How to Get into Cyber Security

How to Get into Cyber Security

Cyber security analysis having a discussion
Cyber security analysis having a discussion

Cybercrime has posed a significant threat to businesses and governments worldwide for several decades—and all signs point to things getting worse before they get better. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, cybercrime losses from email scams cost $2.7 billion in 2022. Ransomware groups are developing new ways to target everything imaginable, including utility infrastructures, proprietary information, and high net-worth individuals. Between 2020 and 2022, ransomware attacks increased in the U.S. by 47 percent.

This ongoing (and indeed, increasing) threat of global cybercrime means that cyber security professionals have never been more in demand. Many of these jobs offer competitive salaries, flexible hours, and high job security. An information security analyst, for example, earned an annual median salary of $120,360 in 2023— with less than five years of experience. 

If you love technology, thinking creatively, and proactive problem-solving, a career in cyber security might be a natural fit. There are a few pathways to get into cyber security, and not all are seen as equally desirable within the cyber security field.

A well-rounded cyber security job applicant will be able to demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of current industry best practices and competency with new technologies that professional hackers are leaning into, like machine learning and artificial intelligence. As the U.S. Department of Labor points out, risk analysis and security auditing skills are seen as increasingly important as cyber security employers look to shift to a more proactive approach.

Let’s go over the basics of breaking into the cyber security field, career pathways and salary expectations, and what to do next if you’re interested in this exciting and rapidly evolving industry.

What is Cyber Security?

Cyber security refers to the practices that protect digital assets and information against various threats. Cyber security professionals play a crucial role in safeguarding networks, data, and systems from a range of cyber threats. The efforts of cyber security professionals keep millions of people safe from data breaches, identity theft, asset loss, and exploitation every year.

Job responsibilities for the cyber security professional can vary according to their experience and role. Some of the more common day-to-day responsibilities may include:

  • Monitor for and investigate breaches of network and data security
  • Maintain update and patch systems, applications and security tools like firewalls to preserve confidentiality and integrity of systems
  • Penetration testing, also known as ethical hacking, to identify potential weaknesses in applications and systems
  • Research, diagnose, and report on network vulnerabilities to organizational leaders and other stakeholders
  • Educating and raising awareness of end users on security best practices and tools for digital safety

Why Choose a Career in Cyber Security?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the cyber security industry will continue to expand more quickly than almost any other profession. Their current projections show a growth rate of 32% over the next eight years. Information security analysts currently rank fifth on the Bureau’s list of the fastest-growing occupations.

With this explosive growth rate in mind, it makes sense that the salary outlook for cyber security professionals is quite optimistic. As mentioned above, an information security analyst’s median annual salary was $120,360 in 2023. Computer systems analysts make an annual median salary of $103,800.

The U.S. Department of Labor doesn’t currently have official data on other popular entry-level cyber security roles, such as information security specialist or digital forensic examiner. Salaries in posted job listings suggest they are typically in the high five-figure or low six-figure range.

How to Get Started in Cyber Security

Steps to get into cyber security can vary from person to person. There are almost as many pathways into the field as there are applicants. There are cyber security professionals who are self-educated. Some come from military backgrounds, where they may have gained their initial education and experience in the field. Plenty of cyber security professionals come to the profession later in life or from careers that have nothing to do with technology.

Some specific steps for successfully beginning a career in cyber security could include:

1. Build a foundation of necessary, in-demand skills.

Anyone who wants to get into cyber security can start working on their coding, learning their way around cloud security platforms, becoming familiar with different computer operating systems, and figuring out the basics of systems administration. These basics of IT can be learned through a bachelor’s degree program or through focused and intentional study on your own. If you’re an undergrad who knows they want to go into cyber security, a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity or Computer Science are great options that can open the door to higher IT education. Other degrees, like mathematics or engineering, can also be relevant.

2. Consider your specialization.

Some cyber security professionals work as generalists, but most have an area of specialization that merges their interests with their talents and skills. If you want to solve cybercrime and bring criminals to justice, you may be interested in digital forensics. Those who want to focus on credit card theft and account hacking may specialize in credit card fraud. You may be drawn to work in the private sector or be curious about the many opportunities in government. There are dozens of specialties, so learn as much as you can about the industry before pursuing one.

3. Pursue a master’s degree and industry certifications

Any quality employer will want proof of your abilities before offering you a job. A Master of Science (MS) in Cybersecurity assures potential employers that you have training in the specific technical skills that cyber security professionals need to stay relevant in this rapidly evolving field.

A master’s degree will also help you develop soft skills employers look for, such as communication, flexibility, presentation experience, and the ability to work well with a team.

In addition to a master’s degree, many certifications can boost your credibility as a job candidate. Job seekers with a master’s in cybersecurity will be well-prepared to pass these certification exams. 

Some well-known and industry-respected certifications for cyber security professionals include:

  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
  • AWS Security Specialist
  • Cisco CCNA

4. Update your resume and your digital footprint.

Once you’ve got a strong IT foundation, surveyed and considered your specialization, and earned a high-level degree and/or industry-recognized certification, you’ll need to update all relevant information about yourself on your resume and any online profiles you maintain. Make sure you carefully review your entire online history and take the necessary steps to delete old websites, forum accounts, or social media that don’t reflect your professional persona. Everyone is subject to scrutiny in our digital era, but a cybersecurity professional who can’t keep their digital footprint free and clear of controversy will be looked at especially poorly.

5. Apply for cyber security jobs.

Entry-level cyber security jobs may include network auditors, cyber security technicians, junior auditors, and network testers. These jobs typically require an associate’s degree at the very least but will prioritize candidates who have advanced education, certifications, and work experience. Job applicants who have a network of other IT professionals or recommendations from faculty may also be given priority.

A note on the cyber security certification process

There are many open cyber security positions, but keep in mind that there are also many applicants trying to break into the field. Some jobs are more desirable than others, and cyber security is still a highly competitive field. A Master of Science in Cybersecurity can be the key to standing out with your dream employer.

While there are typically no requirements for taking certification exams like CISSP and CASP+, test-takers who have taken coursework that teaches these skills will have a clear advantage.

cyber security analyst working on her computer

The Cyber Security Career Path

The field of cyber security offers a wide array of career paths, enabling professionals to progress through a range of roles and responsibilities. These encompass positions such as security analysts, engineers, consultants, as well as management and directorial roles.

Examples of cyber security career paths include:

  • Cyber Security Director of Operations, a leader who oversees several teams of cyber security professionals
  • Chief Information Security Officer, a leader who oversees a team of other Information Security Officers and Analysts
  • Incident Responder, who may eventually become an Incident Response Manager
  • Security Engineer, who could later be promoted to a Security Architect
  • Penetration Tester (Ethical Hacker), who could become a Senior Penetration Tester

The U.S. government is one of the biggest employers of cyber security professionals in the world—and they still need more. The White House has even announced a comprehensive strategy plan to educate and recruit more professionals to address the country’s cyber security needs. The Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the National Security Agency (NSA) are just a few of the places you’ll find cyber security professionals advancing their careers while protecting Americans from cybercrime attacks.

The Bottom Line

The educational pathway to becoming a cyber security professional varies widely across the industry. However, this shouldn’t deter you from considering a Master of Science in Cybersecurity as you work to break into the field. Employers look for candidates who are on the cutting edge of industry trends. 

As cyber criminals increasingly exploit artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies, job seekers must demonstrate their coding competencies as well as their creative problem-solving and soft skills. Aspiring cyber security professionals with industry-recognized certifications and an advanced degree will continue to have a clear advantage.

An MS in Cybersecurity from St. Bonaventure University Online can be completed in as little as 18 months and requires no previous experience in the field. All your learning can be completed online, and coursework focuses on the tech innovations that are shaping the industry landscape. Required machine learning, enterprise security, and risk management classes will help you learn practical, real-world applications.

The 30-credit, graduate-level program features cloud-based labs, interactive learning modules, and active engagement with cybersecurity professionals who are currently working in the field. Engaging with our faculty will expand your network while preparing you for the workforce.

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