Security engineers, or information security engineers, occupy a technical role inside a company or organization. It is their primary job to implement and monitor computer and network security protocols to protect sensitive information from hacks or theft.
Like other cybersecurity professions, cybersecurity engineers often perform various job duties depending on the size of the company or organization, the profession or industry of the company or organization, and the size of the IT or security team.
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Four steps to becoming a security engineer
- Research: The first step in becoming a security engineer is doing some research to figure out what kinds of career opportunities exist and the kinds of training, education, certifications that might be required to obtain those kinds of positions.
- Education: The next step is aligning an educational roadmap to career interests and ambitions. Often highly technical occupations such as engineering require at least a bachelor’s degree either in cybersecurity or a closely related field such as mathematics, computer science with a cybersecurity emphasis, or information management. Career tracks that are more senior or management-oriented might require a master’s or PhD in security engineering or extensive work experience.
- Certification: The cybersecurity field often requires applicants and employees to complete a professional certification in specialized fields within the broader industry.
- Network: Developing and maintaining a professional network over the course of a career will help with the discovery of entry-level jobs and help surface and track additional professional opportunities over time.
What is a security engineer?
Like other kinds of engineers, cybersecurity engineers build technologies that help keep computer architecture safe.
The main function of a security engineer within a company or organization is to develop and enforce security plans and standards. Most of the work is proactive, meaning a cybersecurity engineer spends his or her time anticipating network or computer vulnerabilities and figuring out how to deal with them.
Often proactive security engineering can take the form of finding and updating software, creating firewalls, and running encryption programs.
Another way of finding security holes or weaknesses is by actively testing for weaknesses by using penetration testing methods, or trying to attack a system the same way a hacker would.
Sometimes a security engineer’s job can be more reactive, like when they detect a security issue they might have to figure out the best way to handle the situation, either by moving data or information, developing new tools and strategies, or working with management or outside teams to help the company or organization recover from a data breach.
Security engineer skills and experience
Before entering the workforce, cybersecurity engineers usually have a bachelor’s degree or higher in computer engineering, cybersecurity, information security, or a related field.
A key component during a cybersecurity engineering education is risk assessment tools and methods. A cybersecurity engineer is also trained and forensics and network design and architecture.
Since they are constantly working with the latest computer and mobile technology, security engineers need to be familiar with the latest advances in virus software and virus detection, firewall architecture, and content filtering.
Cybersecurity engineers need to be comfortable reading computer code and looking for anomalies or malicious lines that might create security vulnerabilities (check out the code like a hacker guide for more info).
In addition to a high level of security-related technical details, cybersecurity engineers are responsible for communicating with co-workers and colleagues as well as explaining complex computer and data issues to high-level management and decision-makers.
Cybersecurity engineers may also work in environments that require additional industry certifications or government-issued security clearances.
According to a study of current cybersecurity engineers, there are some foundational skills and experiences in common including:
- An understanding of computer code, and in particular what dangerous code such as virus or malware looks like and how to deal with it.
- Background and knowledge of risk assessment technologies and methods.
- Understanding of computer forensics and security breach protocols.
- The ability to perform security risk assessments and evaluations.
- Knowledge of cybersecurity best practices (and a record of proving how to stay current on industry changes.
- Experience with developing and implementing security procedures and policies.
- Understanding of anti-virus software, firewall maintenance, and hacker detection.
What do security engineers do?
Security engineers are tasked with developing technology tools and systems to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability (CIA) of information.
The role of an information security engineer can take on many forms depending on the context. Sometimes, depending on company size and business operations, a security engineer might be tasked with building the security systems and then developing security best practices for the rest of the company.
In other situations, a cybersecurity engineer might be tasked with maintaining security protocols and systems and actively try to hack or break into the employer’s data or information systems.
One key feature of all security engineering jobs is that professionals in the field need to constantly stay up-to-date on the latest security threats and the technology being developed to deal with them. As mentioned earlier, this often means staying current with professional cybersecurity certifications.
Security engineer job description
According to the professional development website JobHero, there are a few key characteristics used to outline the roles and responsibilities of a security engineer:
- Create and communicate company-wide security plans and procedures: This means tracking and implementing security best practices and then educating company leadership and fellow co-workers about the best way to implement the latest security protocols.
- Develop security protections: This requires building and implementing technology and software such as encryption algorithms and data structure firewalls to protect company information.
- Test digital infrastructure for vulnerabilities: Often security engineers are tasked with supervising or conducting periodic penetration testing to look for any kind of weakness in the overall security plan. The goal is to try to hack a company’s data and other digital information before real hackers do. While considered part of a security engineer’s job, penetration testing is also its own specialty within the cybersecurity profession.
- Security monitoring: In addition to building and testing security infrastructure and procedures for company infrastructure, cybersecurity engineers are also tasked with continually monitoring software and systems for intrusions or irregular behavior.
- Investigate security-related issues after they happen: Cybersecurity engineers must also be part-time investigators and be able to use digital forensic methods to track intruders and figure out the source of attacks. Sometimes, depending on the size and scope of an attack, security engineers might also work with law enforcement.
Outlook for security engineers
Like other cybersecurity professionals, cybersecurity engineers are in high demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for cybersecurity engineers will grow by 18 percent through 2024.
There is a strong correlation between time in the industry and salary, with most people at the high end of the spectrum report working in cybersecurity-related fields for 20 years or more.
Salary is also impacted by the size of the company or organization employing the cybersecurity engineer and geographical location.
How much do security engineers make?
Based on hundreds of survey responses, Payscale reports that cybersecurity engineers earn $99,246 a year on average, with the low end of the salary spectrum reporting $70,000 and the high $140,000.
Looking for more? Check out the cybersecurity careers guide for more information.