Cybersecurity is one of the fastest-growing and most in-demand fields in the tech world, but is cybersecurity hard to learn?. As technology continues to evolve, the demands of cybersecurity (and job opportunities) also grow along with it. Choosing a cybersecurity career can be difficult and challenging, but there are many different career paths to choose from that can make your experience rewarding and well worth the investment.
Like with any career, it’s important to put in the time and effort to grow your skills and knowledge base. However, if you enjoy problem-solving, learning new concepts, or working in a rapid-paced environment, you may want to consider working as a cybersecurity professional.
If you’re still interested, keep reading for a basic summary of cybersecurity and what careers you can explore.
What is Cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting critical systems (networks, devices, programs) and sensitive data from inevitable cyber threats. Without cybersecurity, individuals, businesses, and even the government are at risk of losing important information that includes, but is not limited to:
- Names, addresses, phone numbers
- Social security numbers
- Credit card information
- Bank account information
- Proprietary data
Hackers and scammers can ruin lives with identity theft, and large corporations could lose millions of dollars with just a single system vulnerability. Once the data has been breached, the damage could be irreversible. Modern-day information technology (IT) security practices are designed to combat cybercriminals and all cyberattacks, both internal and external.
It’s not enough these days to just install an antivirus program or a firewall. Security practices and disciplines must adapt to changing environments to secure networks and protect sensitive information.
Why is Cybersecurity Important?
Over the last thirty years, there has been tremendous growth in how individuals and businesses utilize the internet. However, this also means cybercriminals are coming up with new technologies and strategies every day to exploit poorly protected parties. In 2021, the number of cyberattacks around the world reached a record high.
We live in a digital world dominated by the internet, which means there’s a cybercrime risk around every corner. Whether you’re surfing the web on your smartphone, paying your bills online, or running your own business, cybersecurity touches almost every aspect of your everyday life. Nearly 5 billion people worldwide are connected to the internet, which means it’s essential to create strong network security to protect sensitive data.
Is Cybersecurity Hard?
No, cybersecurity isn't hard. Although there may be difficult concepts, like cryptography or areas that require more technical knowledge, cybersecurity is one of the few fields in the tech world that doesn’t require a strong technical background. Instead, what the industry values more highly are the following skills:
- The ability to think critically to solve problems
- Have a strong desire and passion for learning
- Pay close attention to details
In cybersecurity, soft skills are just as important as technical skills, and you’ll need both to succeed. Like with any career, it will require just as much time, dedication, and experience to be successful in the respective field.
How to Become a Cybersecurity Expert
Fortunately, even if you’re a beginner in the field of cybersecurity, there are many options for you to grow and build a foundation in the industry. Although most companies do require a cybersecurity degree, there are some certifications that you can obtain without needing a degree. In fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics found that almost 32% of cybersecurity professionals don’t have a Bachelor’s Degree or higher.
Here are some tips to help you build the skills you’ll need to succeed in the cybersecurity industry.
1. Get a Cybersecurity Degree
Taking courses in college is a great way to start learning cybersecurity and all the nuances of the field. Degree programs like computer engineering, information technology, or computer science all offer great introductory cybersecurity courses to get you familiar with many of the basic concepts. You’ll be put in an environment that will allow you to explore whether or not cybersecurity is a good fit for your career interests and goals.
More and more colleges are offering cybersecurity or information security degrees due to the rapidly growing need for the skillset. Once you narrow down your interests and skills, you’ll have a better idea of the specific cybersecurity specialization or expertise you want to work in.
2. Become Certified
With or without a degree, cybersecurity certifications will help you look more qualified to prospective employers. You can take online courses or sign up for coding bootcamps that can help further your cybersecurity career.
Many people prefer going the technical route because it allows them to be immersed in training centered around marketable job skills. It allows newcomers to pick up important soft and technical skills that directly translate to an immediate job opportunity. In most cases, the technical route is much faster than getting a college degree.
Some of the top certifications that employers look for are:
- No experience needed (encouraged to get Network+ certification first with two years of IT experience)
GIAC Information Security Fundamentals (GISF)/GIAC Security Essentials Certification (GSEC)
- No experience needed (recommended to gain IS or computer networking experience first)
GIAC Certified Incident Handler (GCIH)
- No experience needed (recommended to gain security and networking experience first)
Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP)
- 1+ year of work experience
- Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in a cybersecurity-related field can substitute for work experience
Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- 2+ years of experience in IS needed
Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- 5+ years of work experience in multiple cybersecurity domains
- 4-year degree in computer science can substitute for one year of experience
- Also includes part-time work and paid internships
Certified Informations Systems Auditor (CISA)
- 5+ years of work experience in IT/IS auditing, control, security, or assurance
- 4-year degree can substitute for two years of experience
Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
- 5+ years of work experience in IS management
- Waive two years with another certification or graduate study in an IS-related field
3. Stay Up To Date With New Technology
Learning cybersecurity doesn’t end once you get your degree or certification. With cybersecurity tools being developed every day and new types of malware circling the internet, it’s important to stay informed, so you don’t fall behind.
Some of the current most important technologies and concepts you may need to know how they work are:
- Internet of Things (IoT)
- Cloud-based systems
- Encryption technology
- Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning
- Computer programming and coding
Whether this requires attending training seminars, keeping with top professionals, or doing your own research, the ones who stay on top of the newest technology stay ahead of the game. Here are a few things you can do to keep up:
- Attend in-person live events
- Follow cybersecurity professionals on social media
- Set up cybersecurity news alerts and subscribe to cybersecurity newsletters
- Regularly check vulnerability feed websites
- Work for companies that invest in ongoing training
4. Join The Cybersecurity Community
The cybersecurity community can be a great place to begin your journey or connect with other people working in the industry already. You can network with current professionals and learn new skills, find job opportunities, or even pick up a mentor.
Places like Reddit or LinkedIn have large online communities that can also serve as a resource for you to stay current with cybersecurity news and engage in discussions with other individuals. Everyone from newly interested students to Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) frequent these online forums or even manage their own cybersecurity blog.
Top Cybersecurity Jobs
There are many different types of cybersecurity jobs, some of which require a more specific set of skills or background experience than others. Here are some of the highest in-demand cybersecurity positions:
- Information Security Analyst ($60-170k) - Security analysts often work at the ground level in an entry-level cybersecurity role. They work directly to examine data, spot suspicious activity, and fix flaws in the system. Most analyst jobs require a bachelor’s degree in computer science or other related fields.
- Security Engineer ($80-150k) - Security engineers require slightly more technical experience (computer science, software engineering) because they are responsible for creating and designing security systems. They work closely with analysts who identify potential problems for the engineers to solve. Cybersecurity engineers are one of the most sought-after positions today. Experienced security engineers may eventually move on to become Network Security Engineers or Application Security Engineers.
- Security Architect/Designer ($120-160k) - Architects are vital to any organization because they are in charge of designing, testing, and implementing security protocols. They assess the networks and systems to ensure the security infrastructure is infallible and continue updating accordingly to new technologies.
- Cybersecurity Consultant ($100-140k) - Cybersecurity consultants are in charge of devising the security strategy and improving the infrastructure. It’s up to the consultant to provide proper training on security practices to the staff while maintaining a deeper understanding of cybercrime. In many cases, consultants are hired externally by companies and usually require a CISSP or CISM.
- Ethical Hacker ($80-120k) - Ethical hacking jobs require a unique understanding of system and network vulnerabilities. They’re hired to identify weaknesses by executing an authorized attack or penetration testing and reporting back where systems can be improved or where flaws need to be patched.
- Software Developer ($80-200k) - Depending on what industry you work in, software developers are the most flexible and fastest-growing positions in the tech world. Recently, there has been a large increase in software developers working in the cybersecurity industry. Many specialize in cloud-based systems, while others are researching AI software.
- Forensics Data Analyst ($80-110k) - With cyberattacks reaching record highs in recent years, forensic analysts are in high demand to help detect, investigate, and provide an incident response for any security or data breaches. Not only is this work necessary to identify the source of the attack, but also documents data to be used in investigations. Forensic analysts may work closely with IT specialists to create security procedures.
- Cloud Security Specialist ($90-120k) - As more companies transition to cloud-based technology and services, Cloud Security Specialists are needed to help secure data. Cloud computing is distinctly different from traditional IT knowledge and requires additional training. Cloud engineers and software developers are constantly in high demand because of how future-proof their skillset is.
- Open-Source Intelligence Analyst ($70-150k) - Open-source intelligence (OSINT) analysts have a unique role that focuses on collecting and analyzing public data to make informed threat intelligence decisions. OSINT analysts monitor a large variety of data to assess any potential attack vectors or vulnerabilities accurately.