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The ultimate guide to landing a cyber security career

Six steps to landing a lucrative cyber security career

Abstract cyber security image of a man holding a symbol of a padlock inside a shield

Though it has a infamously bad reputation, hacking actually isn't all that bad -- so long as the intentions a good. These “white hat hackers” are cyber security specialists who search their organizations for cyber security gaps, perform tests on cyber defenses, and uncover vulnerabilities to boost data security. Basically, they pre-empt hackers by performing test hacks on their own systems. 

Their efforts aim to thwart “black hat hackers” by finding and fixing problems before the bad actors can expose them. 

The cyber security space has many interesting terms and naming conventions, but its keynote is consistent: fight cyber crime. If you're looking to launch a career in this exciting and ever-expanding field, here’s what to need to know to get going.

What a typical day looks like for a cyber security analyst

Typically, IT companies, governments and other organizations recruit cyber security specialists to perform security evaluations. Cyber security specialist can, however, work as consultants for security firms that develop firewalls and safety systems to thwart cyber criminals.

You'll also want to keep in mind that cyber crime is a 24/7 job, so a 9-to-5 shift may not always apply to an analyst. Owing to the intermittent, if not unpredictable, nature of online intrusions, cyber security teams work around the clock to identify weak spots. With this ongoing situational awareness of all systems across the organization, an analyst can provide actionable insights, leading to effective risk response decisions.

Common cyber security careers

Understanding various cyber security roles will help you make an informed choice as you move up the ladder. Here is a list of roles within the cyber security domain:

  • Security engineer: Creates automated systems for incident handling and implements new technologies to strengthen security.
  • Systems architect: Designs base architecture of an organization’s systems, ensuring its technical specifications are secure and foolproof.
  • Penetration tester: Probes an organization’s network for vulnerabilities through ethical hacking
  • Forensic analyst: Investigates digital evidence related to cyber crime to trace possible paths used to breach into a system.

How to get a job in cyber security

Now that you have a basic idea about the job, let’s get to the specifics: The qualifications you need and skills you must acquire to make it into the cyber security industry.

1. Get formally trained

The road to becoming a cyber security expert begins with earning a degree in computer science.  That said, it’s perfectly possible to enter cyber security without a formal education, as many cyber security experts have nontraditional career paths. 

In any case, a college degree will help ease your foray into the industry. Additionally, if you’re already in a different line of work, consider a postgraduate qualification in cyber security or a professional industry certification in a related field. Below are some notable degrees that can expand your cyber security career options:

  • Computer science or IT
  • Network engineering
  • Networks and security
  • Forensic computing

2. Learn the basics of programming

As you approach the core of cyber security, you’ll find that everything boils down to code. 

Having a baseline understanding of backend programming languages like C++, Java and Shell can help you audit system configuration, perform reverse engineering and more. 

3. Master general security skills 

Immediately after an attack, there’s a pressing need for an organization to spring back into action. Certain technical skills, such as network defense tactics, cryptography and access management, are crucial for incident handling and business continuity. More importantly, the security skills allow a trained eye to foresee attacks and contemplate ways to stop them from inflicting irreversible damage. 

4. Prepare for cyber security certifications 

The influx of newer, more malicious threats forces cyber security enthusiasts to think outside the box. 

Most cyber security certifications, including Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and Certified Encryption Specialist (ECES), make one think like a black hat hacker, and there’s a good reason for this. Anticipating a criminal’s next move is an organization’s best shot at avoiding infiltration. 

Here are some organizations that offer the most in-demand industry certifications in the cyber security space:

  • CompTIA
  • GIAC – Global Information Assurance Certification
  • (ISC)2 – The International Information System Security Certification Consortium
  • EC-Council

5. Indulge in hands-on training

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As with any other tech field, nothing beats hands-on training in cyber security, especially for novices. On this note, a bug bounty program is a great way to test your skills and knowledge. 

In bug bounty programs, app developers encourage users to find faults in their software. Upon submitting a bug, the developer rewards users based on the security flaw’s complexity and nature. In other words, you’re to hunt for Achilles heel in a real-world scenario as a part of your training. 

6. Stay on top of trends

Familiarizing yourself with the latest cyber security trends will go a long way in making you aware of the changing patterns in information security. Furthermore, exploring cyber security subdomains, particularly data science, malware analysis, security auditing and incident handling, can prove useful in helping you see the big picture. 

Get on the rising cyber security career path

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 31% increase in demand for information security analysts through 2029.  By 2021, Cyber security Ventures predicts 3.5 million unfilled cyber security jobs globally — up from 1 million positions in 2014. 

The adoption of cloud services by small and medium businesses has also mushroomed, meaning managed security services providers are likely to grow on a similar scale. All this shows that demand for cyber security professionals is on the rise, and now is a great time to kickstart your career in this field.

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