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IT security consultants perform assessments, form strategies, and implement measures to safeguard clients' digital assets. Some professionals work as full-time company employees for specialized IT consulting or security firms. Others may work as independent consultants.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects rapid employment growth of 33% for information security analysts from 2020-2030.
Read on to learn about a day in the life of a security consultant. Explore job duties and how to pursue this fast-growing career path.
What Is a Security Consultant?
Cybersecurity evolved during the 1970s as large businesses and government agencies started adopting early networking technologies. Hackers began targeting electronic data and posing threats that demanded immediate solutions.
Cyberthreats rapidly expanded and evolved as the internet went mainstream in the 1990s. These new threats caused the rise of the modern cybersecurity industry and the evolution of the security consultant profession.
Today, security consultants combine IT and cybersecurity skills. Their work combines the knowledge of security analysts with the solutions-driven expertise of security architects and security engineers.
Security consultants usually hold undergraduate or advanced degrees in computer science or other relevant fields. These professionals typically build experience in junior roles for several years before advancing into leadership positions.
What Does a Security Consultant Do?
A security consultant can work for a single employer or multiple clients. In either case, their day-to-day duties remain the same.
A day in the life of a security consultant includes protecting their employers' computer networks and digital assets. These professionals perform targeted tests to identify vulnerabilities. They also design and implement strategies for improving organizational cybersecurity.
Security consultants interact with junior and senior IT team members. They may also pitch security strategies and solutions to senior managers and executives for approval.
Successful security consultants are detail-oriented critical thinkers with hard tech skills. These abilities serve them well in carrying out their job duties, as described below.
Main Duties of Security Consultants
- Identifying Security Threats: Security consultants conduct tests and assessments to analyze employers' or clients' computer networks. These operations identify specific areas of weakness and potential threats.
- Formulating Security Strategies: Cybersecurity professionals use various strategies when proposing improvements. The strategies address the threats and vulnerabilities identified through testing. Consultants present options to their employers or clients, who then implement their suggestions.
- Implementing Response Measures: The organizational cybersecurity process cycle requires professionals to apply security improvements, including blocking attackers' efforts to bypass safeguards. Many IT security consultants also participate in developing organizational disaster recovery and continuity plans.
- Upgrading Security Systems: Cyberthreats evolve as hackers and cybercriminals develop new ways of breaching networks and systems. Security consultants must constantly refine and upgrade their tools and methods to prevent intrusions.
- Compiling Reports: A security consultant generates detailed reports throughout the project lifecycle. These reports play a major role in the testing and threat monitoring process. Consultants may present these reports to their IT team leads, managers, or executives.
Nonstandard Duties for Security Consultants
- Delegating Tasks to IT Team Members: Some security consultants function as threat testing and response specialists within larger IT teams. They may also have other team members working under them. Senior consultants assign tasks to junior colleagues and manage group workflows.
- Meeting with Clients or Management: A day in the life of a security consultant sometimes includes meetings with clients or managers in non-technical departments. During these sessions, consultants review threat assessment results and response measures. These professionals also explain security systems and features in accessible language.
- Training Junior IT and Security Staff: Organizational approaches to cybersecurity require a consistent, concerted effort from all team members. Senior consultants may occasionally train junior IT and cybersecurity personnel in specialized approaches.
- Ensuring Compliance: Certain industries maintain codified cybersecurity compliance standards that all businesses must meet or exceed. For example, financial institutions must implement specific data encryption and cybersecurity tools to protect their customers. Security consultants may perform occasional audits to ensure their organizations' measures conform to current requirements.
- Upgrading Their Knowledge Base: Cybersecurity professionals regularly engage in continuing education efforts, including pursuing industry certifications. These activities reflect the reality of the industry as cybercriminals and hackers constantly develop new techniques for bypassing security measures.
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The Day to Day of a Security Consultant's Job
A security consultant's day-to-day job duties vary depending on the cybersecurity project's lifecycle. Their daily tasks often depend on the organization's needs. During active cybersecurity testing and improvement projects, security consultants may dedicate most of their day to a specific task.
For example, security consultants design and carry out tests when performing initial network assessments for clients. After testing, they may present mitigation strategies or implement approved measures.
Following the active stages of a project's lifecycle, security consultants can engage in more self-directed work. Some examples include:
- Website and network maintenance
- Meeting with clients or management
- Continuing education and professional development
- Training staff members and junior colleagues
A security consultant's duties constantly shift and evolve. For many professionals, this keeps the occupation fresh and interesting.
Where Security Consultants Work
The BLS tracks detailed industry- and location-specific labor market data for information security analysts. Statistics and insights updated by the BLS in March 2021 reveal several trends.
The BLS also considers the percentage of an industry's overall labor force filled by information security analysts. Here are the top five sectors:
- Central banking (3.15% of industry employment)
- Computer systems design (1.65%)
- Data hosting and processing (1.46%)
- Telecommunications (0.64%)
- Software development and publishing (0.57%)
Location-specific analysis performed by the BLS identifies these five states as the national leaders in terms of overall job numbers for IT security analysts:
The top five cities that employ the most IT security analysts include:
- Washington, D.C.
- New York City
These trends reveal that job opportunities for IT security analysts tend to cluster in densely populated states. Earning potential also ranks as a leading motivator for job-seekers.
Cybersecurity specialists enjoy strong demand across many sectors. Regardless of where you prefer to live or work, you can likely find plenty of employment opportunities in this field. However, professionals seeking more specialized roles may benefit from pursuing employment in thriving tech centers.
Should You Become a Security Consultant?
Cyberattackers' increasing sophistication and rising global reliance on connected networks will continue to drive demand. From a labor market perspective, the profession's future looks bright.
Transitioning into security consulting roles presents fewer challenges for established tech professionals with relevant skills and experience. For beginners, the path can take more time. General benchmarks suggest that aspiring security consultants need 1-3 years of lower-level experience before pursuing senior roles.
With perseverance and commitment, learners can build the necessary skills through formal schooling and work experience. However, some people find themselves more interested in other computer science specializations as their education and careers progress. Following your interests can often lead to personal and professional satisfaction.
How to Prepare for a Career as a Security Consultant
First, consider your education. Self-directed learning plays a more significant role in the tech industry than in other sectors.
Having a degree and industry-standard certifications is valuable to employers. Online and part-time learning offer added flexibility for degree-seekers balancing work and school.
Cybersecurity bootcamps offer an appealing alternative. These intensive training programs run on compressed schedules and build in-demand career skills. Bootcamps continue to make inroads as a time-efficient alternative to traditional degree programs.
Learn More About Security Consultants
What Is a Security Consultant?
Security consultants wear several hats and draw on multiple specialized skill sets. This resource explains the career path in complete detail.
How to Become a Security Consultant
Aspiring security consultants can follow different paths. Use this guide to explore various avenues to the profession.
Salary and Career Outlook for Security Consultants
Cybersecurity professionals, including security consultants, enjoy a very bright job outlook and high earning potential. Read about income and employment projections for this career.
Certifications for Security Consultants
Industry-standard cybersecurity certifications are essential to building a solid resume. Learn about relevant certifications and available pathways with this detailed guide.
Professional Spotlight: Kevin D. Murray, CPP, CISM, CFE, CDPSE
What previous cyber-related experience did you have, if any, and what prompted your journey to become a security consultant? If you specialize in a particular subject or work in a particular industry, what prompted this choice, and how did it evolve?
My experience started with an interest in radio-electronics and amateur radio in high school. This led to entering college with an eye on the broadcasting industry. A summer job in the law enforcement arena, however, introduced me to surveillance electronics. This led to switching majors to a criminal justice degree.
The first job I could get was working at an alarm company surveillance center, which was a great education in alarm electronics. Soon after, I joined Pinkerton's and learned about corporate investigations, and joined their management training program. When they first started a technical information security consultant (TSCM) division, I was selected to work as the assistant to the department manager, an ex-CIA technical specialist. When he retired, I took over.
The next step was to start my own TSCM consulting firm. The point of all this is that security consulting is not something you aspire to in fifth grade. A policeman, a fireman, maybe. A TSCM security consultant, no. It is a profession I pinballed my way into by following my interests as they evolved.
For whom do you think this career is a good fit? Why?
This career is a good fit for anyone who has inquisitiveness. Everything else can be learned. Without basic inquisitiveness, you will fail.
What educational path did you take to become a security consultant?
A BS in criminal justice was all that was offered at the time. The next step was on-the-job learning. I was lucky to have a very smart and kind mentor. Find one. Most people love to teach and pass on their knowledge. These days there are many specialized degree paths to choose from. "Start with the basic courses, then specialize," is the common advice. Probably still true. The key is to develop several really important skills which may not be obvious at first.
- Learn your specialty to the best of your ability. This is the obvious one.
- Learn how to communicate verbally and in writing. Successful consultants do a lot of public speaking, report-writing, and even book-writing (part of marketing).
- Learn about marketing. You will need to be able to sell yourself.
- Learn about the business of running a business. Most real security consultants are self-employed. The ones who know how to run a business are the most successful.
Don't let all this put you off. All you need is inquisitiveness. All of this other stuff can be learned, and with the internet, it is easy these days.
Did you pursue additional education at any point?
You can never stop learning. Books and courses are helpful, but keep in mind that the information is likely dated the day it is published. Read the industry magazines. Look for trends. Try to anticipate what you will be facing in the future. Experiment whenever you can. This is the type of education that will give verisimilitude to what you say.
What was your educational experience like?
Fragmented. A little from here. A little from there. Snatch knowledge like you'd find coins on the ground as a kid. Just beware of the shiny gum wrappers, especially on the internet.
What certifications or tests did you need to pass, if any, to enter the field or progress in your career?
While I didn't need certifications to enter the field, I thought obtaining them would give me a competitive advantage. If nothing else, at least it would show I was more serious about my craft than the other guy. Turned out to be a good move.
How did you prepare for them?
Partially by picking up knowledge as a matter of course, and the rest by taking the time to learn what I didn't know. The certification themselves will tell you what they expect you to know and what will be on the test. They want you to succeed. It means more prestige and money for them, but you have to pass.
What were they like?
Difficult. I was amazed at some of the things I didn't know and glad I was encouraged to learn them. It makes you a more well-rounded consultant, which makes your advice more helpful to your clients.
What's a typical day like for you?
That's the part I like the most. There is no typical day. It is always a mix of various events: writing reports, working on the website, talking with clients, reading-learning-anticipating, traveling, conducting surveys, coming up with marketing ideas, writing articles, experimenting, inventing, researching — it is a long list. Never boring. Can't wait to wake up each day.
What's your favorite part of being a security consultant?
Helping people solve their privacy and information security concerns.
The most challenging part?
Knowing that every business has valuable competitive advantages and intellectual property. Knowing, because of that, someone else wants it. And, seeing so many executives dismiss corporate espionage as nonexistent. Successful corporate espionage is invisible by definition.
The attacks that make the headlines are the failures. The failures are just the tip of the iceberg. These executives either don't want to take on something they can't see out of ignorance or just don't want the extra (albeit necessary) responsibility. Consequently, their companies have their pockets picked, income falls, and, in the end, jobs are lost. It doesn't have to be this way. An ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure. Very frustrating.
What advice do you have for individuals considering becoming a security consultant?
If this appeals to you, and you have inquisitiveness, go for it and be the best you can be at it. You are needed more today than at any other point in history.
What do you wish you'd known before becoming a security consultant?
How enjoyable helping people, hard work, learning, experimenting, and working for yourself is. Had I known that, I would have started plotting my career in fifth grade.
Kevin D. Murray, CPP, CISM, CFE, CDPSE
Kevin D. Murray is a TCSM specializing in workplace electronic surveillance detection and deterrence, information security surveys, and business counterespionage consulting services.
He is the lead information security consultant at Murray Associates TSCM, founded in 1978. Murray specializes in eavesdropping/optical detection and counterespionage consulting services to businesses, the government, and at-risk individuals. He has over 4,000 successfully completed consulting assignments.
Mr. Murray was elected to the Board of the International Association of Professional Security Consultants several times and was awarded its Meritorious Life Membership in 2015.
He began his career as a Pinkerton investigator in 1971, conducting corporate investigations and security surveys. Later, he became the New Jersey manager of investigations and company-wide director of electronic countermeasures services.
Readers can explore Mr. Murray's long history of innovations and advancements in the field of electronic surveillance detection at the Murray Associates website.
Frequently Asked Questions About Security Consultant Jobs
What does a security consultant do?
Security consultants test organizations' computing networks and websites for vulnerabilities and develop plans to address them. They also update security measures, create reports, and make plans for organizational disaster recovery and continuity.
Is it hard to get a security consultant job?
Security consulting is considered an expert-level role for cybersecurity professionals. Candidates usually build the necessary skills and experience through many years of working in IT and cybersecurity positions.
Are the security consultant's day-to-day job duties stressful?
A security consultant's daily job duties include protecting their client's networks and designing emergency preparedness plans. The position carries significant levels of responsibility. Some professionals find it stressful, mainly when their departments are overworked or understaffed.
What skills do you need to be a security consultant?
A day in the life of a security consultant draws on hard tech skills like coding, programming, network configuration, and security protocols. These professionals also need strong backgrounds in network architecture, cloud infrastructure, encryption, and incident response.
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