Cybersecurity Career Guide for Veterans

During your time in the military, you likely exercised many skills you already had and learned other skills. Whether you joined the military because you were interested in securing the security of the country or gained some cyber security training while there, veterans are often well-suited to cyber security work when they transition back to civilian life. Once you’ve completed a cyber security bootcamp or graduated from a degree program in this field, you will be able to easily enter into an entry-level cyber security position. You could earn a certificate, an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree, or higher, making it possible for you to advance far in this field no matter which career option you choose.

In your military career, you focused on protecting the United States from its enemies. Whether you entered the military via bootcamp or you went to college and entered the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), the goal of protecting the country was the same. Protecting a cyber-network is similar and becoming more and more necessary as more of our private and public lives move onto the web or into databases that could be compromised.

Why Employers Seek Military Veterans with Computer Skills for Cyber Security Jobs

You likely learned both specific hard skills and soft skills in the military training and service. You’ll find that many of those skills transfer quite easily to the civilian job market – just some of these include leadership, an ability to work under pressure, maintaining discipline, and an ability to solve problems.

These skills and many more make you a very attractive prospective employee to companies in the US; you might work for a bank, a healthcare facility, a municipal agency such as a town hall or city government office, or a school district administration office.

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How to Get into the Cyber Security Field

If you’re seriously considering a cyber security career, it’s time to find the right school or training program. Cyber security professionals are in high demand, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that this field may grow by as much as 31% within the next few years. Every year, open positions go unfilled because the demand is so high but there are too few qualified cyber security personnel to fill them.

Organizations like Yahoo, school districts, hospitals, credit rating agencies, and even big-box stores have to worry about their computer networks being hacked into, making for uncomfortable news stories and lowered profits. Some of these cyber-crimes involve the insertion of ransomware, which essentially hijacks the computer network and makes it inaccessible to the organization unless they are willing to pay to have access returned to them or they have cyber security experts who can regain their access.

This is where you come in. Your skills, discipline, and knowledge will be badly needed. In order to find entry-level jobs, you can choose to earn a certificate from a cyber security bootcamp, which usually provides you with a specific type of skill that businesses are looking for, or you can gain a degree. While certificates are useful and can earn you an entry-level position, businesses tend to look more favorably on those who have a degree (associate or bachelor’s), since they usually require less on the job training. If you have the time to earn a bachelor’s degree, you will find the path to management much shorter. One of these options should fit your goals and plans for a post-military career.

Cyber Security Skills

Technical Skills

Being technologically savvy means that you are comfortable with computer logic and you can look at a cyber security problem from different angles and come up with new ways to approach problems. If a network develops a glitch, it may be up to you to troubleshoot the system and find out what happened along with finding a workaround.

As a cyber security specialist, you may find yourself working on wireless networks, tablets, databases, or programming code; it really depends on what you focus on with your degree or certifications. Flexibility and a plurality of skills will make you more valuable to employers.

One option may be to learn basic computer forensics skills. A good cyber security degree program may offer a computer forensics course or two, or you could attend a certification program that focuses on forensic cyber security if you already have some experience in the field. Here, you’ll learn how to follow the trail of a cyber-thief after they have compromised your employer’s data. Knowing how to hack ethically means you’ll be able to figure out how a hacker with bad intentions may get into a computer system and either track them or help your employer build better security for their data. You’ll learn the same skills that a hacker uses—then you’ll develop effective tools to turn these threats away.

Soft Skills

You’ll likely need to develop strong communication strategies; whether you’re a manager or not, you need to communicate well. From speaking, writing, and even non-verbal communication, you need to know how to say something effectively, whether you are talking to experts who will understand the jargon of the field or those who need to understand the concepts without the training to understand the details.

You may also need to have some experience or take a class in change management. This refers to the ability to help a company enact change by instituting policies or through other actions. If processes have created dangerous opening in your security infrastructure, you’ll need to get everyone in the company on board and create new processes for the to follow.

Also, knowing the basics of human behavior can allow you to understand when workers become frustrated and help them to work on changing their mental and emotional responses so they are able to channel their efforts more effectively. This is an excellent skill for those who wish to go into management.

Cyber Security Education

Certifications

If you choose to earn certifications, they can certainly help you to land a job in the cyber security field. There are a huge variety of certifications that allow you to gain new skills or prove the effectiveness of your existing skills. Certificates exist for cloud security, IT/ICT security administration, secure software development, security assessment and authorization, healthcare security and privacy, digital forensics, incident response, penetration testing, and many, many more.

If you prefer earning certifications to a degree, either because of the time or cost involved in earning said degree or because you just need to prove that you know what you’re doing already, you can still find plenty of firms willing to hire you as a cyber security professional. However, if you do decide to attend school, the GI Bill is there to help you get into the degree program of your choice.

Degrees

If you choose to earn a full cyber security degree, you can choose from an associate degree, a bachelor’s, or a master’s. All of these degrees will get you into the field, though an associate degree and a bachelor’s will have you starting out in an entry-level position. Those with a full bachelor’s or master’s degree will find it easier to move into management, but any degree level can get you there if you’re willing to gain experience and spend some time in lower-level roles. Most students enroll in bachelor’s programs, such as a Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security. No matter where you wish to work, you’ll have the skills to work in private industry or a government department.

The courses you’ll find in a degree program help to develop the competencies you need to work in one of the following positions:

At the undergraduate level, you’ll take general education courses before you begin working on your cyber security and IT courses. The goal of a well-designed degree program is to prepare you and others to explore cyber security resources, laws, tools, and ways to assess, evaluate, and plan cyber security systems. You’ll also learn how to design and implement countermeasures.

At the graduate level, your instructors will provide a much broader approach to cyber security that has been designed to prevent and respond to large threats and attacks. You might work on the foundations of network security, cyber-crime, digital forensics, or information assurance. It really depends on you because, at this level, you choose your focus. You might learn how to create and institute policies or get into cyber security research and new program development. You might touch on national security, intelligence, criminal justice, or other areas depending on your interests.

Free Cyber Security Training for Vets

The Federal Virtual Training Environment (FedVTE) offers cyber security training that costs nothing for you and all veterans. It’s open to US military veterans, employees from territorial governments, tribes, state, local, and federal agencies.

The program is managed by the Department of Homeland Security and offers more than 800 training hours. You’ll learn about ethical hacking and surveillance, malware analysis, and risk management.

FedVTE was established to offer training to future and current cyber security professionals. This program helps to ensure that, in the future, cyberspace will be kept secure from bad actors. In order to do this, the cyber security workforce has to be developed and built up, creating a constant flow of well-trained future employees. If you are considering a career in this field, inquire with your government agency about any training requirements you’ll have to satisfy, such as DoD 8570, so that you can comply with these rules.

If you are a contractor supporting the U.S. government, you are also eligible to receive these certifications and may even be required to do so in certain situations. Some of the subjects covered include coding, reverse engineering, critical infrastructure protection, advanced windows scripting, advanced PCAP analysis and signature development, analysis pipeline, artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as others.

What Industries Need Cyber Security?

There are many industries with high motivation to protect their data. They may be more or less vulnerable to cyber-attacks, but these crimes are bad news for any industry. The motives of cyber-criminals range from monetary to political.

Networks and data servers may not be as hardened against cyber-attacks as they should be as the use of databases and networks outpaces the availability of well-trained cyber security personnel. This can lead to ruined reputations, financial losses, damaged computer systems, and even deaths in the case of some attacks on healthcare systems. Because companies and governments all over the world rely so heavily on technology, they are even more at risk. Financial institutions and healthcare organizations—those that work the most with personal information and those whose systems are so vital for the care of patients—are at the highest risk of cyber-threats.

Small and medium-size businesses, government agencies, and media are considered to be somewhat at risk. And companies engaged in manufacturing and energy are considered to be the least vulnerable, but there are still high risks associated with cyber-attacks on these industries because they can lead to shortages of vital goods and blackouts that can cause harm to a population. Bad actors can cause power outages if they gain control of an energy network and even wind turbine facilities aren’t safe.

Options for a Cyber Security Career

No matter what role you prepare for, you’ll be an important part in helping to protect your employer’s data, computer systems, and financial reserves.

Looking at entry-level positions, you may begin as an information security analyst, one of the most common entry-level positions in the industry. Depending on how well you perform, you may eventually be moved into a mid-level position, such as a cyber security consultant or a penetration and vulnerability tester. Once you’ve spent some time in one of these cybersecurity positions, you may be promoted to work as a cyber security architect, cyber security manager or administrator, or even a cyber security engineer – though those positions require plenty of experience or specialized training.

Depending on what you want to do in a cyber security profession, you may help to oversee networks and their firewalls, manage security issues affecting customer service, conduct assessments of threats and vulnerabilities, make plans for protective countermeasures, or mitigate immediate threats.

Industries are still learning how cyber security professionals and their skills fit into the organizational tree. The size of a company is going to affect your role and responsibilities, no matter what your title is. In a smaller organization, you may do a little of everything, while in a larger company, you’re more likely to work using a specialized set of skills on specific tasks. You may work to create safer systems, maintain existing systems, test systems for weakness, or be an active participant in halting cyber-attacks and threats, or any other step in the process.

Positions

There are a huge variety of positions available within the cyber security field. Here are just a few of those which are often considered entry-level positions.

  • Information Security Analyst

    This position usually requires at least a bachelor’s degree in the field, but an associate and experience might give you as much clout in interviews. In this position you will do research and develop plans to improve a company’s security. You may work to improve hardware, software, processes, and policies in relation to security.

    Average salary: $72,600

  • Penetration Tester

    You should be able to gain this title with a certificate or associate degree and some previous experience in the field, though larger companies may require a bachelor’s degree. In this position you will search for flaws in a company’s security. As a penetration tester you’ll do this by white hat hacking their servers or sending phishing emails to employees or using any number of other techniques to expose holes in the existing security system so that they can be fixed before they become a real problem.

    Average Salary: $85,200

  • Computer/Network Support Technician

    These specialists must at least hold a certificate in Networking, though those with further education will likely be preferred during the interview process. In this position you’ll provide technical support to those within a company. You may solve hundreds of tiny problems over the course of a week, you may need to stay late at the end of the month to perform a system backup, and you may be called in in the event of a system crash that requires all hands on deck.

    Average Salary: $47,400

Career Outlook

Cyber security professionals are in very short supply. Between 2019 and 2029, their employment is expected to grow 31%, which is much faster than for all other occupations. Because of the increasing incidence of cyber-attacks, companies and government organizations are working hard to hire the necessary professionals to ensure that their networks and customers are protected.

Cyber security professionals have the knowledge and skills to develop protective solutions for employers, some of whom are experiencing disastrous results from recent incidents. Cyber security professionals aim to examine just how the attack took place, lock the attacker out, and develop innovative protections that make servers and computer networks more secure. Rather than protecting the system once it’s been attacked, agencies and companies are looking to be more proactive, hiring the IT security professionals they need before they need them.

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