Become a Cyber Security Specialist – Careers & Outlook

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You may enjoy computers and learning how they work. If you’re considering becoming a cyber security specialist, this may extend to wanting to learn how to protect computers and computer networks. This branch of information technology (IT) is called cyber security.

In this field, you’ll be able to learn about and train for a number of specialized roles; these include security consultant, security architect, security engineer, security expert, ethical hacker, or security analyst. Each of these roles is driven by one thing: to set up strong network security for your company or your company’s clients. These roles require learning challenging processes and a great deal of information. You may even need to learn several computer languages at the beginning.

What is a Cyber Security Specialist?


A cyber security specialist is often also known as an information technology or IT security specialist. Once you graduate with your degree, you may also be referred to as a network security specialist. No matter the name, you are a security professional dealing with computer networks, the cloud, and new technology as it arrives on the virtual scene. Your training will focus on teaching you everything you need to know.

Steps to Become a Cyber Specialist:


  • Step 1: Find and Enroll into an IT or Network Security Degree Program

  • Step 2: Take Part in a Cyber Security Internship

  • Step 3: Before Graduation, Apply for Positions You Want

  • Step 4: Study for Needed Certifications

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Step 1: Find and Enroll into an IT or Network Security Degree Program

You can begin by exploring different cyber security or IT degree programs at the bachelor’s level. You may need to visit the websites of several universities to find a degree that checks off all the boxes you want.

Make sure to opt for a degree program for a security specialist which offers access to several certifications, such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). By doing so, you’ll also be learning the material that each certification requires, putting you ahead as you get ready to graduate and land your first job in this exciting field.

If you decide to return to school for a master’s degree in cyber security or information assurance, you’ll be ready to walk straight into a leadership role and, several years down the road, you may be ready to begin working in a higher leadership position, such as a chief security officer (CSO) or a chief information security officer (CISO). Your education and experience will help to prepare you for this role.

Step 2: Take Part in a Cyber Security Internship

During a cyber security internship, you won’t just be filing paperwork or answering phones; you will actually be training in the roles which you’ve been learning so much about in your classes. This, along with any part-time jobs in IT or systems security, will give you the experience you need for your first cyber security position once you graduate from school.

Internships are something to actively work toward; you gain real-world experience that helps you to apply what you’re doing to what you have been studying in your books and classes. This way, when you’re back in the classroom, it will be easier for you to envision how a process may look in a work setting.

Step 3: Before Graduation, Apply for Positions You Want

Sometime during your final semester in school, you’ll want to start scanning job ads. You should choose which area of this field you want to focus on the most as you are choosing which positions you want to apply for.

This is a broad field, with thousands of opportunities in each specialty. You may decide to choose a more generalized set of available positions, because this will allow you to get more experience for any position for which you receive a job offer.

And, as you look for a position, keep studying and maintain your high grades—your future career relies heavily on this. You may start searching for certifications that apply to the field or fields you may be interested in at this point. The ones that require you to complete a degree to take the certification exam may allow you to sign up if you will be finished with your degree when the exam in offered. Go through the job ads and make note of the required certifications; use your class studies to begin getting those skills you need. And, as you begin to write cover letters and complete your resume, have a solid plan on advancing your education.

Step 4: Study for Needed Certifications

Once you’re a college graduate and working in your chosen field, you’ll be more than ready to earn certifications if you haven’t done so already.

There are many certifications available, which include:

  • Network+:
    This is all about networks and infrastructure. This is probably the first certification you should earn—you’ll get the study materials and take the exam via CompTIA.
  • Security+:
    This is another CompTIA certification and may be one of the most valuable you can earn. You’ll cover cryptography, network architecture/design, threats, attacks, vulnerabilities, risk management and identity, and access management.
  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH):
    This is more for government employees and is offered by the EC-Council; you should have two years of experience in information technology to earn this certificate.
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP):
    You should earn this one after working in cyber security for at least five years.
  • Licensed Penetration Tester (LPT):
    This certification is for cyber security professionals who have attained an expert level designation.

What Does a Cyber Security Specialist Do?


You can expect to work as one member of a security team focused on making information systems secure from hackers and other bad actors. Your career path may take you from programming and intrusion detection to malware analysis/mitigation. You’ll need to learn to think as a hacker thinks—what would they do to break into a network system? Would they use sophisticated methods to break in or just try hundreds of different passwords? Are there vulnerabilities among the other staff in the company that they could utilize?

When you find a weakness in a company’s computer systems, you need to communicate that clearly and easily to your team members and the team lead. Your responsibility will require you to have a variety of skills, such as vulnerability assessments and excellent communication.

You may have heard so many times that the career you are entering is in extreme demand—the unfilled job openings number not in the thousands, but in the millions. There was a suggestion in 2020 that, by the end of 2021, there would be 3.5 million cyber security openings unfilled worldwide. As more and more companies realize the risk their network systems are experience every day, they begin looking for people like you to help them tighten their defenses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a job growth rate of 32% between 2018 and 2028. This growth rate is much, much higher than for other occupations.

Cyber Security Specialist Skills to Acquire


In such a specialized, technical field, you must have skills that will allow you to carry out your assignments more easily. You may be protecting computer networks of retail chains, government agencies such as the Social Security Administration, and private companies such as Equifax, which was hacked in 2019.

  • Risk assessment, which lets you identify and assign priorities to every vulnerability in a company’s computer systems and their defenses.
  • Linux Server Administration, which lets you scan networks large and small and make use of the system services.
  • Splunk puts together security information and allows you to respond to cyber security threats you detect.
  • Kerberos allows you to get into a secure server and move bits of data around (cryptography).
  • Penetration testing is ethical hacking. You’ll use this skill to try and break into a client’s computer systems and take information (the company is aware of this), looking for ways to harden the company’s network defenses.
  • Communication allows you to communicate with clients and your team members.
  • Problem solving enables you to figure out how to correct a situation.

Alternative Paths


Because you want a security career, you will have to learn how to perform certain actions and you’ll have to gain certain skills. But this doesn’t necessarily mean earning a specific degree. To become an entry-level cyber security specialist, you may be able to earn early certification and gain some skills through a bootcamp in cyber security or even through online learning programs that are made to be easily accessible. Remember, governments and agencies are looking to make it easy to get into cyber security because they are desperate to find employees with the skills they need to protect their infrastructure. However, it can still cost significant funds and require you to spend months in learning seminars to gain these all-important skills.

Using the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), you may be able to narrow down the field where you want to work. However, this also shows you that this field doesn’t consist of jobs which have a specified list of responsibilities. Even earning an industry certification requires that you possess a specific skill set. The NICE framework explains how you can enter this field. Selecting specific titles gives you information about that role, as well as the framework categories.

Becoming an entry-level employee is the most realistic way you can get into this field. Because there are too few cyber security specialists employed in this field, the market favors you. Employers may want people with degrees, but they may not be able to find them. The security field is so new that a degree hasn’t yet become a regulated requirement, so you’re unlikely to need a master’s degree and should be able to get into the field without a bachelor’s degree. However, the lower your degree level when you enter the field, the longer it will take you to move up to a supervisory or higher position, unless you are willing to earn a degree while you work.

Cyber Security Specialist Career & Salary


Where Might You Work?


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Many cyber security experts work for tech companies, such as Cisco Systems. It develops and manufactures computer hardware and software, so you’ll be right in the center of a risk management position, ensuring that the company’s systems are protected and safe. The following companies are or were vulnerable until they took action:

The military, particularly the U.S. Air Force, is particularly vulnerable to malicious attacks. The Air Force works in cyberspace, in the air, and in space (though satellites and some future projects will be under the control of the Space Force).

The Dow Chemical Company works with chemistry, creating new solutions to solve challenges. A cyber-attack could be disastrous for this organization,

Entire movies have been made about cyber-attacks targeting agencies that work with nuclear materials—imagine the disaster that could ensue if a cyber-attacker successfully got into the computer networks of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. We don’t have to imagine that a hack in this or similar facilities is possible. After all, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission was hacked three times in three years in the early 2000’s, and the National Nuclear Security Administration was just one of a dozen or more government agencies involved in the Solar Winds hack at the end of 2020.

Apple has fought with the New York District Attorney’s office, trying to protect customers’ private information. It has hired additional cyber security professionals to protect itself and its users’ data.

Patient First owns medical centers all over the U.S. Healthcare organizations and the private medical information of patients is particularly attractive.

Lockheed Martin works with aerospace and global security. Its involvement in such advanced technology makes it an attractive target.

Any of these business or government agencies may require more cyber security and more professionals in the field moving forward. Hackers aren’t going to stop trying to steal our data or break into our sensitive facilities any time soon.

Career Outlook


As a new cyber security graduate and employee, you probably already know that your knowledge and skills are in extremely high demand. The career outlook for people in your profession is predicted to grow 31% between 2019 and 2029; this is much higher than the growth rates for all other occupations. The actual employment of information security professionals is expected to grow by 56% during the same time period. With more and more companies turning to the cloud to store data, cyber thieves will try to attack these accounts.

As you look at maps of the U.S., you see that the employment, location and annual mean wages of information security analysts, which includes cyber security specialists, is consistently highest in the same states.

A good example of the need for cyber security experts is one particular massive cyber-attack on the U.S.’ government agencies. As of early 2021, one of these attacks was still being investigated for its breadth and severity. Even worse, the targeted government agencies and intelligence communities believe that Russian hackers carried out the attack.

Financial institutions have been targeted, as have retail companies, healthcare practices and electronic health records. For the latter target, hackers are after the personal information of patients.

Jobs


As a cyber security specialist, you will help to increase and provide security for networks, software systems, and data centers. This is a challenging field and you’ll need to search for risks and vulnerabilities in a company’s software and hardware.

You’ll also manage any cyber-attacks and monitor their effects on the company. All along, you’ll be securing and closing off any vulnerable areas before any attack takes place. In addition, you’ll create firewalls, making it more difficult for attackers to breach the network infrastructures. It will also be your responsibility to make suggestions to increase or harden security for any data or information.

Here are just some of the positions you might work in if you decide to specialize in cyber security:

  • Computer Network Architects:
    For this position, you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree. In your daily tasks, you’ll help to design and build data communications networks. These include local area networks or LANS, wide area networks or WANS, and intranet systems. Your median annual salary will be around $113,000.
  • Database Administrators:
    A bachelor’s is required for this position. You’ll go through and study a company’s computer systems (current) so you can find solutions that will help to make the system or network more effective. Your median annual salary will be around $91,000.
  • Web Developers:
    For this position, you should earn at least an associate degree. You’ll help to design and create websites for your company or for clients. Your median annual salary will be around $74,000.
  • Information Security Analyst (Cyber Security Specialist):
    At a minimum, you should hold a bachelor’s degree to enter this position, though you will need more education or a lot of experience to move into a management position. Your work time will be occupied with finding system vulnerabilities and increasing their protection. In the event of a cyber-attack, you’ll investigate and determine what happened. You may work outside your normal business hours. The median annual salary for this position is $100,000.
  • Computer and Information Research Scientists:
    This role requires that you hold a master’s degree. In this position, you’ll invent and create new approaches in computing technology. In addition, you find new uses for already existing technology. Your median annual salary will be around $123,000.
  • Computer and Information Systems Managers:
    You should have a bachelor’s degree for this position and you will plan and coordinate most computer-related activities within a company. Your median annual salary will be around $147,000.
  • Computer Programmers:
    You’ll likely need to hold a bachelor’s degree for this position. You’ll write and test computer code that helps computer applications and software to run correctly. Your median annual salary will be around $87,000.

Find Cyber Security Specialist Jobs Near You


Advancing from Here


One way to advance is to earn certifications. These tell employers (current and future) that you are serious about learning more in your field. No matter what your job role is today, you need to be looking toward the future—choose certifications that will benefit you if you want to become a penetration tester (Certified Ethical Hacker or CEH) or if you know of another specific position you would like to hold.

If you know a security consultant position will be opening up, you should already have your bachelor’s degree. Depending on your level of expertise, you can earn certifications such as the cybersecurity analyst (CySA+).

Another way to advance is to earn your master’s in cyber security or a closely related field. If you plan to move into the C-suites, you need to have the skills and knowledge to work as a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO).

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