Cybersecurity is a broad industry with many opportunities and roles. One of them is cyber operations. Given how rampant and devastating cyber threats have become, this is an important career in information security. Here is a guide on cyber operations and how to become a cyber operations specialist.In this guide
- What is cyber operations?
- How to get into the field
- Military roles
- Cyber operations degree
- How to become
- Job descriptions
What Is cyber operations?
Cyber operations (CyOps) involve interdisciplinary skills that provide cyber intelligence and protect an organization’s sensitive information, databases, and technology against various digital threats. CyOps combines different domains covering the entire scope of cyberspace and other related technical and non-technical operations.
As a complementary discipline to cybersecurity, cyber operations usually form part of a larger cybersecurity team. It also involves exploiting dangerous target systems to breach their integrity, confidentiality, and accessibility. This is where it differs slightly from cybersecurity because, in most cases, it can be offensive, while cybersecurity is primarily defensive.
For many years, cyber operations has been a branch of the military. In the armed forces, the cyber operations unit involves securing military systems used for satellites, navigation, and aviation against domestic and foreign cyber threats that could damage military or civilian infrastructure.
Cyber operations is essential in gathering foreign intelligence or criminal evidence to mitigate potential or real-time threats, secure systems against terrorist activities, espionage, and support other cyber intelligence efforts. Lately, more private organizations are creating cyber operations departments to respond to growing threats.
How to get into the cyber operations field
Before entering the cyber operations field, there are important factors to consider. For private organizations, the qualifications will depend on the employer. However, you’ll be expected to have experience protecting complex information security infrastructure using modern technologies and techniques.
Some skills required to enter the cyber operations field in the private sector include:
- Reconnaissance skills like packet analysis, network traffic sniffing, forensics, network and system mapping, binary analysis, and reverse engineering.
- Offensive skills include network engineering, hacking (ethical or otherwise), penetration testing, and knowledge of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks and website defacements.
- Defensive skills include incident response, network system administration, cloud security, and network security control.
- Operating System Skills: Any company a cyber operations specialist works for uses an operating system to store data and sensitive digital assets. It’s essential to be skillful in navigating these operating systems.
- Critical Thinking Skills: Cyber Operations require you to analyze large and complex data sets to be proactive and reactive against threats. So, critical thinking is crucial for this career.
Other essential skills to enter the cyber operations space include communication, analysis, and coding.
If you want to work in the private sector, such as banking, energy and utilities, retail, software and telecommunications, you can attend CyOps bootcamps, training, and internships. You can also earn certificates. Here are some courses and certifications to kickstart your career:
- Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate Certificate: Preparation for the 200-201 CBROPS Exam.
- Inzpire Cyber Operations Training: Delivered by ex-military Cyber Operations Specialists.
- Socratic Arts Cyber Operations Training: Approved by the US Department of Defense.
Cyber operations specialist in the military
You’ll need the above skills and more to earn the military equivalent of this job – Cyber Operations Specialist (MOS 17C). For one, you’ll need to be physically fit because you must first enlist in the army before joining the cyber operations unit. Candidates must take the Armed Serviced Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), General Technical GT, with a 110 score and 112 in the Skilled Technical (ST).
Other requirements include the following:
- 10 Weeks of Basic Combat Training or boot camp.
- 25 Weeks of Advanced Individual Training (AIT), where you learn the duties of an Army Cyber Operations Specialist (MOS 17C).
- 20 Weeks of Training in Fort Gordon, Georgia.
- Demonstrate self-discipline, intelligence, and confidence.
- Ability to work under pressure, make quick decisions, multi-task, etc.
As a highly regulated military position, candidates are typically required to be US citizens. In addition, the military generally requires a high school diploma or a bachelor’s degree. This will be followed by military training and completing courses at a military tech school.
If you’re interested in military opportunities as a Cyber Operations Specialist (MOS 17C), here are some military tech schools with bootcamps, certifications, and career training/internship available:
- 17C Cyber Operations Specialist – GoArmy: Learn skills in Computer Systems & Networks, Cyber Intelligence & Surveillance, and Defensive & Offensive Operations.
- Cyber Operations Program – Air Force Institute of Technology: Get an in-depth and comprehensive understanding of cyber operations.
- Cyber Programs for the US Military – SANS Institute: Register for CyOps-related programs tailored to the Department of Defense’s guidelines.
Cyber operations degree options
Earning a cybersecurity degree is one of the fastest ways to enter the Cyber Operations field. Here are the Cyber Operations degree and other related university studies.
The University of North Georgia
Commonly called the Military College of Georgia, UNG has an Institute for Cyber Operations. UNG has several cyber operations and other related programs, such as
- Information Systems (B.B.A)
- Cybersecurity (B.S.)
- Computer Science (B.S)
- Criminal Justice (B.S) – With Forensics Concentration
- Information Assurance & Security
- Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate, etc.
Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT), Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio
AFIT runs the Graduate Cyber Operations (GCO) that leads to an MSc degree.
Bachelor’s degree in cyber operations
- Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia – Cyber Operations (BS)
- University of Central Missouri – Cyber Operations BS
- Dakota State University – Cyber Operations BS
Online cyber operations degrees
- The University of Arizona – Online Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Cyber Operations
- Boise State University, Idaho – Undergraduate Cyber Operations and Resilience
- University of Maryland Global Campus – Online Master’s Degree in Cyber Operations
Other cyber operations programs are
- Virginia Tech – Cyber Operations Mentorship Program in the Department of Defense Senior Military College Cyber Institute.
- The University of North Georgia: Cyber Leadership Program, UNG Cyber Hawks competition, and the UNG National Intelligence Summer Academy.
How to become a cyber operations specialist
To become a Cyber Operations Specialist, you must first have a high school diploma – whether you want to go through the private sector or the military.
If you choose the military, you must:
- Pass the ASVAB test as specified above and other required tests.
- Pass the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) medical exam.
- You must also be a US citizen or permanent resident between the ages of 17 and 39.
- You’ll also need to attend a military technical school before serving as a cyber systems operation specialist.
For the private sector, you can get a degree, attend cybersecurity bootcamps, take courses and training, and get a recognized certificate. The key components of a cyber operations degree program will depend on the type of degree you’ll earn upon completion. However, most programs will provide labs for hands-on learning to analyze real-life security threats.
State/Military institutions, such as the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, also provide cyber operations internship opportunities. It’s already a given that you’ll undergo physical, technical, and hands-on training during and after your cyber operations program in the armed forces.
Cyber operations program curriculum
Before you become a Cyber Operations Specialist, here is what a typical degree curriculum will look like:
- Introduction to Networks
- Introduction to Security Programming I & II
- Introduction to Security Scripting
- Introductory Methods to Network Analysis
- Cyber Law, Ethics & Policy
- Introduction to Industrial Control System (ICS) Security
- Signals Intelligence & Electronic Warfare (SIGINT)
- Principles of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT)
- Introduction to Cyber Operations
- Enterprise and File System Forensics (Linux)
- Cyber Investigations & Forensics
- Active Cyber Defense
- Cyber Threat Intelligence
- Counter Cyber Threat Intelligence
- Deception, Counter-deception & Counter-intelligence
- Digital Espionage
- Cyber war, terror, and crime
- Regulatory Limitations and Controls for Cyber Operations
- Legal and Privacy Constraints in Cyber Operations
- Information Warfare
- Malware Threats & Analysis
- Zero Trust Networking
- C Programming for Security Professionals
- Secure Software Development & Analysis
- Advanced Analytics for Security Operations
- Cyber Deception Detection
- Advanced Cyber Forensics
- Cyber Warfare
- Social Engineering Attacks
- Special Topics in Cyber Operations
- Cyber Operations Senior Capstone
- Computational Thinking & Doing
- Cloud Computing
- Some universities offer “Internships” as part of the program, but they could be electives
What does a cyber operations specialist do?
The responsibilities of a cyber operations specialist or a cyber systems operation specialist will vary depending on the organization. However, cyber operation specialists provide cyber intelligence and protection, monitor threats, secure digital networks, and implement the best security measures.
If you want to become a cyber operations specialist, prepare to spend most of your working hours in front of computers. Regardless of the organization, here are some day-to-day responsibilities of a cyber system operations specialist:
- Hosting servers and managing databases
- Ensuring that Defensive Cyber Operations (DCO) and Offensive Cyber Operations (OCO) mechanisms are in place.
- Installing and managing single servers or entire networks
- Responding to service disruptions, network operation failures, or breaches.
- Preparing and managing the budget for the Cyber Operations unit
- Using and preserving the integrity of server-based systems, applications, storage, messaging, and other software
In addition to the above, Cyber Operations Specialist in the military are tasked with:
- Protecting Army intelligence, information, and weapon systems.
- Securing information by safeguarding digital data
- Maintaining security measures such as firewalls.
- Supporting warfare operations and providing classified mission intelligence
- Introducing new cyber security measures
- Gathering foreign intelligence or criminal evidence to mitigate potential or real-time threats
- Safeguarding systems against international terrorist activities, espionage, and insider threats
- Supporting other cyber intelligence procedures in the overall cybersecurity unit
Cyber operations job description
Becoming a cyber operations specialist is an excellent career if you’re interested in protecting sensitive data and information. Cyber operations specialists are crucial in identifying threats, securing systems, and strengthening processes to safeguard sensitive data from cyberattacks and other digital vulnerabilities.
According to Analystics Insight, the demand for cyber operations specialists is expected to grow. Unfilled cybersecurity positions increased by 350%, from 1 million in 2013 to 3.5 million in 2021. As such, there is a high demand for cyber operations specialists.
In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts jobs in information security to grow at a 37% rate from 2021 to 2031. This is also a rewarding career with high-paying jobs. Your salary will depend on the organization, location, education, and experience. However, the average salary for a Cyber Operations Specialist is $63,821, according to Glassdoor (September 2022).
Earnings can reach $86,000 for just 0-1 year of experience and $131,000 or more for 15+ years of experience. As a certified cyber operations specialist, you can also work in the following roles:
- Cyber Incident Response Analyst
- Cyber Threat Analyst
- Chief Information Security Officer
- Network Security Analyst
- Cyber Security Analyst
- Security Engineer
- Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)
- Information Systems Manager
A career as a cyber operations specialist can be ideal for you if you want to go into a highly technical position and work in a field that is expected to experience rapid growth in the upcoming years.