If you enjoyed playing hide and seek as a child, or if Where's Waldo was your passion, you might enjoy a career as a cyber security specialist. Whether or not you actually liked those games, as long as you now have an interest in finding hidden things (specifically, threats to networking systems) this career could work for you. Cyber security specialists typically work in tandem with other security employees to find threats and respond. They also help develop standards and protocols to not only respond when a threat occurs, but also to prevent incursions from getting through the system and causing damage.
What Does a Security Specialist Do?
As a security specialist, your job will be to provide support to the company by helping to protect and defend its internal networking systems or technological assets. A key component in this position is understanding how to locate holes in the current system, then research and recommend the best hardware and software for the company to purchase and install to close those holes.
Security specialists work in all areas of information technology. You might work in software development, or in cyber architectural design, or even cyber forensics. Regardless of which department you are connected to, your job expectations will be the same: find threats, suggest solutions, design defense strategies, and perform other IT related tasks. In some ways, you will be the company's first line of defense against cyber-attacks as you continue to try to out-think the hackers and stay one step ahead of the game.
What are Their Responsibilities, Common Duties, and Tasks?
The overarching duty of a cyber security specialist is protection, protection, protection.
Within that main responsibility you will be expected to perform multiple tasks including:
- Design security steps to be taken in the event of an attack
- Carry that strategy out if it happens
- Install protective firewalls, software, and hardware
- Continue to educate yourself on the latest security trends and products to help defend against security threats
- Monitor the network and look for breaches in security
- Complete investigations when an attack succeeds and report to others as to what you found
- Develop and install data encryption tools
- Teach employees as needed how to use computer equipment and follow security measures
- Write reports detailing all security breaches
- Analyze those situations and present suggestions for the future
- Help design the best practices and standards for the company's network and data systems
- Work with others to develop a disaster response plan
- Perform penetration activities to continually test the strength of the system
- Upgrade the system with current patches
- Monitor for unauthorized attempts to access the system – investigate those attempts
How to Become a Cyber Security Specialist
Due to the diverse nature of how many areas your security specialist skills will be useful, there are several paths you can take to get to this position.
It’s almost a sure bet you will need an education. A bachelor's degree in one of the computer science fields is usually expected by employers, however, if you get a master’s degree at some point in your career, it could mean more money and even better chances for advancement.
Once you have that degree, you need to get experience in the field of information technology. Starting out as a specialist is not a given. You should apply for positions in IT where you can get your foot in the door and start actually working in the industry. There are many general entry-level positions that can work well including IT support, software development, and network administration. After you build some experience, you can start applying for either lateral or vertical positions as a specialist.
It will be helpful if you gain the work experience in the area in which you wish to become a security specialist. If you want to work in software, gain your work years in the software development department. A few years working in hardware can parlay into a position in the security architecture world.
Typical Requirements for Hiring
Whether you are applying to a company where you have no ties, or you are already an employee looking to move into a specialist position, potential supervisors and employers will look at several areas to determine whether to offer you a position as a cyber security specialist. While each company or supervisor is different in what they want, there are several key factors to the job that remain constant across the board.
Do you have a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field of study? There are employers who hire security specialists based on work experience alone, but the vast majority of employers want you to have a bachelor's degree.
In most cases, you will be expected to bring several years of computer-related work experience to the table when you apply for a security specialist position. This is not always the case, but it is for most employers. This experience can be in just about any IT department or security-related job. You can work in software, hardware, research, forensics, or other IT departments to gain the experience you need for the security specialist position.
While working to gain the experience you need, focus on jobs that dovetail closely with the cyber security specialist skill sets. Generally speaking, you should gain five years of related work experience before applying to move into a security specialist position.
Due to the fact that to become a security specialist you are not only required to have a degree, but also have worked in the field for several years first, this position is considered a mid-level position in the industry.
It is possible to obtain a security specialist position without having any certifications, but in the course of building the work experience needed to apply, it won't hurt to gather a few certifications as well. Each certification you are able to attain will confirm to potential employers/supervisors that you are skilled in that certification's area of expertise. This can put you ahead of the pack in a pile of applicants if all other things are equal.
Examples of certifications you might achieve include
- System Security Certified Practitioner
- Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert
- GSEC: SANS GIAC Security Essentials
In choosing which certifications you want to obtain on your way toward a security specialist position, consider the overall impact each one will achieve. Some certificates are vendor specific. Though vendor systems may be well-known and widely used, it is probably an advantage when first attaining certifications to include some that are globally useful without being vendor-specific.
In addition to the above elements that employers could require you to have, there are some basic skill-sets that also go with the position.
They will want you to have a firm grasp of all things related to:
- Software Design
- Penetration Tools
- Software Design
- Architecture – when it comes to hardware
- Anti-virus Software
There are certain soft skills-sets that will work well in a security specialist career. If you possess these skills, that’s great. If not, you can strengthen them prior to applying for the job. Most of the soft skills listed are simply a matter of focusing on the job.
- Detail Oriented This applies to many careers but in cyber security it becomes especially important as missing a detail can allow a threat to become an attack on the network system.
- Analytical Thinking You will be expected to figure out why 2 plus 2 equaled 7 during an attack or threat. The ability to see the big picture and quickly follow a threat trail to the answer is necessary here.
Several factors become relevant when it comes to salary. The area in which you live and work will dictate an overall standard of pay. In addition, your education, certifications, and work experience will form a platform for what you make. Finally, various department's salary ranges can vary. With that said, there is a median salary range for this position. According to Payscale.com the average annual salary is $107,000.
Outlook & Jobs
The future for this career is promising. The continued expansion of the duties that the world expects computers to perform will mean additional jobs in cyber security. Hackers work 24 hours a day to find ways to infiltrate networks and systems, and either harm them or steal sensitive data. This reality means there will be an increased need for cyber security specialists, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This particular career is expected to see a 32% increase in jobs between 2018 and 2028. Statistically, this is a much quicker than average growth percentage.
For your long-term career goals, you might use your experience as a security specialist to move into an upper-level position such as a senior security consultant or a director of information security. As long as the Internet continues to thrive, a career in cyber security will be a good choice.