The internet has opened up many opportunities for innovators and consumers alike. It's perhaps the largest technological innovation to ever hit the planet Earth. However, like many rewards, this technology comes with responsibilities. There are a growing number of bad actors who seek to exploit our interconnected, networked world for their own personal gain. To meet this challenge, ethical hackers, also known as cyber security professionals, are on the rise who are utilized by many large companies across the world to combat these un-ethical hackers. You will be able to learn what it takes to become a cyber security engineer in this growing field.
Steps to Becoming a Cyber Security Engineer
If becoming a cybersecurity engineer is your dream job there is a proven track you should follow. Although there are less common paths to the career, this is the optimal path you should use to meet your goal. Note that there are no time limits for each step; this is so you can customize it to meet your personal situation and circumstances. Many people begin tinkering with computers while in high school and enter the field as a technician or programmer, so you can modify these steps to meet your own knowledge base as you progress through school.
The first step in becoming a cybersecurity engineer is to identify your aptitude and passion for computers. This goes beyond perpetual use of the internet and video games. If you are delving into computer code and find that you are intrigued with bolstering security for yourself, your family, and your friends, then you're on the way to a career in cybersecurity engineering.
To further assess your cyber security acumen, you might take some free or affordable courses on the subject. There are many outlets for this, and some even lead to security certifications. If you qualify for the credentials, you might try to pass a security engineer certification exam and gain a foothold in the field. Whether or not you pass the exam, any extra-curricular learning in cyber security will help your application to a bachelor’s degree in security engineering or information systems security.
The second step towards becoming a cybersecurity engineer is to apply to a suitable bachelor’s degree program in computer science, information systems or cybersecurity. These days there are many options, so, first, you'll want to determine your specific goals and assess programs accordingly. That is, some bachelor’s degree programs provide a general course in computer science with a few added security electives. These programs may well set you on your path, but there are other programs that are specific to information security (also known as cyber security.) There are also information technology degrees that offer a security focus if you choose. Furthermore, there are technology security systems degrees that allow you to focus on issues that pertain to the healthcare industry.
Additionally, you'll want to review each program's accreditation. At a minimum you'll want a cybersecurity engineering program that has a regional accreditation through a CHEA-approved agency. There are also programs that boast a national accreditation from ABET or the National Centers for Academic Excellence (NCAE). NCAE is managed by the National Security Agency (NSA) and programs with this accreditation are highly esteemed in the security community.
Finally, consider enrolling in a dual degree program whereby you can complete both your undergraduate and master’s degrees within five years or so. The extra hard work will pay off in terms of an elevated job title and salary.
As you work your way through a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, information security, or computer science with a security-focused concentration, you'll need to pick up practical experience. Most often, students seek out an internship as a security engineer where they work alongside a professional security team. There are internships available through federal government agencies including the FBI, CIA, NSA, and Homeland Security. However, you might also investigate opportunities in private business. Large technology firms may offer cyber security internships, but you might also find an opportunity with a small consulting firm or a local business who is building their cyber security infrastructure.
It will also help your resume to work on outside projects in your spare time. For instance, you could join a cyber security club at school and organize events to help raise awareness among the student body. If you design and implement presentations that help your college community address issues surrounding privacy and security, you can add that to your resume. Employers love to see evidence of self-motivation and enterprise.
Once you have graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science or a related field and are entering your first job, you could study on the side to earn a special cyber security certification. When you earn and maintain a cybersecurity certification, you will not only impress your employer, but you will ensure that your cyber security education continues. Most certifications require that you earn a certain number of continuing education units (CEUs) for every certification period. Another option would be to also obtain a master's degree in information systems, information systems security or security systems. Your dedication to lifelong learning in your field will pay enormous dividends.
Additionally, it's never too soon to start considering a master’s degree in information security, cyber security engineering, or even an MBA that includes a security focus. You might also find a dual MBA program whereby you can graduate with both a business degree as well as one in your technology field, all within about three years, depending on the program.
What is a Cyber Security Engineer?
A cyber security engineer is a technology professional who is central to any organization's security. Cybersecurity engineers are responsible for designing network solutions that help thwart a cyber-attack. They are experts at assessing a firm's overall risk of exposure as well as the current security infrastructure. Once they have assessed the existing system and its ability to thwart cyber-attacks, they can design a system that is appropriate to the needs of their client or employer. Cybersecurity engineers might also work under job titles such as data security engineer, cyber security consultant, or web security engineer.
What Does a Cyber Security Engineer Do?
Cybersecurity engineers are constantly assessing and managing the security systems they have in place. They monitor their firm's network and seek to detect any security breach. They also are constantly researching cyber security attacks and how other cyber security engineers have responded to them. They might train fellow employees to ensure that everyone is following proper protocols with regards to cyber security. For instance, they may periodically lead the firm in creating new, secure passwords. They also train traveling professionals on how to maintain security when using outside friendly Wi-Fi networks or when they use mobile devices to access the company's networks.
Most cybersecurity engineers have a regular employer, and they report to work in the same place every day. However, their firm may be spread over multiple locations, which could require periodic travel. Still other engineers work as consultants and thus travel for weeks on end while they implement new network security solutions for their clients. Some consultants may spend five days a week in, say, Europe and then return home to the U.S. for the weekend.
Cyber Security Engineer Skills to Acquire
- Computer Programming:
You will undoubtedly need to write, debug, and analyze computer code as part of your cyber security career. There are many languages to choose from, but you might want to consider starting with Python, Java, and PHP. Simply learning these will give you a foundation from which you can learn new languages quickly.
- Linux Server Administration:
This is a vital, open-source tool that every cyber security professional should be familiar with. You can learn the basic Linux Server to get started or you might also take on Kali Linux, which is vital for penetration testing and forensics.
- Digital Forensics:
Just like the CSI team on television, you may be called to investigate a network after it's been hacked. You'll need to know how to retrieve lost data and deduce how a network security breach was committed.
- Penetration Testing:
This is a vital skill that will have many uses throughout your entire career. These professionals are known as white-hat (or ethical) hackers because their job is to crack into a network for the purposes of determining its strengths and weaknesses. Nobody can be sure of their network security until a pen-tester has a crack at it.
Your work in security is different from many other high-tech positions in that an entire firm must implement security protocols in order for them to be effective. Thus, you will need to know how to communicate complicated concepts to those not initiated into the world of cyber security. Consider taking courses in technical communication, creative writing, and business writing.
Though the cyber security field is increasingly filled with those who hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees, you don't necessarily need a degree, but it will help. Thus, you might consider earning a two-year associate degree in cyber security from an ABET or NCAE accredited community college. This way, you can build an academic foundation that includes high-tech topics as well as the liberal arts courses that will help with communication, basic critical thinking and problem solving, and help you form a broader base of knowledge.
You can also consider studying for a certification. Many cybersecurity certifications don't require an academic degree. Many of these are available online at affordable rates. If you can combine a certification with practical experience in an IT department, or impressive personal projects, you are sure to land a terrific job.
Firms are clamoring for cyber security professionals and cybersecurity engineers who can help protect them from malware, DDoS attacks, and ransomware, so they are more likely to be interested in practical skills and knowledge rather than a degree. The ideal solution is to seek a bit of both. This may be especially pertinent for information security professionals who can benefit from courses in fields like sociology and psychology. After all, many of the largest hacking crimes succeed when criminals exploit people rather than guessing randomized passwords.
Cyber Security Engineer Career and Salary
Where Might You Work?
Every business could use a cyber security professional to help them navigate the treacherous online world. A Cybersecurity engineer will therefore find that they have opportunities, not only in a variety of businesses, but also in the federal government working for departments or law enforcement agencies. They can also work for state or local governments.
Given that hackers also often target healthcare providers, such as hospitals, with ransomware attacks, a cyber security professional might make a career working in that industry. A background in healthcare-specific IT issues will help but may not be necessary for security engineers.
Another huge employer is sure to be the financial sector. From consumer checking accounts to complex cryptocurrency transfers, black-hat hackers are seeking to cash in by any means necessary. There are thus sure to be job opportunities with local banks, small credit unions, or multi-national banking concerns. With the proper experience and credentials, you can write a ticket with a firm of whatever size you choose.
Yet another avenue is to work as a cyber security professional consultant. This might be an ideal way to continue a career when you are tired of working in an office 9-to-5. Your consultancy practice will provide you with a broad base of exposure. After a few years you will have experience with all sorts of firms in all sorts of industries. You may also have a folder full of job offers from firms who want to take you on as a permanent, full-time employee with a top salary and benefits.
Cyber security professional skills are in high demand. Businesses in every industry are in hot pursuit of top cyber security talent. Thus, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is reporting very positive numbers for information security analysts, a field that includes cyber security engineers.
Currently, the BLS is reporting that information security (cyber security) analysts are earning a median salary of $99,000. You can earn more or less depending on a wealth of factors, such as location and experience. Furthermore, the BLS doesn't factor in other forms of compensation such as bonuses and benefits. Since the demand for cybersecurity engineers is exploding, it's likely that graduates with top credentials can negotiate healthy signing bonuses, raises, and promotions. Having a master's degree in security engineering will help you stand out as a top candidate for a security engineer job. Potential future employers are also looking at the years of professional experience you have in the cybersecurity field.
Looking forward, things are rosy for cyber security engineers. The BLS projects that the field will grow by 31% in the years between 2019 and 2029. That means up to 41,000 new jobs in cyber security. Given that, thus far, many experts have underestimated the threat from black-hat hackers, the demand for cyber security experts may outstrip even that rather high number.
Cyber security jobs are exploding right now. Every day, firms are expanding their payroll to include these professionals and other firms are calling information security consultants for help. Thus, there are many overlapping job titles and descriptions. However, there are few basic job types within the security realm. Each of these positions is sure to pay rather well and soon you'll be the one doing the hiring, because your department is liable to grow by leaps and bounds.
- Penetration Tester:
This is often a consultancy position where you attempt to hack into a client's networks and databases. These professionals are often called white-hat hackers because they act like cyber-criminals but without causing any actual harm. Another common term for penetration testing is ethical hacking.
- Cyber-crime Investigator:
In this position, you will need to have keen critical thinking and problem-solving skills, encyclopedic knowledge of cyber security, and the deductive mind of a post-modern Sherlock Holmes. You will also need to have a working knowledge of the laws surrounding cyber-crimes. While private industry may have a position for you, you might find a terrific entry-level job with local, state, or federal law enforcement.
- Database Analyst:
The skills you acquire while studying cyber security will likely involve a lot of knowledge regarding databases. Furthermore, cyber security engineers will need to analyze and tweak databases so that they aren't stolen, copied, or deleted by bad actors.
- IT Auditor:
While auditing may seem like the sole domain of accountants, IT and cyber security professionals also perform audits. Your work will seek out security strengths and weaknesses in any given system. You might even assess passwords and database permissions for everyone in a firm. A person in this position may also be called a security analyst.
- Incident Responder:
When a criminal has successfully hacked a network, you will be called to investigate the matter. This is not unlike the crime-fighting specialists on the crime scene investigator television shows, but dramatically less bloody. The DNA of the crime will be found by the way hackers made their way into a system such as guessing passwords, tricking people into divulging pertinent information, or even an inside operation. You may work alongside a firm's security analyst, security architect, and others on the cyber security team to figure out who hacked a network.
- Cyber Security Architect:
This position is much like that of a cybersecurity engineer, but the architects are more likely to oversee a project and do more network security design work. A cyber security architect typically arrives at their position after many years in the field.
Find Cyber Security Engineer Jobs Near You
Advancing from Here
The cyber security world is in a period of rapid expansion. New threats are emerging all the time and they don't show any signs of abating. Which means that this is an optimal field for a tech-savvy individual who has a desire to prevent, investigate, and fight the black-hat hackers who threaten our fundamental infrastructure systems because the field is sure to continue its growth for years to come. Even in the era of artificial intelligence and other seeming threats to human workers, firms will still need security experts to tweak the algorithms and to spot the errors when they arise. After all, a computer program is only as good as the human who wrote it.
Computer Career Paths