Most career paths have one or more specific jobs that serve as starting points for beginning employees.
In cybersecurity, that position is most often security administrator, sometimes also called systems security administrator, network systems administrator, or IT security administrator. The title and scope of the position will depend upon the size and nature of the organization, but this is where most cybersecurity professionals get their feet wet.
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And like many other careers, the backgrounds that professionals bring to this entry-level post vary greatly as well. Degrees in computer science or cybersecurity are usually preferred, as is experience in an information technology role.
Many people, though, enter the field with an unrelated educational background supplemented by transferable experience in technical disciplines. Any extra training and certifications in cybersecurity will give any candidate a leg up on these entry-level positions.
Still, there are those employers that will require more extensive experience in various IT disciplines. As with the job scopes, experience and skill requirements vary widely.
Five steps to becoming a security administrator
1. Education: While a bachelor-of-science degree is not always required to be a security administrator, it is usually preferred. As well, a degree in computer science or a related field is typically preferred, but by no means a necessity. Many cybersecurity professionals broke into the field with degrees in other STEM specialties, and even liberal arts majors, like psychology or fine arts.
2. Experience: Getting a foot in the door in any industry can often be just as dependent on practical experience as education. Lacking a computer science undergraduate degree can be more than offset by hands-on experience in information technology environments.
3. Show initiative: Whenever anyone is about to head down a new career path, taking advantage of every possible way to stand out from the pack is advisable. Displaying a passion for career specialty and the initiative to improve skills and knowledge without prompting will impress any potential employer. Attending conventions and symposiums, signing up for training courses, and even attaining professional certifications would all tell employers you have the drive and passion it takes to succeed. CompTIA A+ is a basic certification for IT operational and technical support skills that should be a good starting point.
4. Professional certifications: As most applicants for the roles of security administrators are relatively new to cybersecurity, professional certifications are not typically a requirement of getting job offers. Obviously, though, any certifications that a candidate can boast would be of great benefit. And once an infosec career is underway, obtaining as much industry training and acknowledgment as possible will only serve to hasten success. There are several organizations that offer valuable training and certification courses. Some of the more prominent among industry participants include: SANS Technology Institute, GIAC, Infosec Institute, and EC-Council. Don’t be afraid to begin branching out into other infosec specialties through training and certifications either.
5. Open-minded attitude: Entry-level is often a euphemism for catchall when it comes to job duties. The smaller the employer’s business, government agency or non-profit is, the more likely this nis to be. In large organizations, there is usually enough staffing that each employee can focus on just one or a few specialty tasks and responsibilities. Small organizations, though, must make do with fewer resources. This means each employee must be prepared to move from task to task with fluidity and without complaint. Be open to doing whatever the boss needs to have done. In the end, this open-mindedness will be rewarded with a career path fast-tracked to success.
What is a security administrator?
Whether the title is security administrator, systems security administrator, network systems administrator, or IT security administrator, the basic function of the position is to ensure the propriety and safety of any given organization’s digital information. The scope of the job will vary greatly with the size and nature of the organization.
Typically, security administrators work as a team to cover all the digital security needs of the employer. A team of security administrators will be tasked with performing everything needed to keep an organization’s desktop and mobile systems, networks, wifi applications, wearable devices, digital information, hardware and software safe from being compromised by external or internal actors with malicious intent.
Security administrator skills and experience
A bachelor’s degree in computer science, information security, or some element of STEM are usually ideal for entry into cybersecurity, but by no means necessary. Different employers have varied needs and divergent experiences regarding what makes the best infosec employees. Many are happy with associate degrees or non-technical undergraduate degrees. Others require IT technical degrees. Some employers require little direct experience while others expect candidates to have five years or more of IT and sometimes even infosec experience.
Real-world requirements are all over the lot, but some of the consistent skills and experiences most employers focus on are the following:
- Excellent written and oral communications skills
- Ability to multitask
- Continuous learner able to keep current with evolving technologies
- Strong analytical and problem-solving skills
- Experience in and knowledge of IT
What do security administrators do?
In a Fortune 500 corporation, a security administrator is likely to be one of many entry-level personnel forming a security administration team within the cybersecurity department. Accordingly, each administrator often has a specific function, like securing the company’s email server, reviewing network attacks as they happen, or updating security protocols as needed. In smaller organizations, these functions and more will often be performed by one junior security administrator. In total, security administrator teams are analogous to a local police department. Teams set protocols for a digital defense, design and implement defensive systems, enforce protocols, investigate breaches, and assist lawmakers in bringing attackers to justice.
Security administrator job description
As part of an organization’s cybersecurity team, security administrators are expected to keep information systems safe from attack. Typical responsibilities of security administrators as a group can include:
- Monitor systems, networks, wifi applications, or wearable devices
- Develop new security protocols
- Identify system or network vulnerabilities
- Repair and/or effect the closure of these vulnerabilities
- Monitor incoming cybersecurity traffic and threats in real-time
- Design, implement and maintain system firewalls and antivirus programs
- Create and enforce network and system authorization and usage protocols
- Design and prepare network and system recovery plans
Outlook for security administrators
InfoSec Institute estimates there is a worldwide staffing shortage of nearly three million in the ranks of cybersecurity professionals, half a million in North America alone. And the problem is expected to get worse as demand for infosec resources is expected to grow dramatically for the foreseeable future. Cybercrime Magazine predicts that cybercrime will have an economic cost of $6 trillion annually by 2021, up from $3 trillion in 2015, evidencing the urgency and speed at which the industry must expand. The shortfall in staffing, thus, is estimated to rise to 3.5 million people by 2021.
With this as a backdrop, it becomes obvious that the demand for entry-level employees in cybersecurity will be increasing dramatically for some time to come. The industry is in a position of need large enough that a lack of directly applicable background and education are not always going to be a deal-breaker. Demonstrated passion and desire for information security and digital sciences will often prove enough to convince an employer to open their doors to new cybersecurity professionals.
How much do security administrators make?
According to Payscale.com, security administrators are currently making from about $42,000 to about $95,000 per annum, with an average annual salary of $67,000. Bonuses, commissions and profit-sharing can add as much as $5,000 annually.
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