A security analyst is a pretty broad job description that refers to people responsible for monitoring computer infrastructure and information networks to ensure the are protected.
The job responsibilities for a security analyst can range from controlling file access and credentialing, to maintaining firewalls and network updates, to proactively trying to hack systems to look for vulnerabilities and weaknesses.
Like other job titles within the cybersecurity industry, a security analyst is best prepared by having a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, information security, or a related field. Job experience and internships, along with professional, industry-recognized certifications also help job candidates land cybersecurity analyst positions.
Four steps to becoming a security analyst
- Research: The good news is that the number of opportunities and new kinds of jobs that fall under the cybersecurity analyst position umbrella continues to evolve, which means plenty of career opportunities for cybersecurity professionals to position themselves correctly. So, the first step in launching down the path of a cybersecurity analyst path is to understand what kind of work you want to do and then map that to the kinds of education and certification you will need. Even entry-level security analyst positions might require specialized training, so it’s best to plan in advance.
- Education: According to the Burea of Labor Statistics (BLS) most cybersecurity analysts have a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity (or a closely related field such as mathematics, computer science, or engineering). However, in some instances, with the proper cybersecurity certifications (see the next point) security professionals with associate’s degrees and/or relevant training or background (like military service, for example) are able to obtain entry-level cybersecurity jobs in the private sector.
- Certification: One thing that separates cybersecurity from other professions is many jobs — both entry-level and mid-career — require some level of certification that shows proficiency in some kind of specific skill. When planning for a career in cybersecurity, it is best practice to pay attention to what kinds of certifications are required for various jobs within the field.
- Network: An important part of becoming a security analyst is developing a professional network. A network that is aligned with a specific career track will help stay informed about the latest trends and opportunities within the space.
What is a security analyst?
Security analysts can work across the spectrum of computer and information networks. From corporate databases to banking networks and from office networks to military intelligence, security analysts can be found anywhere that large amounts of information are being stored, shared, or used by a computer.
A well-trained security analyst will probably have an advanced understanding of both hardware and software, and how data is stored and managed.
The top three cybersecurity threats facing information technology networks of all scales are ransomware attacks, social engineering attacks, and the theft or compromise of sensitive information from inside an organization or company. This means that cybersecurity analysts need to be prepared to deal with a wide variety of threats and look for security issues both internally and externally.
Security analyst skills and experience
The cybersecurity skills and expertise required will vary widely from job to job. Some security analyst job openings are looking for people with specific skills, like managing a proprietary network, or training other employees, or conducting penetration testing on the organization’s digital properties.
For students and early career professionals, one key tactic to understand what the most valuable and marketable job skills is to study a number of different job descriptions at various kinds of employers. That research should start to show trends and reveal how current skills and experience map to opportunities. Understanding the current job market will also help make decisions about what kinds of security certifications and degrees to pursue.
Despite the wide variability of cybersecurity analyst jobs, there are a number of characteristics or skills that are common to the profession:
- Programming experience. Since cybersecurity analysts are charged with defending digital infrastructure, it makes sense that cybersecurity professionals are expected to have some base level of programming experience and familiarity with foundational programming languages such as C, C++, PHP, Perl, and Java.
- Analytical. Security analysts work with data from a variety of sources and so they need to be able to take information from many inputs to make decisions.
- Detail-oriented. Much of the work of cybersecurity analysts comes down to examining small details — like lines of computer code or network commands — that could have major impacts.
- Forward-thinking. Security analysts need to anticipate the future based on current data and trends and then make security recommendations accordingly.
What do security analysts do?
A security analyst often wears a lot of hats in an organization or company. They might be part police officer, part systems designer, part policymaker, and part trainer or teacher.
While security analysts could be thought of as the first responders of the digital world, as they are often called on to triage security incidents the reality is that most cybersecurity analysts spend their time developing policies and procedures and reviewing best practices and providing training for company or organization employees.
In an optimal world, a security analyst is taking proactive steps to prevent security breaches in the first place. That could mean constantly updating systems and software, or it could mean actively looking for ways to knock down firewalls or find loopholes in computer code or operating systems.
Security analyst job description
A quick search of some of the thousands of security analyst job descriptions reveals that the available positions range from entry-level kinds of jobs to more advanced security and threat mitigation professionals.
While there is a wide variety in terms of the specific skills and certifications required for particular jobs, the California Employment Development Department has published some basic information about what some of the standard job requirements are for cybersecurity analyst jobs.
- Encrypt data transmissions and build and maintain firewalls to protect confidential information.
- Develop plans and technologies to protect computer data and files against unintended destruction or modification through malware or other attack vectors.
- Develop plans and procedures for dealing with data breaches and attacks.
- Stay current on the latest attack vectors and develop solutions to protect against them.
- Monitor computer software and current user status to protect networks and organizational information.
- Develop and carry out regular risk assessments to ensure that security best practices are being met.
- Meet with staff and train other users about security threats and how network and data users can improve individual and team information security.
Outlook for security analysts
As the digital transformation across industries and sectors grows, security analysts will continue to be in high demand. Traditional cybersecurity analysts worked in niche industries related to vulnerable sectors of the economy such as military, finance and banking, and the oil and gas companies.
But now, consumer companies and everyday brands are hiring cybersecurity analysts to help protect their companies and operations. The need for well-trained cybersecurity analysts is so pronounced that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that employment opportunities for cybersecurity professionals will grow by 36% through 2024.
The projected rate of job growth is much faster than other sectors of the economy and is projected to continue to grow into the next several years as more companies and organizations begin investing in cybersecurity positions.
How much do security analysts make?
Besides the attraction of the interesting work, the growing number of career opportunities, and the wide variety of ways to prepare for these jobs, becoming a security analyst will also lead to high earning potential.
The median reported salary for a security analyst is $93,250. Professionals with more training, experience, and educational background will earn more over the course of their careers.
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