The demand for cyber security consultants is expected to continue to grow each year, even as the industry is facing a dangerous shortage of millions of cyber security professionals. As such, more and more higher learning institutions are offering a wide array of cyber security academic offerings at all degree levels and various certifications. If someone wishes to become a cyber security consultant, some type of formal cyber security education is the best way to start this journey.
Some people can a consultant with a broad understanding of cyber security; whereas, others will require more niche skills and expertise in various technology subject matters such as penetration testing, network infrastructure, incident response, systems analysis, source coding, identification, prevention, risk assessment, and more. Most cyber security consultants will have at least some technology-based work experience. Meanwhile, many employers prefer certifications.
What is a Cyber Security Consultant?
A cyber security consultant can pursue many different job titles. These consultants’ roles and responsibilities will depend entirely on the job and employer type. In general, a cyber security consultant will both defend and attack existing programs, networks, devices, and systems to find weaknesses. Upon discovery of such vulnerabilities and threats, the consultant will then develop a plan of action for strengthening the security of an organization, its employees, partnerships, and more.
Steps to Become a Cyber Consultant:
While each person’s journey toward becoming a cyber security consultant will be different, the most efficient way to do so is by following a simple formula, including:
Step 1: Degrees
Step 2: Work Experience
Step 3: Continuing Education
Step 4: Networking
Step 1: Degrees
Due to the significant need for these types of technology professionals, it’s not uncommon for employers and clients to accept associate degrees in a computer-related field as a minimum level of education including computer science, information technology, cyber security, and others. Entry-level positions will often only require a two-year degree such as an associate degree and may hire those who are in the middle of earning a bachelor’s degree to fill entry-level positions.
Employers of cyber security consultants most commonly prefer contractors, freelancers, and full-time employees to have at least a bachelor’s degree in areas of cyber security such as computer forensics, cyber security, information security, or others. However, as more people enter the cyber security workforce, greater educational requirements will be put in place. It’s always a good idea to complete advanced degrees to help progress career prospects, pay, and job security.
Before you select a degree or certificate program, it’s critical to consider the accreditation of the college or university you’re hoping to attend, as well as the program itself. A higher learning institution that is regionally accredited is best. Programs should be accredited by governing bodies or highly reputable professional organizations. And the absolute best cyber security programs are endorsed by the National Centers of Academic Excellence, which is sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security and the NSA.
Step 2: Work Experience
Work experience is an essential part of the process in becoming a cyber security consultant. A great place to start is by selecting a college or university with cyber security degree programs that arrange internships. It’s also helpful to select programs that offer experiential learning opportunities and hands-on experience throughout various courses.
Overall, positions that are not entry-level roles typically require three to five years of experience. The type of experience should be within your cyber security consultancy specialization such as design, architecture, networking, event management, penetration testing, software development lifecycles, threat hunting, and much more. It’s important to note that cyber security is rapidly expanding its work experience diversification into areas of expertise that are not tech-related such as supply chain, human resources, and project management.
Step 3: Continuing Education
Continuing education is critical to long-term success within cyber security leadership positions. Both technology and cyber-crimes change on a daily basis and, as such, it will be essential to complete certifications and advanced degrees to remain relevant and in-demand.
The type of certifications will depend on the position, but include:
- Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- CompTIA Security+
- Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+)
- EC-Council Certified Security Analyst (ECSA)
- Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)
- SANS GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC)
It’s also important to stay up-to-date on the latest practices, hacking initiatives, in-demand skills, cyber-crimes, techniques, source code, news sources, etc. Learning new skills and remaining current on the latest trends will be an everyday effort in successful cyber security careers.
Step 4: Networking
Professional networking is yet another way to advance one’s cyber security career. While some might believe in-person networking is the most effective way to network, it’s not the only option. In today’s climate, online networking is often the most-utilized and easiest way to improve professional relationships.
You can utilize online professional social media platforms to reach out, follow, and communicate with fellow industry leaders. Another option is to participate in online conferences, workshops, training sessions, and more. For online networking to be successful, it’s essential to engage with others online rather than to just follow them and never communicate at all.
What Does a Cyber Security Consultant Do?
The roles and responsibilities of cyber security consultants are unique to the employer and each position. The overall goal of such consultants is to protect data, networks, systems, software, hardware, and more. These individuals will also be in charge of finding breaches, vulnerabilities, and human error. The final step will be to establish efficiencies and improvements and share recommendations with decision-makers.
A number of different types of cyber security consultants are available for various specializations within the cyber security industry. One of the most utilized types of cyber security consultant is that of a penetration tester, which is also referred to as a white-hat hacker or ethical hacker. These cyber security professionals attempt to hack an organization on behalf of the stakeholders. This is simply one way to discover vulnerabilities and prevent breaches before they occur.
It’s also possible to specialize in certain cyber security niches. Some people will create and implement cyber security plans and strategies. Certain consultants will focus specifically on architecture and engineering. Others dedicate their efforts on systems and networks or review source code. Any type of organization in any industry can hire cyber security consultants to improve their security and protect their data.
At this time, many business entities do not yet have full-time cyber security employees or teams because of the labor shortage. Many individuals choose to freelance; however, it’s also possible to work for a consulting company. You may even be able to work from home as many cyber security tasks are able to be completed remotely.
Cyber Security Consultant Skills to Acquire
The necessary skills cyber security professionals require to be successful span across a wide spectrum of both hard and soft skills, including:
- Critical thinking
- Hacker mentality
- Planning and organizing
- Technological know-how
- Time management
However, it’s important to understand that one standard skill set list does not exist for all cyber security consultant positions. Because these consultant positions vary so much in the roles and responsibilities, each employer will require equally unique skills from its consultants.
The hard skills of cyber security professionals often receive the most attention because such know-how is essential for cyber security career paths. Such skills might include pent testing, firewall management, encryption technologies, threat assessments, operating systems, source coding, and much more.
However, today, each consultant will require a unique combination of both hard and soft skills rather than simply one set or the other. Some of the most important soft skills include ethics, communication, and leadership. Many times, soft skills are part of a person’s character rather than to be taught. However, it’s possible to learn aspects of these skills, too.
As with all technology fields, there is no exact formula for becoming a cyber security consultant. While a cyber security degree is often the easiest way to secure quality employment as a consultant, it’s also possible to take an alternate route to cyber security consulting. It’s important to note that the cyber security industry has a growing interest in individuals with alternative backgrounds as cyber security practices venture into all departments, business areas, and business types including logistics, supply chain, sales, marketing, human resources, and more.
For those who already have a degree outside of the technology sector and wish to work as a cyber security consultant, it’s possible to pursue various certifications as a way to demonstrate technical know-how. These certificates can be technical or professional. They could also complete an additional degree in cyber security to gain essential basic tools and understanding of cyber security practices. And as always, advanced degrees or years of experience in cyber security will often be necessary for career advancement into decision-making positions.
Cyber Security Consultant Career & Salary
Where Might You Work?
Cyber security consultants have nearly endless job opportunities with many type of employers such as government agencies, non-profits, large enterprises, SMEs, schools, medical facilities, and others. Many of these employers will hire consultants as freelancers or contractors rather than as full-time employees.
Those who wish to secure full-time employment, with the many benefits that often includes, should seek full-time employment with consulting companies. These companies might serve local, national, or global clientele. Some consultants may have to travel extensively; whereas others can work from home to serve the clients of their company. This type of travel depends entirely on the type of client one is serving. It is also possible to be self-employed and work from home but less common.
As a cyber security consultant, you can expect to earn between $80,000 and $185,000. The amount of income you earn will vary based on your education, specializations, certifications, experience, employer, and more. To earn a larger salary or hourly wage earlier in one’s career, it’s important to pursue more certifications and advanced degrees in cyber security. According to Cyberseek.org, the average salary is $91,000 for cyber security consultants, and only 15% of hiring employers prefer an advanced degree.
The career of cyber security consulting is exploding in comparison to other career fields, with an expected growth rate of up to 56% by 2029. However, most cyber security consultant jobs will grow at a more modest rate of 32% by 2028. At the moment, this industry is grossly underserved with a need of at least an additional four million cyber security professionals to provide the necessary security and protections to thwart cyber-attacks.
During this time, there is very little competition in many markets simply because many of these consultants do not yet exist. As a result, the unemployment is 0% and salaries are still increasing. Keep in mind that the demand for various consulting niches may vary. However, this is a highly solid career to pursue for the foreseeable future.
A number of jobs exist within the cyber security consulting arena. This cyber security niche consists of many subsets and specializations within the cyber security consultation industry. These will range from entry-level positions to advanced career opportunities. It’s important to remember that each consultancy position will require a unique skillset and work experience before an individual will qualify for such types of employment.
Associate Security Consultant:
An associate security consultant will often be required to use attacker recognition tools, perform network penetration tests, assess various networks and systems, and much more. These individuals must also follow the direction and plans of higher-level cyber security consultants.
Information Security Consultant:
The primary role of an IS consultant is to focus on risk management, such as to assess security solutions, incorporate data protections, perform threat hunting, develop encryption practices, and more. These professionals will also have to create and distribute various reports on findings to decision-makers.
Cyber Security Project Manager:
A cyber security project manager is somewhat different from a standard project manager in that these individuals must firmly understand the cyber security sector. These cyber security consultant professionals must be able to communicate and collaborate with others at a highly advanced level and be able to balance budgets.
A DevSecOps consultant is just one specialization within the industry. These individuals will work to find weaknesses and implement security protections in the development and operations areas of an organization. It is possible the DevSecOps consultant will work closely with security engineers and decision-makers.
Senior Application Security Consultant:
Senior application security consultants dedicate their skill sets to application security infrastructure. As applications have become an integral part of our daily lives, these consultants are in high demand. They will examine software architecture, work with operations, establish policies and practices, and more.
Cloud Security Consultant:
Much like that of an application security consultant, a cloud security consultant specializes in cloud security through infrastructure, strategy development, improvement processes, and much more. These professionals may also have to evaluate and solve issues in other areas such as end-to-end practices, storage and backup, file sync, mobility management, and others.
Network Security Consultant:
A network security consultant is another specialization within the realm of cyber security consulting. These individuals may be responsible for all types of networks or focus more on specific network angles, such as the overall infrastructure. The roles and responsibilities will also vary but may include password management, firewall upgrades, intrusion analysis, and others.
Find Cyber Security Consultant Jobs Near You
Advancing from Here
Cyber security positions have varying levels of seniority, assignments, and responsibilities. It’s definitely possible to grow within this career pathway, from an associate to senior cyber security consultant or manager to executive. At the end of the day, the more skills one develops and acquires the greater the consultancy opportunities will arise. The same can be said for degrees and certifications.
Computer Career Paths