Day in the Life of a Security Engineer
| CyberDegrees.org Staff Modified on April 7, 2022
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Security engineers play a vital role in protecting data, networks, and computer systems from breaches and cyberattacks. In most settings, their roles mainly focus on creating and maintaining security systems. They also monitor networks, analyze traffic, and run incident response.
Technology experts predict growth in demand for cybersecurity professionals in the coming years: In November 2021, Cybersecurity Ventures released its near-term projections for the global cybersecurity job landscape. The publication expects 3.5 million cybersecurity job openings worldwide by 2025.
This guide details a day in the life of a security engineer. It covers common duties, work settings, and tips on how to prepare to enter this field.
What Is a Security Engineer?
A security engineer's day-to-day duties include identifying and addressing vulnerabilities in computer networks and systems. These professionals are often senior members of cybersecurity teams. They also participate in refining their employers' user policies and security procedures.
Credentials are important for security engineers. According to Infosec Resources, candidates should hold at least a bachelor's degree in a relevant field. Examples include fields such as computer science, computer engineering, and cybersecurity.
Security engineers should also consider industry certifications. Infosec Resources identifies digital forensics, incident detection and response, and intrusion prevention as key skills. Pursuing certification in these areas can lead to employment offers and higher earning potential.
What Do Security Engineers Do?
Security engineers lead organizational efforts to protect their employers' data, networks, and computer systems. They hold leadership positions on cybersecurity teams, supervising supporting members such as penetration testers and security analysts.
Many also work with information technology (IT) personnel to ensure full compliance with best practices and safety standards.
Most security engineers advance into leadership positions after working in supporting roles for at least two years. Early in their careers, aspiring security engineers develop key forensics, incident response, and intrusion detection skills.
Some engineering subfields, such as civil engineering, require professional licensure. These requirements do not apply to cybersecurity engineers. However, some cybersecurity engineers do obtain professional engineering credentials. These licenses are often for computer or control systems engineering.
Successful security engineers are detail-oriented and organized. They must thrive in high-stress environments — cybersecurity situations can evolve rapidly, requiring quick thinking and adaptability to protect websites and valuable digital assets.
For more about life as a security engineer, explore the subsections below. They explain primary and supplementary job duties.
Main Duties of Security Engineers
Security engineers test the effectiveness of their strategies and systems. They find solutions to protect the weaknesses these tests identify. In larger organizations, security engineers may plan these tests and have junior cybersecurity personnel conduct them. In smaller organizations, they may perform the testing themselves.
Security engineers establish and update security policies that protect digital assets. These include regulating the "who, what, and how" of accessing sensitive information and systems. Security engineers work with other decision-makers, including those in both technical and non-technical roles, to help regulate access.
Change control operations revolve around documentation. They track an organization's authorized users, keeping tabs on who accessed what, for how long, and for what purpose. Security engineers also review and address unusual activity.
Real-time monitoring provides important insights into how cybersecurity measures perform. Security engineers may conduct monitoring themselves, especially in smaller organizations. In larger businesses, security engineers might establish monitoring best practices and review monitoring reports from support personnel.
If a security breach or cyberattack occurs, security engineers play a leading role in the organization's response. In larger organizations, security engineers supervise responses and delegate tasks. When the incident has been resolved, security engineers perform reviews, generate reports, minimize damage, and strengthen vulnerabilities.
Nonstandard Duties for Security Engineers
The software, tools, and technologies security engineers use to protect networks require ongoing maintenance. Security engineers may plan and supervise these updates.
Incident response reports are one of many forms of documentation security engineers generate. Other reports cover topics like threat intelligence and the technical details of system performance.
Security engineers conduct or supervise regular audits of the tools and controls they use to safeguard data and networks. These audits also investigate authorizations. Such audits ensure users only have access to the necessary digital assets, keeping sensitive data properly secured.
Hackers and cybercriminals constantly change techniques and develop new ways of bypassing security measures. As cybersecurity leaders, security engineers must ensure their skills are current. They achieve this through targeted professional development and careful research into impactful trends.
Security engineer positions may entail supervisory and administrative duties. In some cases, these include managing cybersecurity teams and their tasks. Security engineers also maintain contact with upper managers and key decision-makers. This may include attending and participating in meetings and presentations.
A Cybersecurity Engineer's Day-to-Day
A typical day in the life of a cybersecurity engineer varies according to their employer's priorities. Sometimes, they focus on threat research and policy development. Others' daily tasks include finding vulnerabilities and implementing solutions.
Even so, interviews with senior security engineers reveal that these professionals tend to perform certain tasks more than others. Examples of these routine job duties include:
- Reviewing and monitoring network and system activity for evidence of breaches or unusual/unauthorized activity
- Responding to threats or breaches detected through monitoring
- Seeking, testing, and closing off vulnerabilities in existing protective measures
- Writing reports and communicating findings to partners and managers
- Planning and executing necessary updates and system upgrades
If an active threat emerges, security engineers typically help lead the organized response. Meanwhile, the productive use of down-time may include:
- Researching known and emerging cyberthreats, especially those most relevant to the business or its parent industry
- Creating and updating organizational cybersecurity policies
- Monitoring network access and usage patterns
A cybersecurity engineer's day-to-day activities change constantly. In a sense, there is no "typical" day in the life of a security engineer. For many professionals, this rich task variety is part of what makes the role appealing.
Where Security Engineers Work
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes security engineers in the broader category of information security analysts. Location-specific and industry-specific BLS data for this professional track offers several insights into job trends.
According to BLS data from 2020, the five metro areas that employ the most infosec professionals include:
- Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-VA-MD-WV
- New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA
- Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX
- Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH
- Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD
These five states employed the greatest number of infosec professionals:
IT firms and companies that design and maintain large-scale computer networks rank among the leading employers of security engineers. Other top employment industries and sectors include financial services, insurance, and consulting.
The BLS also tracks which industries have a higher concentration of information security analysts. As of May 2020, these five industries are:
- Monetary authorities-central bank
- Computer systems design and related services
- Data processing, hosting, and related services
- Software publishers
In general, job opportunities for security engineers and infosec analysts tend to cluster in metropolitan areas. Government agencies and private-sector employers tend to hire them in the greatest numbers. However, nonprofit groups increasingly view improving organizational cybersecurity as a priority. Cybersecurity engineers can also find work in consulting and contract-based jobs.
Many candidates prioritize earning potential when deciding on a career. The BLS identifies the following as the best-paid industries for infosec analysts:
- Electronic shopping and mail-order houses
- Other information services
- Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing
- Automotive repair and maintenance
- Legal services
Infosec professionals are usually in the highest demand among businesses that generate relatively large volumes of sensitive information. The more valuable that information is, and the more attention it attracts from cybercriminals, the greater the industry's cybersecurity needs.
Should You Become a Security Engineer?
Becoming a security engineer has many rewards: The average salary for infosec professionals is higher than the national average. The job requires constant evolution of skills and knowledge. However, this dynamic workplace environment can be stressful—employees who do not thrive under pressure may want to pursue other careers.
The explosive growth of the cybersecurity industry has attracted major labor market interest. While employment forecasts project positive growth for information security jobs, this may lead to increased competition for open positions. Thus, earning a quality education through degree programs or bootcamps is crucial.
How to Prepare for Life as a Security Engineer
As with many computer science professions, aspiring security engineers can follow multiple paths. The standard path involves formal schooling that develops valuable hard skills. These include:
- Threat modeling and ethical hacking
- Penetration and vulnerability testing
- The advanced use of intrusion detection and prevention systems
- Deep knowledge of programming languages, network architecture, encryption, application security, identity management, and access management
- The ability to recognize and counter organized phishing scams, advanced persistent threats, malware, and unauthorized system/network entry attempts
A degree related to computer science offers a structured way to build these proficiencies. Coding bootcamps offer a faster alternative. In either case, candidates can strengthen their resumes by adding optional professional cybersecurity certifications.
In most organizations, security engineers are senior roles that require experience. Professionals often take engineer positions after working in related junior roles for 2-3 years.
Learn More About Security Engineers
FAQ About the Day-to-Day of Security Engineers
What does a cybersecurity engineer do daily?
A day in the life of a security engineer is dynamic. Their work usually focuses on addressing vulnerabilities and maintaining network and system protections. They also create organizational cybersecurity policy and generate detailed reports, among other tasks.
How many hours do security engineers work?
Specifics vary by job, but most security engineers maintain busy full-time schedules. Their job duties may occasionally require them to work overtime, evenings, or weekends.
Is life as a security engineer stressful?
Cybersecurity professionals earn higher-than-average pay, in part because of the role they play in protecting their employer's assets. As such, successful security engineers generally need high levels of stress tolerance.
Are security engineers paid well?
Security engineers generally earn higher-than-average salaries approaching the six-figure range. As of February 2022, Payscale reports the average salary of a U.S. cybersecurity engineer is $97,900 per year.
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