An information security consultant is tasked with protecting their clients’ network and data from being breached. In the area of information security, often referred to as cybersecurity, there are many different roles. Some are general with a wide breadth of responsibilities. Others are highly specialized, focused on a specific area of cybersecurity. Cybersecurity consultants most often serve as generalists but may specialize in one or more areas.
There are many roles that a security consultant may specialize in, as the list below from George Washington University shows. Most security consultants will cycle through some of these roles throughout their careers. It is not unusual for a security consultant to fill a few roles simultaneously (including many of the roles listed on the career hub).
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Preparing for a career as a security consultant
- Learn networking basics – Security consultants protect data and devices on a network. You need a good understanding of networking to be effective in security.
- Learn cybersecurity basics – You may be excited about learning how networks are breached, but take the time to understand the basics. Check out TechRadar’s article on free online training in cybersecurity.
- Build a lab – Book knowledge alone is not going to give the skills you need. Hands-on experience is also really important. Some training should give interested people the knowledge needed to build a home lab. Don’t let the term “lab” scare you off. You can build a good lab with minimal resources at little expense. Get ideas at Infosec Reference.
- Get certified – This is a bit tricky. There are many cybersecurity certifications to choose from and you never know which a potential employer will value. There are free courses online for some certifications but the exams themselves are very expensive. Many companies will pay employees for additional training and certification. Being able to demonstrate cybersecurity knowledge and skills is much more important than getting a certification. Your skills will get the job, then pursue certification.
What is a security consultant?
A security consultant is an information security professional who is trained to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data and network devices. There are many ways to provide such protection. If Alice and Bob are cybersecurity consultants, Alice may be a security architect, designing security controls for many client companies, while Bob is a security administrator, configuring and maintaining security devices for his company.
Security consultants work as employees or as independent consultants. Entry-level consultants may start out configuring security devices. Those with years of experience in advanced roles may consult as a virtual chief information security officer (vCISO), helping organizations set and implement a security strategy.
Cybersecurity consultants are hackers — not malicious hackers, but hackers in the true sense of the word; people who are inquisitive and learn how to solve problems using technology. They are lifelong learners by nature, an essential trait for several reasons:
- The security landscape is constantly changing, as threats become more sophisticated. Attackers are constantly changing their methods.
- Technology changes at a rapid pace, so knowledge and defenses need to advance with it. One example is cloud computing, which requires a different approach to security than on-premise security.
- The increasing number of major breaches have organizations demanding more effective security solutions than ever before.
Security consultant skills and experience
A successful security consultant must have both technical skills and soft skills. It is tempting to focus on technical skills while underestimating the need for soft skills. Do not make that mistake!
- Technical Skills
- Adept at understanding the overall security/threat landscape and proposing solutions to mitigate risks from this environment
- Must have a good understanding of IT infrastructure architecture
- Security certifications such as CISA, CISM, CISSP, and CGEIT
- Experience advising customers on architectures meeting industry standards such as PCI DSS, ISO 27001, HIPAA, GDPR
- Experience working with firewalls, load balancers, proxies, VPNs, endpoint security tools AV, IPS, SSL inspection, SIEM or security monitoring platforms
- Strong knowledge of OSI Layer 7 Model, Network Architecture and Network Topology.
- Soft Skills
- Experience as a project lead, and the ability to drive to completion and maintain schedules.
- Excellent documentation and organization skills
- Excellent oral, written and presentation skills
- Must be an intelligent, articulate and persuasive individual who can serve as an effective advisor to the senior client security leadership
- Should be able to communicate security-related concepts to a broad range of technical and non-technical staff and drive security across multiple teams
- Ability to travel to customer sites as needed
- Demonstrated ability to think strategically about business, product, and technical challenges
What do security consultants do?
Cybersecurity consultants fight the never-ending battle for truth, justice and… Wait, that’s Superman. But hyperbole aside, security consultants do fight a never-ending battle against the bad guys — malicious hackers — in what is effectively an arms race.
At the most fundamental level, security consultants make the internet and corporate networks safer places. They plan, design, build, configure, code, run, maintain, and/or monitor security controls meant to protect data and networks from being breached. Yes, that’s a mouthful, but it easily could have been longer.
Security consultants take actions to make it difficult for anyone to gain unauthorized access to data or network devices and to do harm. There is almost no limit to the number of ways to do so. They fall into the general categories of prevention, detection, and response. Security consultants who handle prevention may plan, build, and configure security controls, while those who handle detection and response may code and monitor.
Remember Alice, the security architect? She handles prevention. Before she arrived, her company was the victim of a major data breach. The attacker accessed a system using an administrator account that used only a username and password that had been compromised. It became Alice’s responsibility to prevent that and other attacks in the future.
She assessed the existing security controls and designed a new set of controls she believed would be more effective. The first change she made was to require multifactor authentication for all administrator accounts. In other words, more than just a password was required to access those accounts. That will prevent an attack similar to the one they had experienced.
Bob, the security administrator, worked on detection. He set up security monitoring to detect suspicious attempts to access systems. He also helped with prevention by configuring stricter access rules on the firewall. So, there are many roles for security consultants and that one person can have several roles.
Security consultant job description
We have established that security consultant roles can vary from one particular job to another. So job descriptions will vary as well. Yet there are some elements that show up in many job descriptions. Let’s take a job description that was posted on Indeed by Amazon Web Services for a Senior Security Consultant and break it down.
- 3+ years of experience with compliance and security standards
Compliance and standards are a big part of security. Security controls typically have to meet standards like PCI DSS, ISO 27001, HIPAA, or GDPR. Security consultants are expected to be familiar with these and other standards.
- Technical degree or equivalent experience
The breakdown: Some jobs require a degree but others do not. Either way, applicants should be able to demonstrate the knowledge and skills gained through experience.
- This position is for a highly technical, subject matter expert that can dive deep and work with customers to address the security, risk, and compliance needs of their AWS migrations.
The breakdown: Subject matter expert implies that you have a great depth of knowledge in a specific area. However, you still need a breadth of knowledge across multiple security topics, as well as general networking knowledge.
- You will have a passion for educating, training, designing, and building cloud solutions for a diverse and challenging set of intelligence community customers. You will enjoy keeping your existing technical skills honed and developing new ones, so you can make strong contributions to deep architecture discussions.
The breakdown: Technical skills and knowledge are not enough. Being part of a security team is a collaborative effort. Sharing your knowledge and learning from others is the best way to succeed.
- Consultants may be required to travel to client locations to deliver professional services as needed (50 to 75%).
The breakdown: Most consultant jobs require some travel. Decide how much travel is acceptable and be sure you understand what the expectations are for any given job.
- Deep understanding of Cloud Computing technologies and migration challenges. Professional experience architecting/deploying/operating solutions built on AWS.
The breakdown: AWS is a cloud computing environment, so an understanding of this area is to be expected. But with the rate at which organizations are adopting cloud computing, some knowledge in this area is expected for most cybersecurity jobs.
- Experience in technology/software sales consulting or equivalent skills.
The breakdown: Some security consultants support sales of their company’s security products and services.
Looking for more information about careers in cybersecurity? LEARN MORE.