Today, any business that wants to thrive in the market needs an online presence. While being connected to the internet brings companies closer to their clients, it also exposes their systems to malevolent actors. As a result, the demand for cybersecurity professionals has become higher than ever before. This article gives an overview of everything you need to know about making a mark in the cybersecurity domain.
Career Path: Roles and Career Progression in Cybersecurity
Cybersecurity personnel help organizations across industries bolster their security stance and prevent or thwart cyberattacks. This is especially important in today’s digitalized corporate world, where one data breach could lead to a company losing its credibility and goodwill, possibly forever.
According to a February 2021 survey by IDG Research Services, approximately eight out of every 10 senior IT security leaders think their organizations are not sufficiently protected against cyberattacks. This is despite an increase in IT security investments in 2020 for dealing with remote working challenges.
Roles in the cybersecurity domain come with a wide variety of job titles and responsibilities, depending on numerous factors. For instance, different industries (such as finance and healthcare) will have different cybersecurity requirements, depending on regulatory and legal responsibilities. But at its core, cybersecurity is only about one thing — preventing sensitive data from falling into the wrong hands.
See More: Top 10 Cybersecurity Colleges in the U.S. in 2021
Careers in Cybersecurity
Source: Cyber Security Degrees
Here are some cybersecurity roles to consider:
1. Ethical hacker/penetration tester
Perhaps one of the most exciting roles in the cybersecurity domain, a penetration tester works to hack the cybersecurity systems of an organization legally. This is done to assess the robustness of the company’s security posture rather than to gain unauthorized access to enterprise systems. In this role, you are responsible for extensively testing systems until you find cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Once loopholes are discovered, you can work with the rest of the team to patch them.
2. Cybersecurity analyst
As a cybersecurity analyst, you need to focus on protecting the digital properties of your organization by analyzing existing cybersecurity protocols and policies. The findings of this analysis help address weaknesses within the cybersecurity infrastructure of your company. Working with other stakeholders to patch these weaknesses is also a part of this job role. Daily activities include planning, implementing, and upgrading cybersecurity controls and measures.
3. Cybersecurity administrator
A cybersecurity administrator is responsible for all the cybersecurity systems within an organization. In this role, you need to understand the complete infrastructure of your company to help keep it running optimally and securely. You also serve as the point of contact for the entire cybersecurity team. Moreover, it is your responsibility to install, administer, and troubleshoot security solutions as required. Finally, you need to draft relevant training documents and security policies.
4. Incident response specialist
Incident response professionals undergo extensive training that equips them to respond to cybersecurity incidents. In case of a data breach or similar event, an incident response specialist needs to resolve the threat swiftly and work with the team to help ensure similar threats cannot emerge in the future.
5. Cybersecurity specialist
Working as a cybersecurity specialist entails protecting your organization’s software and network security systems. In most organizations, you’ll need to take an exhaustive approach to achieve this, including vulnerability testing, internal and external security audits, security assessments, and risk analysis.
6. Cybersecurity engineer
If you accept a job as a cybersecurity engineer, you need to identify and counter common security vulnerabilities. Your role is to protect the endpoints and networks in your organization from breaches and similar incidents by designing and implementing solutions to fix gaps in security infrastructure. Monitoring and recording the analysis of multi-vendor cybersecurity solutions would also be a part of your job.
7. Cybersecurity auditor
As the name suggests, a cybersecurity auditor undertakes the responsibility of auditing the cybersecurity systems of an organization. As an auditor, you are required to assess the vulnerabilities in cybersecurity systems and recommend ways to fix them.
8. Forensic investigator
In the event of a breach or similar security incident, a forensic investigator works with the cybersecurity team to analyze the causes, ascertain the methodology, and discover the perpetrators. In this role, you need extensive training and experience to meticulously handle both physical and digital evidence correctly. You also need to deal with other aspects of cybersecurity forensics, such as communicating with law enforcement and legal personnel.
Try kick-starting your cybersecurity career with a job as a database administrator, network administrator, systems administrator, or web administrator—work that gives you hands-on experience with administering IT systems. Working as a web developer or IT technician can also serve as a gateway into cybersecurity. The role of a network engineer or software engineer is also an effective way to shift to a cybersecurity engineer or similar role. Even a job in tech support or as a security operations center (SOC) analyst can be a good starting point. Finally, regardless of your starting point, experience in security administration is a big plus for bagging a job in cybersecurity.
Once you land a relevant job, take the time to work on the core skills required to mark the cybersecurity domain. A healthy tendency to question everything, dig for the truth, and communicate clearly are some of the most important traits required in this space.
Next, explore relevant industry certifications that will make your resume stand out. The following certifications are a good place to start:
- CompTIA Security+
- Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate/CCNA Cyber Ops
- Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- OSCP with PWK (Penetration Testing with Kali Linux)
- EC-Council Certified Security Analyst (ECSA): Penetration Testing
Once you have 2 to 3 years of experience in the IT field and a few good certifications under your belt, look out for openings such as associate network security analyst, associate cybersecurity analyst, or cybersecurity risk analyst.
After securing an entry-level job in this domain, work toward mastering the general cybersecurity principles. With time, you will be exposed to the workings of different branches in the field and can pick one that interests you the most.
See More: Coding and Code Security Go Hand-in-Hand: How Can Developers Manage Both?
5 Key Cybersecurity Skills to Acquire
Having the right skill-set goes a long way toward landing the job you desire in the cybersecurity space and the right salary as well. Let’s take a look at the five key skills required to thrive in the cybersecurity domain.
1. Love for information technology
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it is important for you to understand that cybersecurity isn’t like most other IT jobs. You will need to constantly stay up to date with the latest technologies and the threats that they are vulnerable to. Keep in mind that after a point, this can become tedious for those who lack a genuine passion for information technology.
To make it big in cybersecurity, be prepared for a life of maintaining IT security systems, troubleshooting flaws, and updating infrastructure to thwart security threats. Continuous network monitoring and studying, and creating and implementing cybersecurity solutions in real time are also a big part of the job. As such, make sure that you’re savvy with IT before you decide to dive into the field.
2. In-depth knowledge of cross-platform cybersecurity (and hacking)
Cybersecurity isn’t as simple as setting up a firewall and forgetting about it. A cybersecurity professional needs to have hands-on knowledge of working with every aspect of a wide variety of devices, operating systems, networks, and cloud platforms to protect them. Also, as discussed in the previous point, this knowledge needs to stay up to date for as long as you’re working.
Where does hacking come into the picture? It is said that ‘offense is the best defense’, and protecting the network and infrastructure of your company calls for the knowledge of how they can be breached in the first place. Therefore, having a base in ethical hacking is critical for a successful career in cybersecurity.
3. Strong understanding of digital forensics
Any job in cybersecurity entails fighting a perpetual war against unscrupulous actors looking to gain unauthorized access to your organization’s data. And just like any war, it’s unlikely that you will win every single battle. Throughout your career, you will witness cyberattacks with varying success rates. Some attacks will fail even before they start, others might gain limited access before being spotted and stopped, and some might even make a clean getaway.
Tracking down the culprits and recovering compromised data is a core function of digital forensics, which is why many cybersecurity degrees include ‘computer forensics’ in the study program. A strong understanding of digital forensics will help you ace a career in cybersecurity, regardless of the specialization you ultimately choose. You will also be more adept at protecting the digital assets of your enterprise and preventing security breaches if you understand the causes and outcomes of failure.
4. Attention to detail and problem-solving skills
Having a keen eye for minor changes in the status quo is a useful skill for defending your company against cyberattacks. A detail-oriented person will be able to detect risks and loopholes swiftly and effectively. Being vigilant is an important skill for situations where you are continuously monitoring systems and need to identify security concerns quickly.
Once you identify a risk or concern, having strong problem-solving skills will be needed to implement the right solution at the correct time. This is especially important because the data you’re analyzing will not always be straightforward. You will need to choose your next course of action based on the analysis of complex metrics and parameters.
5. Crystal-clear communication skills
Cybersecurity professionals need to work closely with their teammates, colleagues in other teams and departments, and even external stakeholders. Therefore, communicating clearly is important for explaining your concerns, findings, and solutions to the relevant stakeholders. As a cybersecurity expert, you will also need to talk about the intricacies of information technology to people with different levels of technical understanding.
See More: Network Security Engineer: Job Role and Key Skills for 2021
Cybersecurity Salary Expectations
Demand for cybersecurity professionals is higher in this decade than it has ever been. As a result, an entry into this domain will come with a good salary even if you’re just starting out, provided you have the right set of skills, qualifications, and certifications.
Naturally, as you gain experience and upgrade your qualifications and certifications to stay relevant in the market, you will move into more senior roles. This means that your salary will also increase steadily as you continue to see success in the cybersecurity domain.
Listed below are the average salaries of jobs in the cybersecurity space in the United States in 2021, according to research by Glassdoor.
Beginners start with an annual salary between $40,000 and $75,000:
- Intrusion detection specialist: $59,663
- Junior cybersecurity analyst: $68,201
- Digital forensic examiner: $73,385
- IT security administrator: $74,031
- Incident response analyst: $74,232
Once you get a few years of hands-on experience in the domain and continue to upgrade your skills, your expected salary range increases to somewhere between $75,000 and $100,000.
- Cybersecurity consultant: $92,620
- Information security analyst: $98,706
- Ethical hacker: $99,484
A seasoned cybersecurity professional with sufficient experience and the right skill-set can enjoy a salary range between $100,000 and $150,000, with top-threat hunters and preventers having the potential to make over $250,000 a year.
- Penetration tester: $102,116
- Security engineer: $109,912
- Cybersecurity manager: $120,128
Finally, we come to the leaders in cybersecurity who command a salary range between $150,000 and $250,000. Naturally, those with the right qualifications and a proven track record have the potential to make more than that with ease, especially at Fortune 500 companies.
- Security architect: $152,955
- Chief information security officer (CISO): $171,480
Job Requirements for 2022
Now that you know everything about getting started in cybersecurity, how progression works, and the salary you can expect as you progress, the next questions are, ‘how to get to your desired role?’ and ‘what will you be doing once you get there?’.
There are several progression paths in this field, and there is no fixed way to reach your desired role. Generally speaking, being consistently good at your job and staying up to date in terms of knowledge, qualifications, and certifications should be sufficient to get you to almost any position within the cybersecurity domain. However, four of the most high-profile positions—ethical hacker, security architect, chief information security officer (CISO), and cybersecurity consultant—are more difficult to be picked for, especially in the case of larger companies.
Let’s look at the job description and requirements for these popular cybersecurity roles in 2022.
1. Ethical hacker
Want to earn lots of money for hacking into the systems of big corporations, completely legally? Then this is the job for you.
Likely job description:
- Penetration testing for computer systems, networks, and web applications
- Discovery of loopholes using the same methodologies as criminal hackers
- Researching, recording, and communicating these vulnerabilities and the likely methodology attackers could use to exploit them for the benefit of your organization
- Working with other teams to patch these vulnerabilities before they are exploited
- A bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity or a related domain such as information technology or computer science
- Relevant industry certifications such as Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP), and Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- Hands-on experience in the cybersecurity domain, with starter roles such as system administrator, security administrator, or network engineer
- Mastery of ethical hacking through relevant certifications and training
2. Security architect
Do you want to use your strong problem-solving skills to create cybersecurity strategies for your organization? Then this career path is right for you.
Likely job description:
- Planning and designing cybersecurity architectures
- Managing and maintaining existing cybersecurity measures and implementing new solutions
- Developing requirements for firewalls, networks, and related hardware and software solutions
- Performing and monitoring security assessments
- Ensuring organizational security systems, standards, and practices are up to date
- Managing employee privilege and identity & access management (IAM) security architecture
- Reviewing the security posture of third-party solutions
- Managing security awareness training initiatives for the entire organization
- A bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity or a related domain such as information technology or computer science
- Relevant industry certifications such as Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), EC-Council Certified Security Analyst (ECSA), and Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- Hands-on experience in the cybersecurity domain, with starter roles such as systems administrator, security administrator, or network administrator
- Promotion to a mid-senior job role such as security analyst or engineer
3. Chief information security officer (CISO)
Want to be a leader in the cybersecurity domain and oversee every initiative related to your organization’s security? Then this is the perfect role for you!
Likely job description:
- Taking responsibility of your organization’s entire cybersecurity team
- Supervising the drafting and enforcement of company-wide cybersecurity policies and procedures
- Overseeing the improvement of existing cybersecurity solutions and the deployment of new ones
- Establishment of security risk management programs that work for all internal and external stakeholders
- Leading investigations and countermeasures in case of a security event
- A master’s degree in cybersecurity or a related domain such as information technology or computer science
- Relevant industry certifications such as Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), and Certified Information System Security Professional (CISSP)
- Hands-on experience in the cybersecurity domain in roles such as programmer, security analyst, engineer, consultant, and auditor
- Experience in a management position in the cybersecurity space, preferably backed with an MBA and certifications focused on IT security and management
4. Cybersecurity consultant
Looking to earn big bucks in the cybersecurity domain without being tied down by the responsibilities of management? Walk down the path of a cybersecurity consultant.
Likely job description:
- Providing solutions and strategies to protect the security of organizational networks, devices, data, and systems
- Assessing the overall security posture of an organization
- Working with other stakeholders to discover and patch cybersecurity issues
- Using various analytical methods to test implemented security solutions
- Providing guidance in whatever form required by the client company
- Being flexible, composed under pressure, and always up to date to handle cybersecurity requirements across diverse organizations and industries
- A bachelor’s or master’s degree in cybersecurity or a related domain such as information technology or computer science
- Relevant industry certifications such as Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+), EC-Council Certified Security Analyst (ECSA), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), and Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- Hands-on experience in the cybersecurity domain in roles such as security analyst, administrator, auditor, or engineer.
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Cybersecurity is a vast domain and there is no fixed progression for reaching your desired role. A successful cybersecurity career can begin right after college or by transitioning from a non-cybersecurity IT role. But regardless of your starting point, you will need general IT experience to make it big in cybersecurity.
While some cybersecurity professionals aim to become security leaders and chief information security officers (CISO), others might prefer a more hands-on approach to cybersecurity, such as working with clients to discover and patch vulnerabilities. A few others might want to explore policymaking, training, and responding to events through forensics or similar countermeasures.
Regardless of the path chosen, relevant qualifications (such as a master’s degree and the latest industry certifications) go a long way toward ensuring your desired career progression in cybersecurity.