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The best way to become a cyber security auditor will vary from person to person and employer to employer. Overall, cyber security auditors will have to demonstrate their skills and acumen through higher education, certifications, work experience, or all three. Advanced degrees and professional development can also contribute to greater opportunities throughout the cyber auditing community. It is also possible to become a cyber security auditor with non-IT-related degrees or no degree at all if you have the right certifications and work experience.
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What is a Cyber Security Auditor?
A cyber security auditor centers their focus on all elements surrounding the extensive auditing practices of online security systems and networks in a number of capacities, such as the analysis of existing systems, recommendations regarding infrastructure repairs, and updates as well as protocol changes. These cyber security professionals are responsible for finding vulnerabilities throughout an organization. A cyber security auditor may also be responsible for establishing policies and procedures from both an operational and regulatory standpoint. Careers in cyber security auditing also require that professionals constantly monitor trends in cyber-threats, legislation, and best practices.
Steps to Become a Cyber Security Auditor:
Step 1: Complete a Degree
Step 2: Work Experience
Step 3: Certifications
Step 4: Career Advancement
Step 1: Complete a Degree
The traditional path, and arguably the easiest path, to begin a career as a cyber security auditor is to complete a degree in cyber security. Professionals may choose from a variety of degrees that will allow them to pursue security auditor careers successfully including computer science, IT, computer architecture or engineering, information assurance, or another related technology-based field.
It’s possible to find entry-level positions in cyber security auditing with as little as an associate degree in such areas of expertise. Many employers will prefer a bachelor’s degree in computer science; however, given the desperation of employers to find quality cyber security professionals, you may be able to find plenty of opportunities with an associate degree or less at this time. For those who find work without a degree, you can expect to need to complete a degree at some point in order to advance your career. This can be done online while you gain invaluable experience.
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Step 2: Work Experience
Work experience will also be necessary to become a cyber security auditor. In most cases, these roles are not entry-level positions. However, some security auditor positions are used as a supportive role to experienced security auditors. As such, many individuals will choose to work as systems or network administrators before they apply to auditor roles. Especially since most employers prefer three to five years of relevant work experience.
For those who do pursue degrees in cyber security, it will be helpful to pursue work experience at the same time so that you can find full-time employment upon the successful completion of a degree. Any type of work experience in any IT field will help give you a competitive advantage over others in cyber security who are without any experience at all. This experience can also help increase your payscale throughout your entire career and improve the speed at which you qualify for and receive promotions.
Step 3: Certifications
Continuing education will be a critical component to any successful cyber security professional, particularly as hackers and bad actors continue to break through protections seemingly faster than they can be created. The risks, threats, technology advances, compliance requirements, etc. change daily in this industry. As such, an individual must be prepared to always be learning to survive and thrive. One way to do so is through certifications.
Employers like team members to have professional and skill-based certifications. Such accomplishments verify that individuals are, in fact, skilled and qualified in the areas in which they claim to excel. It also provides certification holders with greater expertise within the field over and above others. These certifications can also bump up your pay and provide you with greater career advancement opportunities. The type of desirable certifications varies greatly and include cyber security, information systems auditing, systems controls, compliance, detection, and more.
Step 4: Career Advancement
For those who wish to advance their careers, the fastest and most profitable way to do so is to complete a master’s degree. An advanced degree is often required or preferred by top employers for cyber security decision-making roles. If you have higher ambitions, such as C-suite positions, a master’s degree will likely be the minimum you require to even apply to executive jobs.
For those in pursuit of a master’s degree, it’s possible to complete a more general degree with a cyber security emphasis, such as an MBA or computer science master’s degree. However, it can be more worthwhile and rewarding to select a specialty at this point in your educational career, such as a master’s degree in cyber security, information systems auditing, or information assurance.
What Does a Cyber Security Auditor Do?
The roles and responsibilities of a cyber security auditor will vary based on employer, business, education, experience, and skills. However, many daily, monthly, and annual duties will have significant crossover tasks from one cyber security auditor job to the next.
Generally speaking, cyber security auditor professionals are responsible for providing an unbiased and proactive examination of existing cyber security controls and practices within systems to help mitigate risk, improve upon security compliance, and manage possible security threats. They will also have to make recommendations for technology and cyber security personnel changes. It will be imperative that these individuals stay on top of the most current trends and risks at all times.
As part of the auditing process, security auditors may be in charge of developing and implementing tests and specialized auditing strategies for a variety of IT systems and practices including firewalls, risk assessment, training weaknesses, failed practices, inadequate or timely reporting, encryption protocols, and much more. Audits, however, will take place regularly as systems are always evolving and cyber-attacks may be imminent on a daily basis.
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Cyber security auditors will have to work with people in other departments and at all levels in order to implement the most dynamic and effective audit strategies including executives, managers, IT professionals, compliance teams, hiring managers, and many others. One should also expect to be tasked with the assignment of creating new policies and procedures for the entire organization or specific departments. The end goal is to find weaknesses and breaches and be able to launch disaster recovery plans as quickly as issues are discovered in order to prevent company downtime, harm to brand, and financial devastation.
Cyber Security Auditor Skills to Acquire
The best cyber security auditors excel in a hybrid of hard skills and soft skills. They will have a solid understanding of all areas of technology as well as general business practices.
Some of the most desirable skills include:
- Technical Know-How
- Human Behavior
- Critical Thinking
It’s essential for all cyber security auditors to strike a balance between hard skills, which can be learned and quantified and soft skills, which are the traits you possess that make you a desirable employee. Each skill will help you to complete the necessary tasks required to maintain a security auditor position successfully. They will also help you to be able to work with others in a positive and respectful manner.
The necessary technical know-how will depend on the job but may include programming languages, detection, incident response, threat analysis, network defense tools, and more. You must also be able to establish plans, strategies, and protocols. And it is essential to have the drive to constantly be willing to learn as both technology and cyber-threats change on a daily basis.
Another essential strong skill is that of being able to communicate successfully and effectively. The days of tech-savvy employees hiding behind computers in a dark room hidden away from prying eyes are long gone. Cyber security auditors will have to collaborate with people in nearly every department at various levels of careers, from new hires to C-suite executives.
A cyber security auditor's career path does not have to follow the traditional steps. If you already have a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in another field entirely, or another area of IT, you typically don’t need to complete another degree in cyber security. Most employers will accept both professional and organizational certifications in cyber security as a replacement for a degree.
However, it is crucial to complete as much work experience as possible before you begin applying for cyber security auditor jobs. Some people will seek out internships, whereas others will volunteer at non-profits or small businesses to receive the experience they require to apply for cyber security auditor jobs. For individuals who excel in security audit practices and don’t have any degree, you can continue to avoid earning a degree by taking entry-level cyber security positions or other similar roles until you have enough work experience to qualify for promotions, certifications, or both.
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The most sought-after certifications will vary based on employer, such as:
- Certified Information Systems Auditor - ISACA Certificate
- Cybersecurity Audit - ISACA Certificate
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- Information Systems Certification
- Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
- IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) Certification
These are not the only certificates that employers find desirable. It’s important to research the type of employment and employer you seek to determine the certifications they find most compelling and necessary.
Cyber Security Auditor Career & Salary
Where Might You Work?
All companies should be using cyber security auditors on a regular basis; however, very few actually create such positions as on-site full-time team members. Many of these security auditors work as an independent consultant or a consultant for an auditing firm. Large corporations will often hire full-time security auditors but small businesses are more likely to hire consultants, if they even consider cyber security auditors at all.
For those who do work as consultants, you should be prepared for the fact you will likely have to travel extensively. This could be locally, regionally, or nationally. All cyber security auditors should expect to work at least 40 hours a week. Many will work more than 40 hours per week and possibly have to be available outside of traditional work hours in cases of emergency.
You could find work in nearly any industry and for any type of employer. Each department of the government requires security auditors. Most non-profits also need cyber security auditors; however, it’s possible that many do not yet incorporate such practices due to lack of awareness or a limited budget. Large businesses are more likely than small businesses to hire cyber security auditors and nearly every industry hires these cyber professionals as well including healthcare, finance, school systems, manufacturers, fashion, retail, and more.
The career outlook of cyber security auditors is one of the best of all jobs in the US, with a projected growth rate of 32% by 2029. There is a growing demand for these professionals in a variety of industries, including banking and financial institutions and medical facilities. Because these jobs are so essential to the safety and success of all companies, the median salary for such positions is roughly $100,000 a year.
One can expect that, to secure and retain jobs in this field, it will be essential to continue education and training each year to keep up with the ever-changing cyber threats and bad actor activities. It should also be known that this position continues to evolve with a growing number of responsibilities and crossover responsibilities from other positions and throughout the entire organization.
The type of jobs you can find in cyber security auditing range from generalized to specialized. Many individuals will select a specific industry, and others will select a specific niche within the security auditing field such as cloud applications, network infrastructure, and others. It’s important to start with jobs in administration such as system, network, and security administrator positions.
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These entry-level positions can lead to more established positions in the arena of cyber security auditing, including:
- IT Security Auditor: An IT security auditor performs regular audits on computer systems for any type of business. These individuals have extensive and intricate know-how regarding information and computer technology with a specialization in policy development, pen testing, and cyber security.
- Information Security Analyst: An information security analyst protects computer networks and systems through software installation and strategic plan development. These cyber security professionals are responsible for implementing various security measures. The roles and responsibilities of these positions continue to evolve as cyber-attacks change.
- Cyber Security Specialist: A cyber security specialist focuses on the security practices throughout the developmental stages of data centers, software systems, and networks. During this process, cyber security specialists seek out risk and vulnerability in all software and hardware as well as to monitor and manage cyber-incidents.
- Internal Auditor: An internal auditor reviews the existing control structure regarding processes, procedures, and policies designed to minimize the risk of abuse, waste, and fraud. These individuals spend time gathering, researching, and analyzing pertinent information to be able to find weaknesses and recommend improvements.
- Security Consultant: Security consultants assess and analyze existing security measures and systems. These consultants examine all aspects for potential breaches and areas of weaknesses for a number of clients or just one client or employer.
- Penetration Tester: A pen tester has many names, such as ethical hacker or white-hat hacker. These highly skilled individuals are armed with the critical task of attempting to breach the network and computer security systems of various organizations. Essentially, they try to hack a company in good faith to help prevent successful attacks from bad actors.
- Senior Audit Manager: A senior audit manager is typically in charge of several cyber security auditors and reports to the audit director. These managers create team and departmental strategies as well as the development of accountability standards, controls and risk assessments, coach and mentor team members, monitor plan development, and more.
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Advancing from Here
Cyber security auditors typically require at least three years of experience for an entry-level position and five years for a mid-level position. A number of existing options exist for career advancement throughout the cyber security field. Management and director positions are a natural progression. For those who are truly ambitious and one of the best in their area of expertise, it is also possible to pursue the pathway to becoming a C-suite executive as a chief information security officer, which is also referred to as a CISO.