How to Get a Job in Cyber Security

With many sectors of the economy still reeling or recovering from the economic recession, there are a number of industries – especially those involving the so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines – that are performing incredibly well. One of those fields is cyber security, which is projected to grow by an absolutely staggering 37% over the next ten years, adding roughly 27,400 jobs to the workforce.

Skilled professionals that can ensure the security of information networks are in increasingly high demand, and those with the specialized skills necessary to contribute to the field are shockingly rare. While most STEM industries are having difficulty attracting college-age students to the field, cyber security has seen a particular lack of interest on the part of younger talent. According to a survey by the Raytheon Company, 82% of millenials (those currently between 18-26 years old) claim that no teacher or guidance counselor ever mentioned a career in cyber security, suggesting that their indifference may be the result of a lack of education on the topic.

Despite the many nuanced, skill-based tasks essential to the cyber security field – like ethical counter-hacking and other functions necessary to combatting cyber-terrorism – the industry continues to have difficulty finding qualified candidates to fill positions. This is especially perplexing given that the median cyber security job salary is $86,170/year. With no new talent coming up through the ranks, and threats to digital information persistently evolving, the nation’s current force of cyber security employees is in serious need of support from other talented professionals.

The need is ongoing in both the public and private sector, with some government agencies (like the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies) even being formed specifically to address the employment dearth and encourage this career path. The need is only growing stronger, and both major corporations and the federal government are beginning to realize that, if they’re going to keep up with hackers and others who jeopardize private information, they’re going to need more skilled employees to help.

As a result, the field is primed for anyone seeking a new career, or might be interested in expanding their current skills in IT and specializing in security. Here are the top 4 ways to get a job in cyber security and prepare yourself for the field.

Getting a Job in Cyber Security

1. Become a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

The International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC²), largely considered to be the foremost certifying body in the field of cyber security, offers dedicated professionals the chance to earn the coveted CISSP status. Consisting of required work experience and a comprehensive, rigorous examination, the process stands to recognize those with a firm commitment to the field and a strong base of expertise. Additionally, CISSP’s must maintain their certification through continuing education and uphold a persistent code of ethics. Candidates for cyber security jobs can gain a definite competitive advantage over other applicants by earning the certification, as employers often seek out those who’ve earned some kind of certification.

2. Consider employment with government agencies

As mentioned above, the federal government is one of the institutions most in need of educated cyber security professionals. The Pentagon, for example, is attempting to triple its cyber security staff by 2016. The Department of Defense isn’t the only one involved in the effort to recruit more talent in the fight against digital terrorism. The Department of Homeland Security, FBI, and NSA have also committed themselves to creating more positions to help defend the nation’s technical infrastructure from attacks. This presents an incredible opportunity for those with IT skills to evolve into a career path with massive growth potential while contributing to national defense.

3. Master data analysis

One of the major skill gaps cited by some current employers in the space is the inability to analyze data and track a security breach to its source. In general, the ability to employ detailed, exploratory techniques to understand and resolve an issue is paramount to success in the field. Students can develop data analysis skills through their professional experience in IT, or explore the possibilities of further education – especially with programs that offer specialty courses in cyber forensics or reverse software engineering.

4. Pursue further education

Whether you’re a seasoned IT professional seeking to pivot into this growing field or a recent graduate looking to develop specialized skills, earning a master’s degree in cyber security can help you serve one of the many fronts in the mounting digital war. An online master’s in cyber security program, like the one offered by Valparaiso University, might be the perfect fit for students looking to practice their hands-on skills while still enjoying the flexibility that online learning provides. The program is designed to specifically match the on-the-job skills required by government agencies and the foremost private security companies in the country. Completing a graduate course of study in cyber security can further distinguish you from the competition in searching for career prospects – not to mention facilitate the building of an incredibly practical, specialized skill-set.

While computing, programming, and administrative skills are useful in any cyber security job, the application of those skills can vary a great deal from position to position. These are some of the most prominent cyber security job titles currently available in the field, with a brief description of their typical accountabilities.

Cyber Security Job Titles

Network Security Engineer

Networks of computers or servers that share and store data are a frequent point of attack for hackers. Network security engineers work to ensure that information systems are as well-protected as possible, allowing users to access data simply without worrying about a breach. Their daily tasks are similar in many ways to other network architects and engineers, often being involved in the process of designing (and maintaining) a company or organization’s technical infrastructure. However, everything they do is done with security in mind, assessing and monitoring the needs of the organization they serve.

On an ongoing basis, network security engineers are tasked with staying abreast of rising threats to cyber security and the countermeasures required to address them, which often involves creating disaster recovery plans in the unfortunate case of a breach. The number of network security engineer job openings are expected to grow by 15% over the next decade, faster than the national average for all occupations.

Cyber Threat Intelligence Analyst

The global intelligence community is taking aggressive steps to encourage more individuals to pursue jobs in cyber security. Beyond that, as cyber terrorism is a growing concern, national law enforcement and defense agencies like the FBI and the Department of Defense are also seeking analysts to help identify, understand, and combat threats to the nation’s infrastructure.

The FBI offers opportunities in a diverse array of areas, locations, and specific accountabilities. Cyber intelligence analysts within the FBI work to investigate cyber-based attacks and crimes that involve technology. They act in direct contravention to any actions that threaten either U.S. National Security or established Intellectual Property to protect the nation’s network of information systems and the citizenry it serves. To do this, they analyze streams of information from national databases to build strong, fact-based reports and support the efforts of those in the field.

Information Security Analyst

With a projected growth rate of 37% over the next decade, more than 3 times the national average, the field of information security analysis is replete with opportunity for professionals who have the necessary computing skills.

Information security analysts act as a constant shield for a corporation or agency, monitoring networks for security violations on an ongoing basis. If a breach occurs, they’re responsible for investigating the attack, determining its cause, recovering quickly, and putting in immediate countermeasures to prevent further attacks. Their regular efforts may involve simulating attacks in a controlled environment to identify and repair vulnerabilities before they present an opportunity to hackers. This requires advanced programming expertise, up-to-date knowledge of new threats, and the ability to stay one step ahead of threats to information systems through ongoing, forward-thinking maintenance.

Security Software Developer

Security-focused software is often integral to ensuring the privacy of information stored on servers and computers. These programs, whether they’re encryption/decryption tools, firewalls, or even commercial anti-virus scanners, are all specifically developed to face the challenges of cyber security. This is the function of security software developers: building applications and solutions that remedy specific problems – whether for a larger organization or purchase and use by the public.

Software developers, depending on their level of knowledge, may work in tandem with a team of programmers to map out the specs and required functionality for a new product. If so, they then direct the creation of the new software based on the plan they’ve put in place. If they happen to be strong programmers as well, they might build the new application or tool directly.

New programs are often essential to combat hackers as their methods evolve, making this skill-set valuable to cyber security professionals. However, software development is a rapidly growing field as it applies to a wide variety of industries.

Information Systems Leadership

While many jobs in cyber security offer a number of opportunities to lead the way towards safer information, there are a number of broader, elevated leadership positions that can be better served by those with expertise in data protection. IT managers, IT directors, CIO’s – all those who oversee the IT strategy and policies for their organization – are expected to include security considerations when designing an overall approach to technological resources.

Should a cyber attack occur, leaders accountable for maintaining the security of a business, local, or even intelligence network secure will need to know how to quickly and effectively respond. Each moment that a breach remains open means another opportunity for hackers or cyber terrorists to intercept significant streams of private data. In this scenario, those who guide IT strategy can benefit greatly from a keen understanding of cyber security practices, directing their employees well to stem the tide of exposed information. Of course, with diligent focus and a well-practiced skill-set, leadership in cyber security can help develop a security plan that drastically reduces an organization’s vulnerabilities and effectively safeguards employee and customer data.

Cyber Security is Growing Fast, High-Paying

CNN Money has reported that job openings for Information Assurance Analysts and IT Security Consultants are expected to grow by 37% over the next 10 years. They’re also two of the nation’s highest earning career paths, with median salaries that approach six figures.

“This news has me very excited” says Ryan Freeman-Jones, one of the lead instructors of Valparaiso University’s growing Cyber Security program.

Valparaiso’s program stands poised to revolutionize the way in which students learn technical skills for the cyber security profession, using real-life scenarios in various industries to help students train. Students can graduate from the program ready to join the workforce and contribute to the field. Says Freeman-Jones, “It’s Valpo’s holistic approach to developing the individual not just as a very skilled worker, but as a business-aware citizen, that sets this degree program apart from the myriads of other programs out there.”

As information security continues to become a prominent issue with recent, high-profile cyberattacks, the program’s curriculum has never been more relevant. Sonja Streuber, also an instructor in the program, says, “The federal government has made cyber security a national priority. We’re very happy to have that kind of support and to offer training in such a critical field.”

The program is also offered in an online format, which makes the program accessible to students from anywhere in the country – and completely on their own schedule.

Says Streuber, “The online format makes it convenient and affordable for anyone looking to make the transition into this booming field.”

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