The tech sector has rapidly become one of the most powerful and influential industry classifications in the nation. Their influence informs everything we do including the arts, science, business, transportation, and even entertainment. It is thus imperative that all of those technological devices, databases, and networks remain secure. That's where cyber incident responders come in. They help maintain the integrity of our information and our fundamental infrastructure.
What is a Cyber Incident Responder?
A cyber incident responder is a cyber security professional who is called upon when a system has been hacked. They report to the scene of the crime and work to determine how hackers gained access to a network or database and then help to identify the criminals. They also help to assess the total damage to the system. Since copying or deleting digital data often leaves little evidence, the cyber incident responder is needed to employ their expertise and help fully assess the crime. Businesses who don’t complete this important step after they have been hacked run the risk of allowing the exact same incident to occur again because they don’t bother to find or deal with the flaws in their firewalls or security.
Steps to Become a Cybersecurity Incident Responder:
The first step to become a cyber incident responder is to determine that the field is for you. Many students are drawn to cyber security because of the high salaries, intense demand, and the adventure involved in fighting cyber-crime. However, this is a very technical field that can demand long hours where every ounce of analytical skill will be required.
If you are intrigued with puzzles, computer code, and mathematics you might be on your way to a career in cyber security. You also need to have a highly inquisitive mind that leaves no stone unturned and a passion for rooting out bad actors and solving crimes.
If you are a technically minded individual who is already learning to write computer code, monitoring news related to cyber security, and who has a voracious intellectual appetite, you are probably a good candidate for the field.
The second step towards success as a cyber incident responder is to acquire the skills necessary to land a great job. For this step, you will probably want to start looking at earning at least an associate degree in information security, a computer science degree, or a degree in information technology with a focus on cyber security. You should also consider a bachelor of science in computer science, IT, or cyber security.
To make sure that your career starts off on the best footing, make sure that your degree program is fully accredited. Two of the top accrediting agencies to look out for are ABET and CAE. ABET is an agency that accredits programs across STEM sectors. They are known for accrediting engineering programs in particular, but if you enter a computer science degree program that has ABET credentials, you’ll be in good hands.
CAE is another agency that was founded by the NSA and Homeland Security to certify cyber security programs. They accredit programs at the two-year, associate degree level and up through doctoral cyber security degrees.
While you study for an accredited degree in cyber security, you should seek out practical experience in the field. One way to do this is to apply for internships. Since there is intense demand for cyber security professionals, including cyber incident responders, you are likely to find many opportunities. Seek out corporations or government agencies that have established internship programs. There are some that are part of a scholarship or fellowship program which will have you return every summer while you are in college.
Your best bet for top training and experience will probably be with a federal law enforcement or intelligence agency. If you successfully complete internships with one of these organizations, your resume will stand out and your first full time job will be the envy of your peers.
Once you have your degree, you will want to attain a professional certification in cyber security. This is perhaps more imperative in this field than many others. That's because cyber-threats are constantly evolving and, if you maintain a certification, that will necessarily involve your continued education in the field.
For example, the GIAC Certified Incident Handler credential proves that you have the requisite skills to protect any network from a cyber-attack. To maintain this credential, you must satisfy the requirements for continuing education or passing a comprehensive examination. Not only will certification provide your resume with a valuable line item, but it will afford you status and the respect of your peers. Most importantly, your commitment to the field will help protect your employer's valuable assets from attack. By extension, your work will help to bolster the overall cyber security of the nation's vital technological infrastructure.
What Does a Cyber Incident Responder Do?
A cyber incident responder is a high-tech professional who works primarily in an office on a computer. On a day-to-day basis, they might review their employer's networks to ensure that no hackers have breached the security systems. If there are any security alerts, they analyze them and make notes on the matter. It's also important that they contain and collect intrusion artifacts for the purposes of research and further development of cyber security protocols. And they are always on the lookout for potential threats.
A cyber incident responder must keep their finger on the pulse of their field. They need to continually monitor all available external data sources so that they are aware of the current threat conditions. This helps them maintain their vigilance so that they can keep their networks free of malware, viruses, and phishing schemes, among other malicious items.
They also maintain communication with other cyber security professionals inside and outside their organization. When these professionals share information, they can provide support to one another. This way, the overall cyber security picture is maintained for their employer and they work as an integrated team. Incident responders also report the results of their research and incident findings to management and the rest of the IT team.
Skills to Acquire
- Communication: You must have the ability to communicate the highly technical aspects of your job to the rest of your team, as well as those in upper management who may not have nearly the same technical background.
- Programming Skill: Though you may not be called upon to create software, you should have a strong handle on computer languages. After all, you may need to read infinite lines of code to determine where a security breach could have occurred.
- Network Traffic Analysis: Since most of the incidents you'll respond to come from the network, it's imperative that you be able to analyze its traffic. You will need to zero in on anomalies in the traffic and determine whether they lead to an actual threat, or if they are evidence of a hacking incident.
- Intrusion Detection: Your daily work may well rely on this skill. You'll need to be current with the best practices for intrusion detection as well as have full competency utilizing intrusion detection technologies.
- Information Technology Skills: You'll need to have a firm grasp on system administration, networking, multiple operating systems including Linux, and hardware technologies. You should also be able to operate your system's servers and manage permissions, among other skills.
There are many paths you can take that will land you a cyber security career as a cyber incident responder. After all, there is an incredible demand for skilled information security professionals and many employers are chiefly interested in skills and competency more than degrees and credentials. Thus, it is possible to start your career by studying cyber security from a book or using informal, non-academic online resources.
However, it is always valuable to have some form of verifiable credential, especially when you're first starting out. You can seek online certifications from the courses you complete or earn an industry certification. When you can add courses and credentials to your resume, you are bound to receive more attention from hiring managers.
You can also land an entry-level job in an IT department and work your way up that way. Seek out a department that has an existing cyber security professional on staff, if not a whole department dedicated to information security. If you show interest and dedicate off-duty hours to learning the field, you are sure to attract attention, more responsibilities, and a promotion. When you learn incident response this way, you will become a top professional whose knowledge is always current and valuable.
Cyber Incident Responder Careers & Salary
Where Might You Work?
Incident responders can work for a wide range of employers. You might start your career in a large tech corporation such as IBM, Microsoft, or Cisco Systems, for example or you could be part of the information security team for a financial institution. These days any sizeable organization needs to employ an information security team to protect its finances, intellectual property, and databases.
You could also seek work with a federal law enforcement agency. There are opportunities with Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency, to name a few. You might also find employment with your state or local government. Cities of any significant size may already experience cyber-attacks and they'll need you to help them respond.
While there are many opportunities for full-time employment at these and other organizations, you can also work as an independent agent. You could act as an outside consultant for any size corporation, government, or non-profit organization. When you establish your reputation, you may be called in as a special consultant for large security breaches and you'll be available for smaller firms who can't yet hire a full-time cyber security professional.
The nation's vital technological infrastructure is under attack every day. Since so many chief resources are held in electronic databases and are accessed by way of computer networks, the career and occupational outlook for a skilled cyber incident responder is quite good. After all, the NSA and Homeland Security formed an agency to help groom up and coming InfoSec professionals. In fact, this career is one non-military occupation that might be deemed on a similar patriotic level as that of a solider.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks employment sector as information security analysts and their statistics reflect very positive things indeed. For starters, the field is reporting a median salary of over $99,000, which is rivaled by few other job types. Information security analysts are also projected to experience a vast expansion in upcoming years. The BLS projection is for the field to expand by a whopping 31% in that time, which they characterize as much faster than average. By comparison, the BLS shows that other computer occupations are slated to grow by only 11% and the average growth for all other occupations is only 4%. Therefore, the strongest growth is in cyber security, including cyber incident response.
The job market for InfoSec professionals is robust and growing all the time. Firms are looking to develop and expand their cyber security departments and small companies constantly need consultants to act as cyber incident responders. In fact, many who enter the job market with some computer skills on their resumes soon find that they are asked to seek out security breaches or establish cyber security protocols.
Just as there are many ways to enter the InfoSec space, there are just as many job titles and descriptions that will suit you on your way to cyber security stardom. Take a look at this brief list as you assess the career field before you.
Principal Incident Response Consultant:
The salary range for this position reaches nearly as high as $200k. This is an upper-level position that will require you to train junior-level InfoSec professionals. You are also likely to encounter a wide range of cyber-attacks, clients, and even cultures.
Cyber Security Incident Responder:
For this position you may be required to have at least one professional certification such as: GCIH (GIAC Certified Incident Handler), SCNP (Security Certified Network Professional), or ECC CEH (Electronic Commerce Council Certified Ethical Hacker.) Your credentials will ensure your performance in security incidence response.
For this position, you may need to be an expert with Windows, Linux, and MacOS, as well as various forensic tools. Though consultants often travel a lot, some employers only indicate that a certain percentage of your time will be spent traveling.
Cyber Defense Analyst / Incident Responder (DSCA):
This position will likely require that you have a bachelor's degree in information technology, information systems management, or cyber security. Some employers also require IAT Level II certification, and credentials as CSSP-Analyst or CSSP-Incident Responder are highly sought.
Advancing from Here
Once you become a cyber incident responder, you will find that your trajectory should aim steeply up. Your advancement will continue as long as you continue to learn and grow in your position. At some point you may wish to take more of a managerial role and that will likely come naturally. You can also consider returning to school for an MBA with an InfoSec concentration. Your MBA will surely pave the way to a role as chief information officer or maybe you'll take your new business knowledge and start your own cyber security consulting firm.
Computer Career Paths