Closely related to the realm of InfoSec (Information Security), Cyber Security requires much of the same know-how, skills and experience. For those individuals wishing to pursue a career in this space, one that is increasingly popular as the global need for organisations’ to focus on the security of their data rises in response to the onslaught of internal and external threats; it ultimately comes down to education and experience.
Experts in the field of cyber security are quick to point out that a university or college degree (depending on where you are studying in the world) serves as your key to the cyber security castle. Higher education equips you with the fundamental skills of verbal and written communication as well as the opportunity to expand your areas of knowledge through courses outside of your immediate interest making you a well-rounded future candidate. Though be aware, a degree directly in cyber security is not necessarily the best choice, nor is the traditional computer science route. The fundamentals of elevated computer science, enhanced by mathematics and followed up by industry standard certifications such as CISSP, CISA or CISM will better prepare you for a career evaluating everything from statistics to fixed mechanisms. Degrees with a business focus may also offer an edge later on, as they will encourage an individual’s understanding of an organisation’s inner workings and thus enable a more effective appraisal of that business’ security needs.
It would be remiss of course to ignore the fact that a degree also stands an aspiring cyber security professional in better stead to progress in his or her career. Upwards mobility and flexibility of potential promotions will likely evade those candidates who are sans degree. Not only does it tell an employer or hiring manager that you are a serious candidate, it also places you on a level playing field with rival candidates also toting a university degree.
The mistake many cyber security hopefuls make however is the expectation that once that graduation cap has been thrown in the air, a cyber security job will magically fall down in its place. The reality of cyber security career progression is such that an individual with a passion for the field must build up to that specialism by entering first into a general computer career. Don’t run before you can code, learn the basics of computer administration, database management, system configuration and of course, programming, before you even contemplate your desired move into cyber security.
Bear in mind that IT offers many more job opportunities for those launching their career and is much more accessible than cyber security. So plan to start your professional journey in IT where you’ll gain the experience, specialised interests, contacts and necessary income to eventually move into a cyber security role. Use this time wisely, read constantly across both tech-specific and news forums to give yourself the best insight and knowledge of the cyber security market as possible. Build a home network (or lab) where you can run code, and practice to your heart’s content the range of skills required of you to become a successful cyber security analyst. Another way you can develop your skills and experience, and add an impressive string to your bow, would be to volunteer your services at a charitable organisation that typically doesn’t have the resources to hire cyber security support.
The road to cyber security employment may seem long and paved with hurdles but it is important to respect the fact that it must be earned with the acquisition and subsequent application of significant experience. Once this step becomes tangible, many individuals opt to pursue the popular penetration (pen) tester position, though what is important to consider here is this is a role that transcends the mere discovery of weak spots in an organisation’s systems. Understanding why those weak spots exist is where the true test of a great pen tester comes, as they move forward with their recommendations as to how to protect the organisation from becoming compromised by those areas of vulnerability.
Experts predict that by 2019 the demand for cyber security professionals globally will see the creation of 6 million jobs, however due to a shortage of skilled candidates in the field 1.5 million opportunities will go unfilled. So, between now and then, work on refining your industry knowledge, your practical and analytical experience, your proficiency for coding and your education. A career in cyber security is a lucrative one, once you can prove yourself an asset to its evolution.