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Our reliance on computer systems and digital information has given cyberthreats a much larger influence. As data collection and storage increase, protection becomes more critical. Cybersecurity systems and security auditors work to safeguard this information.
According to the FBI's 2021 Internet Crime Report, cybercrime resulted in $6.9 billion in damages in 2021, nearly doubling 2019's numbers. While most organizations have cybersecurity systems in place, security auditors review and evaluate the effectiveness of those systems.
This position requires professionals to have extensive experience and training. While the career path can seem daunting, many find the role fulfilling. In addition to high earnings and job growth, security auditors help protect and improve the well-being of organizations and individuals targeted by cyberattacks.
This guide takes an in-depth look at the steps required to become a security auditor.
What Is a Security Auditor?
Security auditors review organizations' information security. They identify, assess, and report on threats and vulnerabilities, along with ensuring compliance with laws, regulations, and company policies.
Auditors collaborate with stakeholders in mid-sized to large organizations to set up schedules for auditing and reporting. They may work closely with information technology and cybersecurity personnel to learn about existing practices, policies, and technologies.
Security auditors may have industry specializations and work as third-party, independent reviewers for many organizations. They can also perform in-house work for large organizations with more regular or complex security auditing requirements.
Depending on the organization and role, auditors may hold other titles, such as information security analyst, security specialist, security consultant, security control assessor, or compliance manager.
Education Requirements for Security Auditors
The education requirements for security auditors continue to evolve as schools develop new cybersecurity-related programs and specializations. Most professionals in this field possess bachelor's degrees, but their disciplines vary. For example, they may hold specialized degrees in cybersecurity or more broad computer science degrees.
Individuals from other backgrounds, such as engineering or business, can also pursue this field. Professionals can build on relevant industry experience with specialized bootcamps or certificates. These condensed programs provide practical, up-to-date training that many employers value.
Security bootcamps and certificate programs also help professionals advance their careers, leading to more responsibilities and higher earning potential. Cybersecurity-related graduate degrees and professional certifications can have similar — if not more effective — impacts. These advanced credentials demonstrate a high level of expertise in the field, allowing graduates to pursue senior and leadership positions.
Regardless of their role or level, security auditors should consider continuing education opportunities. As security technologies, best practices, compliance frameworks, and cyberthreats change, auditors must stay informed. Continuing education options include courses, bootcamps, certificate programs, and self-study.
Explore Your Degree Options
- Cybersecurity Bootcamps
- Associate in Cybersecurity Programs
- Bachelor's in Cybersecurity Programs
- Bachelor's in Information Technology Programs
- Master's in Cybersecurity Programs
- Master's in Information Assurance Programs
- Computer Science Degree Programs
- Information Systems Security Degrees
Experience Requirements for Security Auditors
Most employers have experience requirements for security auditors, but they can vary considerably. While entry-level positions may be available, security auditors typically have multiple years of information technology experience. For example, ISACA designates industry experts as professionals with at least five years in the occupation.
Aspiring auditors often build experience in information systems through administration and cybersecurity roles. They can learn about the industry's privacy laws, compliance regulations, and security protocols while participating in the auditing process.
In some organizations, candidates with advanced degrees may qualify for employment with lower experience levels. Graduate programs typically offer specialized studies and internship opportunities, which also contribute to the experience requirements.
Many organizations host internships for undergraduate and graduate students. These experiences provide practical and on-the-job training and mentorship opportunities. Below, we examine a few popular options.
JPMorgan Chase: The 10-week summer audit analyst internship program features business and technology opportunities. Interns review and report on the organization's digital infrastructure, business applications, and cybersecurity systems. National Security Agency: The NSA offers several paid cybersecurity internships. The programs run for 12 weeks in the summer and offer experiences tackling challenges and issues with active cyberoperations. HCA Healthcare: The internship programs at HCA Healthcare include a 12-week summer IT pathway. Participants help improve information systems and security for better patient experiences, privacy, and safety.
Required Certifications for Security Auditors
While the industry does not mandate cybersecurity certifications for security auditors, these credentials have many benefits. Certifications can provide professionals with a competitive advantage on the job market, including access to more advanced positions and higher wages. Employers often require certifications as they demonstrate a high level of experience and standardized industry knowledge.
With over 150,000 certification holders, the certified information systems auditor (CISA) credential from ISACA is the most reputable and desirable certification in the industry. This credential requires passing an examination, and certified professionals need to maintain the one-year or three-year certification with at least 20 hours of continuing professional education annually.
To qualify for the exam, candidates need a minimum of five years of relevant experience. Candidates can substitute up to three years with related experience, undergraduate degrees, and master's degrees. These security auditor requirements make certification a useful tool for early-career and mid-level professionals.
While neither bootcamps nor cybersecurity certificate programs provide certifications, they can help students and professionals prepare for formal credentials.
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How Do I Become a Security Auditor?
An individual can take more than one path to become a security auditor. While entry-level professionals typically need a bachelor's degree and multiple years of relevant experience, certain roles call for more advanced pathways.
Aspiring auditors can expect to spend at least four years in college or university and 3-5 years gaining information systems experience before entering the field. Since many employers seek candidates with relevant auditing experience, accessing these security auditor positions can be challenging.
To overcome these lengthy requirements, professionals can consider information systems careers that overlap or collaborate with security auditor roles. Information security administrators and cybersecurity professionals often need to understand cybersecurity policies, frameworks, and laws. This experience can help professionals prepare for security auditor occupations in the future.
Steps to Becoming a Security Auditor
Entry-Level Career Path
- Earn a bachelor's degree: A security auditor needs a four-year bachelor's degree, preferably in a computer science discipline. If possible, consider a cybersecurity program or specialization.
- Complete an internship: Many schools offer internships toward the end of bachelor's degrees. These programs provide practical training and mentorship opportunities in relevant fields. They can also lead to employment.
- Get information systems experience: Experience in a relevant information systems role equips professionals with knowledge of cybersecurity laws and auditing processes. The experience requirements for information auditors differ, but many employers prefer 3-5 years.
Advanced Career Path
- Earn a bachelor's degree.
- Complete an internship.
- Acquire a master's degree: A two-year master's degree offers specialization options for security auditors, such as auditing, compliance, and assurance management. These programs also meet the education requirements for most information systems positions and decrease the experience requirements for the CISA credential.
- Get information systems and auditing experience: Master's graduates have more employment opportunities than candidates with bachelor's degrees. They can qualify for information systems leadership roles that have more direct involvement with the auditing process. These positions offer more relevant experience for security auditor jobs and certification.
- Obtain industry certification: Many employers prefer security auditors with professional certifications that demonstrate their experience and knowledge in the field. Certification can also reward the credential-holder and their employer. For example, ISACA reports that the CISA credential provides professionals with a 22% salary increase and a 70% improvement in performance.
Should I Become a Security Auditor?
Security auditors enjoy a profession that offers financial rewards and job security. They help organizations improve their safeguards and protect their assets. They can also make a difference in the lives of others by protecting their sensitive personal information, such as healthcare or financial data.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for information security analysts was $102,600 as of May 2021 — about $55,000 higher than the median annual salary for all occupations. The BLS also projects 35% growth in the field from 2021-2031, making it one of the fastest-growing occupations.
Security auditors must adapt to changing cybersecurity laws and evolving technologies, which can be demanding and time-consuming. With experience and continuing education, however, these professionals can advance into leadership roles like information systems management.
The Job Hunt
When looking for security auditor jobs, start by leveraging your industry connections, if possible. Reach out to any mentors from your college, internship, or employers. Consider joining a professional organization like ISACA to access their network and job board.
Other job hunting avenues include local career fairs or industry conferences. These events provide opportunities for professional networking and employment discussions. Below, we highlight some of the more popular job boards for security auditor and cybersecurity job postings.
Professional Spotlight: Swathi West
What prompted your journey to become a security auditor?
If you think about it, there wasn't a cybersecurity degree available five years ago. Today's exceptional cybersecurity leaders learned a great deal on the job and from being immersed in the evolving threat landscape.
I completed my master's degree in aerospace engineering, but between studying and job searching, I soon found myself hired as an intern at UnitedHealth Group on their security team. There, like every auditor, I started asking questions. The tricky part of this job is that you need to know the answers, as well.
Eager to excel, I started studying articles about cybersecurity and different compliance frameworks and — most importantly — learning more about the reasons why we ask the questions we ask as auditors. My biggest takeaway from this process was that I will always be learning in order to stay on top of the ever-evolving threat landscape, and I would say that's what prompted me to become an auditor and stay in that role: there's always something new to learn.
If you work in a particular industry, what prompted this choice, and/or how did it evolve?
I've been fortunate to work in the healthcare space since I started in the cybersecurity field. I began my career with UnitedHealth Group and Cardinal Health, and I was involved in audits with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Currently, in my work at BARR Advisory, I help a wide range of organizations serving hospitals and health plans with HIPAA compliance, SOC accreditation, and HITRUST certification.
From a cybersecurity perspective, medical data is 50 times more valuable than credit card data, so keeping this information secure is vital. Furthermore, if there is a breach or ransomware attack on a hospital, it's not just the organization's reputation that's on the line — human lives can be in danger. I'm lucky to be a part of an industry where I can make an impact and do something that matters.
What educational path did you take to become a security auditor?
I pursued my bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering and my master's degree in aerospace, but I learned about cybersecurity and auditing mostly in my job. I also hold several industry certifications.
Did you have to pass any certifications or tests to enter the field or progress in your career?
Certifications are a great way to test and demonstrate what you've learned. I've pursued and achieved several certifications throughout my career, including CIPP/US, CISA, HITRUST CCSFP, certificate of cloud security knowledge, ISO 27001 lead auditor, Oracle cloud infrastructure certified architect associate, and Microsoft certified Azure fundamentals.
Still, it's important to remember that while certifications can be useful and necessary for some roles, they aren't required — and you definitely don't need all of them. In my experience, everyone in the security auditing field is amicable, so when in doubt, reach out to someone and ask for their recommendations on which certifications will be most helpful for where you are and where you want to go in your career.
What advice do you have for individuals considering becoming security auditors?
If you have the enthusiasm to learn, are a critical thinker, like to build relationships, and, most importantly, want to make a difference by helping organizations secure their sensitive data, give auditing a try.
Some people worry that it's too late or wonder if changing careers is worth it, but it's never too late to try anything. In fact, security auditors have higher job guarantees than many roles, so don't worry about changing careers; you never know how many doors it might open for you.
What do you wish you'd known before becoming a security auditor?
As an auditor, I quickly learned that you don't have to know everything about one thing; you have to know a little about everything. Every organization and client you work with will have a different tech stack, so it is vital to be able to pivot quickly and understand the similarities and differences between various projects. I've learned a great deal from my clients, who know their systems well and are willing to help me understand how they work.
Swathi West is the healthcare compliance manager at BARR Advisory, a cloud-based security and compliance solutions provider serving companies with high-value information in cloud environments like AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform.
In her role leading BARR's Healthcare and HITRUST practice, Swathi focuses on strengthening client relationships and developing new business opportunities — especially with organizations in the healthcare space. Swathi also plans and executes HITRUST assessments, SOC audits, client risk assessments, HIPAA certification projects, and GRC advisory engagements.
Swathi has more than half a decade of experience in cybersecurity auditing and is a frequent speaker at industry events including the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society annual conference.
Resources for Future Security Auditors
Questions About Becoming a Security Auditor
How do I start a career in security auditing?
Security auditors typically start their careers by gaining experience in information systems roles. In these positions, they learn about cybersecurity laws and regulations, organization policies and protocols, and may even participate in audits.
Can I learn how to be a security auditor without a degree?
While professionals with considerable IT experience may have access to security auditor positions without possessing degrees, most employers require bachelor's-level credentials.
Do I have to be certified to work as a security auditor?
No. While some employers have certification requirements for security auditors, many do not. However, professionals with CISA credentials may have improved employment and earning outlooks.
Is it hard to become a security auditor?
A professional typically needs a combination of education and experience to become a security auditor. They may also need certification and continuing education to access certain positions. The time investment alone can be challenging for individuals.
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