A cybersecurity specialist is like a watchdog in the digital age. Cybersecurity specialists find work maintaining the security of networks and data for companies and organizations.
One of the primary responsibilities of a cybersecurity specialist is to keep tabs on the systems employed by their organization and report any issues to management. They are also responsible for anticipating future threats and advising on how to deal with them.
What is a cybersecurity specialist?
A cybersecurity specialist might wear many hats depending on the size and shape of his or her company or organization.
Like the job title implies, cybersecurity specialists are expected to have a certain level of training and expertise that allows them to give advice and training on the latest digital best practices.
Sometimes, cybersecurity specialists might have really detailed expertise on a particular vendor’s product (such as CISCO Systems, which makes networking and IT products), or they might have experience in other domains such as computer operating systems or mobile applications.
A simple way of thinking about a cybersecurity specialist is as someone who keeps tabs on a company’s or organization’s security while also helping other employees and teammates stay current on best practices.
This role is critical because often time data breaches come from inside the organization, either intentionally or accidentally.
Four key steps to becoming a cybersecurity specialist
1. Education: Like most other careers in cybersecurity, most jobs falling under the cybersecurity specialist category require some form of formal education. However, since cybersecurity specialist jobs can fall across a wide spectrum of job descriptions and responsibilities, it is possible to obtain a specialist job after completing many levels of cybersecurity education.
In other words, there are cybersecurity specialist jobs for people completing a cybersecurity associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or a master’s degree. Additionally, much of the cybersecurity specialist workforce found employment after completing a related degree (such as computer science, engineering, or mathematics) and/or by having closely-related work experience.
2. Industry certifications and clearances: Again, as is the norm in many other cybersecurity career paths, obtaining the proper industry certifications and/or clearances is an important step in career preparation.
It makes sense to start thinking about what kinds of certifications are required by an employer, or what kinds of certifications make job applicants competitive within the field.
To get an idea of some of the kinds of cybersecurity certifications available, here are a few examples:
Security+ is a CompTIA certification that is considered a basic cert among cybersecurity professionals. It covers the topics of risk management and threat assessment.
Network + is also offered by CompTIA this certification (like the name implies) focuses on networking infrastructure and operations. It is considered a foundational certification.
The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) is a more advanced certification designed for cybersecurity professionals with at least five years of work experience. The certification covers topics such as architecture, engineering, and management.
The Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification is also considered a more advanced cert because it generally requires that applicants have multiple years of work experience. The goal of an ethical hacker certification is to be able to understand how cyber attacks unfold in order to improve threat assessment and mitigation skills.
These are just a few examples of the dozens of cybersecurity certifications available. When looking at job opportunities in the cybersecurity industry, it’s a good idea to keep notes about what kinds of certifications employers are looking for.
Additionally, when interviewing for cybersecurity specialist positions, it’s a good idea to ask potential employers about what kinds of professional development opportunities are available including what kinds of certifications an employer will pay for.
3. Experience: Another important aspect of obtaining a job as a cybersecurity specialist is demonstrating relevant experience.
This can take the form of other, related work experience, or it can take the form of a structured internship or other formal hands-on learning.
4. Network: Looking for opportunities to grow a professional network is always a good idea.
There are a number of network-oriented professional cybersecurity organizations and groups that are specifically designed to alert members about job openings and professional development opportunities.
This list of the top 50 cybersecurity networking groups and professional organizations from Digital Guardian is a good place to start.
What do cybersecurity specialists do?
Cybersecurity specialists create and implement security audits across computer hardware and software systems. They make sure that the systems perform the way they are supposed to, and that they are safe from attack.
Often times the job of a cybersecurity specialist can be somewhat routine. They are responsible for making sure that networks and computer systems are up-to-date and not vulnerable to software bugs.
In addition, security specialists are also responsible for making sure that other co-workers are kept up-to-date on security best practices, which means they might take on the role of a trainer or an advisor.
Another aspect of a cybersecurity specialist’s job is the design of firewalls and other security measures to make sure that information and proprietary networks are compliant with the most recent security standards.
Cybersecurity specialists are also responsible for continual monitoring security systems and networks for anomalies and tracking those activities in documents and reports.
Skills for specialists
Cybersecurity specialists inhabit an interesting role in the companies and organizations where they are employed. People in this role are often hired as much for their soft skills as their technical ability.
Cybersecurity specialists need to be able to communicate well and be comfortable in team roles. The job often entails coaching and training of co-workers on security best practices.
Additionally, cybersecurity specialists are often called on in times of crisis or emergency — or when there are issues with networks or data systems. So the ability to thrive under “emergency” situations is important.
Finally, holding the position of security specialist might require helping co-workers adopt new technologies and security software as it develops. But most people are reluctant to change, especially if it requires learning a new operating procedure or work-flow. So the ability to articulate the reason for the change and the ability to relate to co-workers’ needs and objections is also important.
Cybersecurity specialists need to be comfortable in a world that is constantly moving and shifting. New digital attack vectors and mechanisms are popping up all of the time, and a cybersecurity specialist is tasked with figuring out what kinds of skills and experience are required to protect against those emerging threats.
That often means that continuing education is required — both in the form of formal, industry-recognized certifications — and in the form of informal learning and tracking industry developments.
In terms of skills, experience, and general mindset, a cybersecurity specialist needs to be like a Swiss Army knife of the digital world. A person in this role needs to be multi-disciplinary and adaptable to a wide variety of situations.
Outlook for cybersecurity specialists
According to a recent PayScale questionnaire, most employees with the job title cybersecurity specialists responded that they have a high level of job satisfaction.
Payscale also reports that cybersecurity specialists are compensated across a wide range, depending on experience, responsibilities, and geography. The pay for a specialist ranges from $45,644 to $115,841. The average pay is $74,140.
Cybersecurity specialist job opportunities are predicted to grow 36 percent by 2024, which is much faster than other professions and reflects the growing need for cybersecurity experts across all fields and career levels.
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