How to Become a Cyber Security Specialist

Cyber security isn’t just one job. It includes a wide range of disciplines that cover broad areas such as network security, system security, data security, endpoint security, cloud security and physical security. If you’re interested in becoming a cyber security analyst, or specialist, you’ll likely need relevant educational and work experience. Read on to learn what it takes to enter the cyber security job force.

Why Study Cyber Security?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and information technology occupations are projected to grow 12% from 2018 to 2028. Security is the fastest-growing specialty within these occupations; in the same time period, employment of information security analysts is expected to increase by 32%, the BLS reports.

Cyber security also offers the job seeker the opportunity to grow within the discipline through continuing educational experiences, on-the-job training and cyber security certificate classes. The cyber security specialist should study and stay abreast of the latest threats, vulnerabilities, and security tools and technologies. If you enjoy challenges and doing something different every day, then you may enjoy a career in cyber security.

Cyber Security Analyst vs. Engineer

In computer science, there are sometimes both analysts and engineers working on separate issues within an organization. Analysts often work to determine any issues that are facing a system by optimizing or repairing that system. Engineers, contrastingly, are more likely the architects of that system—they build the system from the bottom up. Whether the cyber security analyst or the cyber security engineer has more job experience can differ from company to company. Together, both of these cyber security job descriptions are two sides of the same coin.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Cyber Security Specialist?

Positions in cyber security generally require a candidate to possess a bachelor’s degree in cyber security or a closely related field. Most jobs also require at least one industry-recognized security certification. A variety of education options are available from completely on campus to 100% online programs, with many schools offering flexible programs that incorporate both. Earning certifications could also influence the amount of time it takes to become a cyber security specialist.

3 Options for Becoming a Cyber Security Specialist

While there are no hard and fast rules or steps to becoming a cyber security specialist, setting yourself onto a path that combines education, certification and internships or other job experience can help prepare you for a career in cyber security.

1. Obtain a Formal Education

As stated earlier, a bachelor’s degree is required for most jobs in cyber security, especially in large companies. Smaller companies might be less strict about educational requirements. However, if formal education isn’t required, it’s possible that years of on-the-job experience are prerequisite. Even if you’re an experienced IT professional and you’re attempting to enter the cyber security field, formal education may be complementary to your work experience.

A bachelor’s degree in cyber security can give you a broad survey of the field with some opportunity for specialization. Those who already hold a bachelor’s degree may opt to earn a master’s degree in cyber security.

2. Cyber Security Certifications

For information security analysts, the BLS reports that some employers may prefer to hire individuals who have certifications. Certifications validate your knowledge and awareness of best practices. The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certificate is noted by the BLS as a general security certificate.

The CompTIA Security+ certificate could be helpful when applying for entry-level positions. Other common certifications companies may require include the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and Certified Penetration Tester (CPT). Research certification requirements and preferences for cyber security jobs you’re interested in.

3. Cyber Security Internships

Those who have no job experience in a computer-related or information technology field should consider seeking cyber security internships and mentors. Internships are a great way to gain relevant experience and may even lead to a job within the company. Summer internships are common, but companies also offer longer-term internships for selected candidates. Internships may be paid or unpaid.

3 Skills that Cyber Security Analysts Use Every Day

There are certain skills that cyber security analysts use on a daily basis. While these are not requirements, they are skills that successful people in this career area generally possess. The BLS specifically lists analytical and problem-solving skills as common qualities of information security analysts. Effective verbal and written communication skills can also benefit these professionals.

1. Analytical thinking

Cyber security analysts examine data, logs and use forensic techniques to find answers to security questions, to correlate events, and to determine cause and effect for security incidents. Analytical thinking for cyber security means that you’ll use your training and experience to interpret data and form a hypotheses. It involves researching information to draw some conclusions and has little to do with using mathematics.

2. Problem-solving

Problem-solving skills require that the candidate use logic and data to find answers to an incident or problem. Determining whether a result is a false negative, false positive, actual negative or actual positive is part of problem-solving. Most problem-solving skills can be taught but some skills are more intrinsic to the individual, such as creative thinking.

3. Verbal and written communication

Analysts should be able to communicate both verbally and in writing. Their job may often require them to explain complex concepts to non-technical personnel. Analysts also interview others to find the root cause of a problem or incident. Writing reports in clear, concise language is a job requirement of any cyber security analyst, regardless of specialty. Depending on their job and work environment, analysts could report findings to government agencies, corporate management and the public, possibly via media outlets.

Why Become a Cyber Security Specialist?

Cyber security specialists enjoy careers with competitive salaries and a variety of companies can benefit from cyber security specialists’ ability to safeguard data, including government agencies such as the NSA and FBI. Overall, cyber security can be a fun and challenging career choice. If you like to solve problems, investigate crimes, analyze data, interview people and work in a team environment, then cyber security might be a great career choice for you.

Cyber Security Careers and Salary

Cyber security careers are expected to grow much faster than other occupations at a rate of 32%, the BLS reports. The increasing rate of cyber crime necessitates skilled professionals who can come up with solutions to prevent cybersecurity threats.  The median salary for information security analysts was $99,730 in 2019, according to the BLS. Actual salaries vary based on location, job experience, education, certification and industry. Depending on your cyber security interests, you can pursue a specialty of your choosing.

Last Updated August 2020