Cybersecurity is a broad term that describes the practice of securing and protecting all computer systems, devices, and programs in an IT environment from cyber attacks or cyber threats. However, within the field of cybersecurity, there are many different specializations that individuals can choose for their career paths. Cybersecurity touches nearly every aspect of society, from the healthcare industry to finance to governments, and it continues to be one of the fastest-growing career opportunities for professionals.
How Can I Get Into the Cybersecurity Field?
As one of the fastest-growing fields in the world today, cybersecurity jobs have one of the highest average salaries in both entry-level and experienced roles. Even with no technical background experience, it’s still possible to choose a cybersecurity career.
There are both technical and non-technical positions within the industry, and not all of them require a bachelor’s degree. If you’re interested in becoming a cybersecurity professional, it’s important to build up both soft and technical skills that are extremely important to succeed in the industry.
To get a security job, the most valued skills to have are:
- Critical thinking and problem-solving ability
- Strong desire and passion for learning new concepts and technologies
- Detail-oriented and task-focused mindset
- Adaptability to constantly changing environments
Of course, it’s also important to maintain a working knowledge of the cybersecurity landscape by keeping up to date with the latest news and reports. It’s highly recommended to stay up to date with the latest stories and join the cybersecurity community to become truly ingrained in the field.
What Are The Different Cybersecurity Fields?
Here are the main fields in cybersecurity that individuals can choose to branch out to:
Information technology (IT) security analysts and security engineers are common entry-level roles for those looking to get started in the cybersecurity world. Most information security specialists require a computer science or software engineering background, and it’s also highly recommended that they become certified (CompTIA Security+, GCIA, GCIH).
Their main responsibilities are:
- Network security/application security
- Investigating and documenting data breaches or data leaks
- Carrying out security plans and procedures
- Protecting systems from security risks and malware
- Configuring security protocols such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS), and intrusion prevention systems (IPS)
- Troubleshooting computer network and security infrastructure
Most cybersecurity analysts and engineers work within a larger team, led by an IT security manager, security administrator, or security architect. While analysts focus more on identifying and responding to cyber threats and executing security procedures, engineers are responsible for creating the individual security systems of a company. Cybersecurity engineers can become certified with Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP).
Security architects are one of the highest levels in information security as they are responsible for designing the entire security infrastructure of a company. As the main cybersecurity managers, they are generally less hands-on than engineers and require a broader knowledge of information security to make executive decisions. They typically report directly to the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) and often get promoted to the CISO position later in their careers.
IT Auditing & Consulting
An IT auditor performs audits on an organization’s security standards, compliance, and overall infrastructure to ensure that they can effectively secure their data. Two main cybersecurity certifications are necessary to become an IT auditor: CISA (Certified Information Systems Auditor) and CISM (Certified Information Security Manager).
Auditors must have a broad understanding of multiple fields, including:
- Network security infrastructure (firewalls, VPNs, web proxy, IDS/IPS)
- Information security and processing
- Computer systems and applications
- Data analysis tools
- Third-party risk management
- Security testing procedures
- Industry security standards
IT auditors are typically a mid-level role, requiring a few years of working in information security (CISA - 5 years, CISM - 3 years). They can perform standard audits or become security consultants at the highest level to help identify areas of security needs within an organization. Top auditors and consultants also have advanced knowledge of market standards and competitors that allow them to determine what the best security practices are.
Ethical Hacking/Penetration Testing
An ethical hacker is a unique job title that attempts to find all of the system vulnerabilities within an organization to expose flaws or exploits in each system. A CEH has a unique skill set because they must think like a potential threat actor and stay updated with the latest hacking techniques and tools in the entire threat landscape. Sometimes companies may put out “bug bounties” to invite ethical hackers to find vulnerabilities in their systems in exchange for a financial reward.
One important area of ethical hacking is penetration testing. A penetration tester conducts simulated tests on specific areas of a security system to find new vulnerabilities. This allows organizations to focus on higher risk areas rather than testing the entire system every time. Penetration testers may be given specific pieces of sensitive information and attempt to penetrate a system to test its security.
Aspiring ethical hackers can become certified by attaining the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN), or CompTIA PenTest+ certifications.
Threat intelligence analysts collect existing evidence and data on common attack behaviors, techniques, and indicators (IOCs and IOAs) and help develop new security plans to address them. Many organizations make important security decisions based on the threat intelligence data to not only respond to security incidents but also prevent them.
One particular role of threat intelligence is proactive cyber threat hunting, which aims to anticipate any potential threats before an actual attack. Their main goal is to review common attack behaviors and techniques, or TTP (tactics, techniques, and procedures), and apply them to current systems to protect their attack surface and improve security posture. Experienced threat hunters have a much higher understanding of the threat landscape than most other fields and require thinking from a threat actor’s perspective.
OSINT (open-source intelligence) analysts and investigators are also crucial in threat intelligence. OSINT investigators use specialized methods to gather sensitive information that may be publicly available online. By identifying which information has been leaked, companies can use that data to improve their security and prevent future breaches.
Software development is a product and client-focused field that helps integrate programs and applications into an organization’s security structure. Developers are fully involved in the design, testing, and implementation of systems to make sure they fully meet the needs of a company or individual. By identifying user pain points, they can use the data to create new features to protect against potential vulnerabilities.
Digital forensics is a critical function in cybersecurity that focuses on investigating cyberattacks and figuring out how hackers were able to penetrate a system. They must look for clues to determine which techniques were used by the cybercriminals to access the networks illegally. There are many branches of digital forensics, including computer forensics, network forensics, and database forensics.
The main responsibilities of digital forensics and incident response (DFIR) analysts or computer security and incident response teams (CSIRT) are to:
- Identify common attack behaviors
- Investigate suspicious network activity
- Collect and review digital evidence to create stronger security measures
- Create remediation and recovery procedures
- Assist law enforcement during a cybercrime investigation
Although digital forensics typically waits for an attack to occur before responding, recent advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have helped establish preventative measures. As such, the field of digital forensics is closely tied with cyber threat hunting. Working in digital forensics requires a strong understanding of the attack landscape to quickly respond to and eliminate threat actors.
Cryptographers have one main responsibility: to write encryption code strong enough to secure important or sensitive data. Cryptography engineers often come from computer programming, computer engineering, and mathematics backgrounds because they are expected to write and refine complex algorithms or ciphers that outside parties can’t break.
Most cryptographers have at least a master’s degree, if not a doctorate, in their field of study. The most common certification to obtain for cryptography is the EC-Council Certified Encryption Specialist (ECES).
Because the technology landscape is constantly evolving, cryptographers are expected to stay informed of the latest cryptology theories, security solutions, and infrastructure designs. Government agencies often hire the top cryptographers worldwide to protect their classified information, particularly if there is communication involved, to prevent potential hackers from decoding or intercepting encrypted information.