If you dream of a career as an internet crime fighting expert, you might set your goals on becoming a cyber security consultant! Cyber security consultants are independent, meaning they work on a case-by-case basis for companies who don't have a full time security staff on payroll. A consultant is hired on contract and may perform a wide range of duties, from simply checking the current IT system for vulnerabilities to designing a complete security system and training employees on new methods of defending from outside attacks.
Because hacking and online fraud is at epidemic levels, there aren't enough cyber security experts to keep up with the demand. This means those who choose the field of cyber security have excellent job prospects and can expect a robust income in direct proportion to their knowledge base.
What Does a Security Consultant Do?
A cyber security consultant works to determine the strengths and weaknesses of software programs, systems, and networks and can choose to focus on all aspects or to specialize in a specific area such as software. Often, they attack the system or program in the same ways a hacker would in order to pinpoint weaknesses and then design and implement solutions to remedy the vulnerable points and secure the system.
To enter the field of cyber security consulting you'll need experience, so you should plan on a career that involves internet security such as security specialist or security auditor. Continue to earn certifications such as Certified Ethical Hacker Certification, which will advance your career, and plan your next step into a higher position such as security manager or director.
Once you have a solid base of knowledge and experience in the field of IT security you can lay plans for becoming a consultant. Because consultants are typically self employed it's a good idea to have basic business knowledge as well as a comfortable financial cushion to fall back on while you build your business.Read More
What are Their Responsibilities, Common Duties, and Tasks?
As a cyber security consultant each contract will be different depending on the needs of your client and the scope of their business.
Here are some common tasks you'll most likely perform on a regular basis:
- Interview employees to pinpoint specific vulnerable areas
- Identify integration problem areas and prepare implementation cost estimates for IT project managers
- Perform testing for vulnerability, security assessments, and risk analyses
- Research authentication protocols, security systems, and security standards
- Determine the best way to protect networks, software, computers, data, and information systems from possible attacks
- Test security solutions to meet industry standards
- Deliver formal papers and technical reports and on your findings
- Research, plan, and design security architectures
- Provide guidance and technical supervision to the company security team
- Upgrade and update security systems if needed
- Develop and maintain corporate security policies for future security
How to Become a Security Consultant
Cyber security consulting is not an entry-level position, so you can expect to need a solid knowledge base, as well as information security experience, before you apply for consulting positions. A degree in IT security is the preferred pathway into consulting, as you can customize your coursework to reflect your concentration on security while also showcasing your education to prospective employers. A bachelor’s degree in information assurance, computer science, or a related field such as programming is required, and some employers prefer to hire those with a master's degree.
You'll also need certification in related specialty areas such as Ethical Hacking and should make this part of your long-term education goal. You can work toward your preferred certifications once you're employed in an IT security position and gaining valuable experience.
As mentioned above, networking is vital to becoming an independent cyber security consultant. Make connections in the field throughout your education and employment in the field as the people you connect with may become your future clients once you begin your security business.
Typical Requirements for Hiring
Although some enter the field of cyber security consulting without a formal degree, they are the exception rather than the norm. You should plan to earn your bachelor's degree in a related, computer security field; because you'll also need certifications it's a good idea to complete your master's degree once you enter a position. For example, you might earn a degree in IT security, begin an entry-level position, and continue taking courses to earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in information systems while studying for your certification exams. An MBA will also prepare you to run your own business once you become a consultant.
Your certifications should reflect your area of expertise. So, once you begin working in the field, you should determine which certificates are most coveted by future employers. Many industry certifications are earned through The International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants (EC-Council) and are highly regarded by IT security professionals.
Here are examples of some certifications you might earn:
- Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- Certified Network Defender (CND)
- Certified Security Analyst (ECSA V10)
- Ethical Hacking Core Skills (EHCS)
- Advanced Penetration Testing (APT)
- Licensed Penetration Tester (LPT)
- CompTIA Security+
- Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC)
Your entry-level position should ideally involve IT security; most companies looking for cyber security consultants prefer to hire those with one to three years of experience in a closely related field.
On top of an education heavy in IT security and certification subjects, you'll need specific soft skills as well in order to find success in cyber security consulting. You'll need an aptitude for problem solving as well as the ability to stay focused and follow through on tracking challenging issues to find the source of a problem. You'll also need strong communication skills, both to work with company staff to determine needs and weaknesses within a system, and to present your findings to management in an easy to understand format.
Since your goal is to become an independent consultant, you'll also need basic small business skills as you'll be in charge of marketing yourself, tracking income, bookkeeping, and similar tasks required by business owners.
Projecting an average salary for cyber security consultants is tough because there are so many variables, such as the experience of the consultant and the scope of the contract. In addition, the career is in high demand mostly near large business centers, so the area in which you live can greatly affect your income expectations. That being said, a cyber security consultant can expect to earn between $56,000 to $135,000 per year, with a median wage of $85,000.
Because cyber security is in such high demand, if you're at the top of the field, you can pretty much write your own income ticket. A chief information security officer (CISO) earns between $175,000 to $275,000 with Fortune 500 corporations paying as high as $420,000 and elite ethical hackers earn over $500,000 a year troubleshooting systems for top companies.
Outlook & Jobs
Cyber security is job security: the industry as a whole has had a 0% unemployment rate since 2011 and a job growth projection of over 36%. The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies estimates there will be as many as 3.5 million industry job openings by 2021, which would mean 12 times faster growth than the rest of the US job market. The biggest employment area is in Washington D.C., which has a population of security experts 3.5 times higher than the rest of the country.
Some niche areas within cyber security are more robust than others. For example, a cyber forensics specialist can expect a job growth projection of 28% and an average salary around $70,000. According to the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), the US currently employs almost 715,000 workers in the field of cyber security, with another 314,000 positions unfilled. Some industries in particular, such as the health care industry, are projected to invest over $65 billion on cyber security in the next two years.
How does this information translate for your goal to become a cyber security consultant? It means you can begin your career as, for example, a cyber forensic specialist or health care IT specialist, become certified in specific areas of cyber security, and form your own cyber security consultant business specializing in the area of forensics or health care. Once you have experience, you can expect a lucrative income with extremely high demand throughout your career.
Keep in mind, the world of cyber security is always changing. You should plan to continue your education and certifications throughout your career in order to meet the demands of bigger and badder hacking attacks on the security systems of the world.