How to Become a Cybersecurity Expert: Requirements & Qualifications

Oct 24, 2019

Cybersecurity experts are responsible for protecting the computer networks used by governments and corporations around the world from hackers and other types of infiltration. Find out how to become a security analyst, the education needed, cybersecurity job requirements, and an IT security specialist job description by reading below.

What Does a Cybersecurity Engineer Do?

Cybersecurity engineers, security analysts, and computer security specialists are information technology (IT) and computer systems professionals who are tasked with defending computer networks from attackers and keeping confidential material stored on those networks safe. They may test networks for common vulnerabilities and need to be constantly researching about exploits and keeping software up-to-date. Information security experts can:

  • Work for companies, governments, or other organizations monitoring their internal networks directly
  • Act as consultants who come in to perform regular security evaluations
  • Work for cybersecurity firms creating antiviruses, firewalls, and other kinds of software designed to prevent intrusions

What Degree is Needed for Cybersecurity?

To meet computer security specialist education requirements, a degree in computer science, information systems or information technology should be enough to get started. These degree subjects may have specializations in security available, but a specialization isn't always necessary. Dedicated cybersecurity degrees exist, as well, and may fall under the aforementioned departments at the university, or even be considered business degrees.

Degree programs in cybersecurity exist as associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees, each with different uses. Associate's degrees in cybersecurity often teach the basics, providing enough education to land an entry-level job. A bachelor's degree offers a more thorough understanding of cybersecurity principles and acts as the standard level of education most employers are looking for in IT security experts. Master's degrees offer education in more advanced subject areas and allow for specializations even within cybersecurity, such as technology or policy. Cybersecurity degrees are frequently available online at all degree levels and may have accelerated or part-time options.

Cybersecurity Qualifications

Because cybersecurity positions deal with protecting sensitive information, they may have slightly tighter requirements than other jobs. Individuals working in cybersecurity for government agencies, for example, may need to meet security clearance requirements, including being a US citizen and passing a background check and drug test. While the requirements for private companies will vary substantially, corporations working as government contractors might also have security clearance requirements. Companies may also look for previous experience in IT or related career fields, such as network administration, and may have preferences for certain degree levels or certifications.

How to Start a Career in Cybersecurity

If you're wondering how to become a cybersecurity specialist, the first step is to earn a degree in computer science or IT, as described previously. From there, you can either find jobs in the general field of IT, or try to get an entry-level cybersecurity job, usually under the supervision of a senior security specialist as part of a team. After 1-2 years of experience working in related areas of IT, you may be able to start applying for related cybersecurity jobs. For instance, previous work as a network technician would be beneficial when applying for network security jobs. Once you have successfully entered the field, it will be easier to find other positions to move up to with the experience you've accrued.

Cybersecurity Career Path

Cybersecurity is still an evolving field, so the path of progression isn't always as clear cut as it can be in other fields. Working for a company, a cybersecurity analyst might move up to being a senior analyst, and from there might become the head of the information security department, or perhaps even a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), which is a high-ranking position similar to a Chief Operations Officer (COO) or Chief Executive Officer (CEO) sometimes used in tech companies. Cybersecurity consultants can run their own security firms and are positions well suited to the entrepreneurial type.

Advancement in the field of cybersecurity can be helped along by obtaining various certifications, such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), offered by a company called (ISC)2. The CISSP is used extensively by the US Department of Defense and may be preferred by employers who often work closely with the government, as well. Other certifications may deal with specialty knowledge, such as a Healthcare Information Security and Privacy Practitioner (HCISPP) certification, which ensures that security procedures align with laws regard healthcare privacy such as HIPAA. Certifications such as the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) are designed to help internet security experts think about how hacks and intrusions happen from the mindset of the attacker, while ensuring that individuals providing this service are lawfully operating and registered.

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