this field are tasked with inspecting cyberattacks and finding their perpetrators and the exact methods they used to infiltrate an information or network system.
There are cybercrimes units in law enforcement, but a computer forensics analyst doesn’t necessarily have to be employed there. They can be independent security consultants hired to determine an organization’s weaknesses to prevent future cyberattacks.
Even though this job role is dynamic and challenging, its average salaries are relatively low (compared to other IT security positions): from $57,755 per year, according to Glassdoor, to $73,892, according to Payscale.
- Information Security Analyst
The US News report states that an information security analyst’s title is number five on the best technology jobs list. Analysts of this type develop and implement security policies and strategies, ensure they are regularly updated, monitor these policies’ results, and adjust them if necessary. A security analyst might also be tasked with organizing security training for other employees.
While this type of job is engaging and unpredictable, it can also take up a lot of time. Security analysts work long hours and are often called in from their free time to take care of a security incident.
Their average annual salary is similar to that of a cybersecurity specialist at $76,410. However, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics lists an information security analyst’s salary as $99,730 per year or $47.95 per hour.
- Penetration Tester (Pentester)
Penetration Tester is an official title for what you may know as an ethical hacker or a white hat hacker. Hackers of this kind are hired by organizations to attempt to breach their systems with their hacking abilities and software. During this process, no information is stolen or lost – pentesters are careful not to harm the organization they’re infiltrating. They are merely creating a controlled simulation of a cyberattack that exposes the organization’s security systems’ weaknesses.
Pentesters get a lot of excitement from their work. Their findings and reports are crucial to improving a company’s security policies.
- Software Security Engineer
Utilizing their coding and programming languages knowledge, software security engineers develop security programs such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems. They need to excel at problem-solving, critical thinking, software development, as well as working as part of a team and building good working relationships.
Security engineer jobs require continuing education and staying up to date with all the latest technology advancements. The cybersecurity field is moving at a rapid pace, and a security professional could easily fall behind if they don’t keep up with it all.
The average yearly salary for a security engineer depends on what type of engineer they are. Cybersecurity and data security engineers earn between $91,598 and $99,834. Network security engineers generally earn less, at around $79,686 per year.
- Security Architect
A notch above security engineers, security architects are in charge of overseeing the general security work. A security architect is a vulnerability assessor – the security engineers develop the necessary software structures based on their recommendation. .
An architect’s primary responsibility is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a company’s defensive systems. They need to have a hacker’s mind to successfully determine what tactics an actual hacker might use to harvest protected data.
Security architects are in charge of the security budget, staff, and other resources. They manage IT security teams and write up detailed reports for the leadership.
- Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)
Alongside the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), possibly the Chief Technical Officer (CTO), and other executive positions, the Chief Information Security Officer is one of the top-ranking job roles in an organization. A CISO must have excellent security management and organization skills because they essentially run the entire cybersecurity department.
They oversee everything, from identifying security risks to developing strategies for mitigating them and making sure they are no longer a threat. A CISO also needs to work closely with the other leadership positions as well as the employees working for them, which is why their communication skills need to be outstanding.
Once you get to this highly prestigious position, you can expect to earn around $179,763 per year on average.
All of the salary averages in the list above should be taken with a grain of salt. Your specific salary in the information security industry will vary depending on a few different factors. Besides the actual job responsibilities, your earnings will also be affected by your level of cybersecurity education and experience, the type of industry your company is in, its size, and where it is located.
- Experience and education
Cybersecurity professionals with bachelor’s degrees earn more than those without. It generally doesn’t matter if this is a cyber security degree or one from a related field, such as a degree in computer science. Statistics say that only 23% of IT professionals with a master’s degree or higher feel like their degree helped them obtain a higher salary, so anything above a bachelor’s degree is not a must.
In terms of experience, your salary’s size is also directly proportional to how much experience you have. Senior-level positions earn more than junior level ones, even if their job titles are the same on paper (for example, a senior pentester will earn more than a junior pentester, regardless of the fact that they share much of the same duties).
- Type of industry
IT professionals work in practically all other industries; protecting sensitive information isn’t only relevant to the technology sector. In fact, the highest average salaries for IT employees are in the defense, aerospace, PR, communications, advertising, medical, pharmaceutical, biotech, military, and homeland security industries.
While a security expert will likely have a high income regardless of the industry type they’re in, they’re more likely to earn more in any of those fields.
- Business size and revenue
It is a general understanding that global tech companies such as Google, CISCO, Amazon, and others pay their IT workers well. However, this isn’t entirely accurate.
Entry-level jobs at these corporations may not bring in as much money as entry-level jobs at smaller companies. Google and Amazon have hundreds of thousands of tech employees at their disposal, and plenty of applicants flock to them for a chance to have the company name in their resume. Only when you gain promotions and rise through the ranks in these organizations will you start earning more than your counterparts in other companies.
- Business location
Because of Silicon Valley’s undeniable impact on the global technology market, the average tech salary is the highest in the San Francisco area, at $145k per year. Tech employees in Seattle, WA, are earning slightly less at $138k, then those in New York, NY at $133k, Denver, CO, at $117k, and San Diego, CA, at $113k.
Of course, the numbers relayed here are only averages. There is no guarantee that you will be earning more if you work for a San Francisco company than one in Denver. Nevertheless, these statistics point to certain patterns that you might take into consideration when choosing the organization you will work for next.
Cyber Security Education Requirements
We’ve already mentioned how having a bachelor’s degree increases your chances of having a higher income. But how important is a college degree for a cybersecurity job, anyway?
Given how delicate IT security work is, employers rarely hire those who hold no degree (and especially if they have no prior work experience at the same time). To ensure that their information and security measures and systems are in the safest hands, hiring managers like to see at least a bachelor’s degree in an IT-related science on the job application. Sometimes, candidates with associate degrees might also get a chance.
A college degree will also provide an advantage when it is time to move to a higher position. Some companies might make a distinction between standard and online degrees, but it usually doesn’t matter in what way the degree was obtained.
Having a range of relevant cybersecurity certifications under your belt is a huge bonus, regardless of whether or not you hold a degree. A computer security specialist who constantly works on their skills and strives to keep up with the newest regulations and frameworks will be highly valued by their superiors and one of the first in line for a salary raise.
Precisely what combination of certifications you need depends on what type of job you’re after. Here are some of the most common security specialist certifications out there:
- CISM – Certified Information Security Manager
- CCNA, Routing and Switching – Cisco Certified Network Associate
- CISSP – Certified Information Systems Security Professional
- CEH – EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker
- SANS – Systems Administration and Network Security Certifications
- CompTIA Security+ Base-Level Certification
Aside from taking a course to obtain a certification at the end, you can also choose to sharpen your skills by yourself. There are hundreds of free and paid course options online that might not lead to a desirable certification, but that will provide you with more theoretical and practical knowledge.
Any job skills are commonly categorized as hard and soft. Hard skills are unique to a particular job and can easily be tested or measured. Here are some of the most required hard skills for an IT security specialist:
- Programming languages (PHP, Java, C#, C++)
- Knowledge of Cisco hardware and software for network security
- Familiarity with SIEM (Security Information and Event Management)
- Ethical hacking, best coding practices, threat modeling
- Detailed knowledge of UNIX, Windows, and Linux operating systems
- Knowledge of the Mitre Att&ck framework
- Penetration tests and vulnerability assessments, and more
Unlike hard skills, soft skills are not as easily quantified and relevant to any industry position. Since information security professionals are required to work in teams and can fall under intense pressure at times (for example, when faced with an ongoing cyberattack), they will need the following soft skills:
- Critical thinking
- Making the right split-second decisions in emergencies
- Creative and technical problem solving
- Great attention to detail
- Active listening
- Clear communication skills
- Adaptability to any work team and environment, and others
Don’t forget to list both the hard and soft skills you excel at on your resume. Even if you don’t have a relevant college degree or a certification, clearly showcasing what you’re good at might be enough to land you an entry-level position at a cybersecurity firm.
At the start of new career paths or career changes, everyone must first familiarize themselves with their desired job. They should also look into career opportunities and what other industries they can cross paths with if they are so inclined. In the case of computer security, this is especially important since you can pretty much find employment in whatever field you want.
Pay attention to the most significant factors that determine how much you will be earning in a particular position. The good news is that IT professionals, in general, earn twice as much as the national median wage in the US. It is almost a given that you will have a decent income wherever you find employment in the IT security sector.
Finally, consider what additional training or education you need to enter the cybersecurity job market. Look into getting a bachelor’s degree if you don’t already have one. Earning a couple of certifications wouldn’t hurt, as well as becoming proficient at hard and soft skills required for a security specialist. Compile a list of everything you want to achieve and would like to work on, and take your time. Be patient and hard-working, and there’s no reason why your persistence won’t pay off.
If you need any help or additional information about this IT career path, contact My Computer Career. You can also opt for a free career evaluation if you want an expert opinion on which steps exactly you need to take to become a cybersecurity specialist.