Cyber Security Consultant Career Guide & Outlook

Learn What a Cyber Security Consultant Does, the Requirements Needed and Job Growth

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.

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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.

Skills Needed

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.

Salary

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.

Cyber Security Careers and Jobs

Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)

These executives oversee information systems and company-wide information security, as well as all departments associated with these systems.

Chief Security Officer (CSO)

These executives deal with information and physical security systems, controlling database and facility entry and all departments that deal with security and surrounding policies.

Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

This executive deals with technology development and implementation. They receive company-wide reports on the use and effectiveness of technology.

Computer Forensics Investigator

Analyze computers or web-based applications in the search for forensic evidence of a crime. This is done in support of the law after commission of a crime, or in efforts to support a company by assessing network vulnerabilities.

Cryptographer

Cryptographers are responsible for deciphering encrypted data. They might do after the commission of a crime. They also work to create better encryption to create stronger networks and safer data storage.

Incident Responder

Incident responders work with companies or governments to respond quickly after a possible threat has been detected. They find the source of the issue, determine if it’s a real threat, and discover how the incursion occurred.

Penetration Tester

Penetration testers seek to create an incursion. By doing so, they reveal the weak points of a security system so that these points can be secured better in the future.

Risk Analyst

Risk analysts spend their time looking for systems, procedures, or malware which could cause unintended negative occurrences, such as system crashes or slowdowns. They help create procedures to fix these problems quickly if they do occur.

Security Administrator

Administrators are responsible for dealing with all security and safety issues. They may create procedures or policies in order to maintain security company-wide.

Security Analyst

Security analysts maintain company networks and fix issues that come up during normal operation. They may also identify threats and neutralizing them as quickly as possible.

Security Architect

This position requires you to choose or design security elements, whether physical parts that will become a part of the system or the virtual system that will provide access to all the company’s data.

Security Auditor

These specialists may be kept on retainer or brought in after changes are made to a system. They provide a system-wide audit to make sure there are no chinks in the armor of the network or system.

Security Consultant

Security consultants devise plans for a company should they experience an incursion or help companies that are just getting started set up their security system from the ground up.

Security Director

The director of security helps create and review all policies and procedures related to security. They also ensure compliance with local or federal laws related to security concerns, such as the safety of patient data.

Security Engineer

A security engineer is responsible for creating computing systems which increase their company’s security and they solve any issues turned up by a security audit or incursion incident.

Security Manager

These managers oversee security staff on a day-to-day basis, making sure staffing is steady and all issues are dealt with and reported to the highest-level security professional in the company.

Security Software Developer

Specializing in security software solutions, they create software for individuals to use on home computers or advanced solutions meant for multi-billion-dollar industries or even government agencies.

Security Specialist

This is an entry-level position in which a specialist may monitor or troubleshoot system or network issues. They may perform basic test procedures, reporting all activity and feedback to their manager.

Vulnerability Assessor

These specialists test systems for vulnerabilities, much in the same way penetration testers do. Instead of performing penetration testing, they look through applications or software for possible weaknesses.

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