How to Become a Security Specialist

How to Become a Security Specialist

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Security specialists hold key positions in tech teams. According to a 2021 CompTIA job report, information security analyst positions were in the top ten for the most remote job listings — with about 4,400 postings.

Requirements to enter the field vary by job and employer, but cybersecurity professionals usually need extensive knowledge and certifications. Some aspiring security specialists learn IT skills independently. Others attend technology bootcamps, and many pursue a college degree in cybersecurity.

This page provides detailed information about how to become a cybersecurity specialist. Read on to learn more about cybersecurity job descriptions and how to launch your security specialist career.

What Does a Cybersecurity Specialist Do?

As technology advances, so do cybersecurity risks. Security experts help companies track potential threats, implement new software, and protect valuable data. Security specialists' core tasks vary depending on their particular job and industry. However, many cybersecurity professionals handle security policies, contain threats, and develop security solutions.

Since most businesses store financial, statistical, and customer data online, cybersecurity specialists — also called security specialists — can work in many industries. Entry-level positions often involve developing code, troubleshooting problems, and testing malware.

Top security analysts must lead teams and understand their company's security needs. Business knowledge, communication skills, and management capabilities can help these professionals advance their careers.

Required Education for Security Specialists

A 2019 Burning Glass Technologies report notes that most cybersecurity jobs (65%) require a bachelor's degree. Undergraduate majors like cybersecurity, computer science, and computer forensics can provide candidates with the skills to pursue security specialist jobs.

Professionals pursuing higher-level positions may opt for a master's or doctoral degree. People seeking a career change into the cybersecurity field and computer scientists looking to specialize can also earn a graduate degree in IT security.

Still, 12% of security positions did not list any degree requirements. Some positions may accept bootcamp graduates or self-taught workers with drive and certifications.

Cybersecurity job postings grew 94% from 2013-2019, showing high demand in the field. Organizations like Cisco offer entry-level security certifications to help new talent begin working with or without a bachelor's degree.

However, higher education degrees often affect salary and promotions. Candidates with a college degree may enjoy higher pay and more advancement potential. Employers may also view a degree as a sign of focus and discipline, core skills for security specialists.

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Required Experience for Security Specialists

Security specialists handle sensitive information, so most employers require experience and expertise. According to a Burning Glass Technologies report, 46% of cybersecurity jobs require 3-5 years of experience. Another 22% of positions expect 6-8 years of experience.

Several entry-level jobs can lead to top security specialist positions. Many specialists begin as network administrators, computer systems analysts, or network engineers. An undergraduate degree in cybersecurity or general computer science may qualify applicants for some positions. However, internships and IT work experience can help recent graduates stand out in the job market.

Some certifications also require experience in technology positions. Since most employers expect certification, the first step involves experience.

Internship Opportunities

Internships can help security specialist hopefuls gain the experience needed for certification and high-level positions. Explore a few options below.

  • Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency: This government agency offers paid internship opportunities for high school, undergraduate, and graduate students. CISA interns work on projects like improving malware capability and building virtual environments. Interns can also help create social media strategies for cybersecurity specialists.
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Current bachelor's and master's students can apply for a 10-week paid internship in Washington, D.C. Focus areas include forensics analysis, intrusion prevention, and malicious code identification.
  • Cisco: Cisco's Security & Trust University Program offers positions to recent college graduates and current students worldwide. Internship programs run 2-12 months. Interns may qualify for tuition reimbursement.

Required Certifications for Security Specialists

Although security specialists do not always need certification, most employers prefer certified candidates. Keep in mind that certificate programs and technology bootcamps do not provide certification. Individuals must apply for certification through organizations like (ISC)², Cisco, and CompTIA.

Applicants should explore which certifications match their skills and desired career path. The application process varies for each credential. Some cybersecurity certifications cater to entry-level candidates while others prepare workers for advanced positions. Most require some industry experience before examination. Typically, professionals must seek recertification every few years.

Explore a few options listed below.

  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional: CISSP certification is the oldest and most sought-after security credential. Candidates must show an overall understanding of cybersecurity implementation, design, and development. Applicants need at least five years of relevant work experience.
  • CompTIA Security+: This entry-level certification requires core skills in cloud operations, forensics, risk management, and security controls. Before the exam, candidates should complete two years of IT work. Job-seekers with CompTIA Security+ certification may qualify for positions like helpdesk analyst, cloud engineer, and security engineer.
  • Certified Ethical Hacker: EC-Council's CEH exam tests knowledge of attack detection, information security threats, and attack methodologies. The organization also awards a CEH Practical certification focused on SQL injection methodology, vulnerability detection, and session hijacking. Individuals who earn both credentials can receive CEH Master certification.
  • Cisco Certified Network Associate: This entry-level certification helps prepare individuals for jobs in network administration, support, and engineering. Cisco recommends at least one year of experience. The qualifying exam covers topics like IP services, networking basics, and security fundamentals.

How Do I Become a Cybersecurity Specialist?

Becoming a security specialist looks different for each individual. Some cybersecurity professionals pursue experience before earning certification. Others start with a college degree. Whatever path they choose, security specialists need strong technical skills and a commitment to continuing education.

Candidates may spend 3-5 years gaining technology experience, often in non-security IT roles. Many IT positions include a cybersecurity aspect. These "cyberenabled" positions focus on technical support, network engineering, or project management, but still require workers to handle minor security issues. Gaining industry experience in such roles can prepare candidates for core security positions.

Networking is another critical part of how to become a cybersecurity specialist. Joining professional organizations, college groups, and online communities can help jumpstart a security specialist career.

Steps to Becoming a Security Specialist

University Path

  1. Pursue an Associate or Bachelor's Degree. An undergraduate degree can provide the computer science foundations security specialists need. Associate degrees typically last two years, while bachelor's degrees take four years.
  2. Land Internships while Studying. Most employers look for at least one year of work in the field. Summer internships can help students gain this experience. More advanced security positions may require 3-5 years of experience.
  3. Build a Network. Connect with professors, employers, and fellow classmates to build a professional network. Consider joining professional cybersecurity communities to connect with field experts and attend conferences.
  4. Earn Certification. Explore available credentials and learn what employers require for your desired position. Apply for certifications, study, and pass the exams. Some certifying organizations ask you to become a member before the examination.
  5. Complete Continuing Education. Many certifying organizations include continuing education as a certification requirement. Security specialists must understand and master new technology to protect systems from attack. Continued education pushes professionals to stay up-to-date with tech advances.
  6. Recertify Regularly and Consider More Certifications. Most certifications expire, so apply for recertification promptly. As you develop more skills, consider adding certifications to pursue advanced positions and a higher salary.

Non-Degree Path

  1. Consider Self-Study. High school students already writing code or developing software can refine their skills through online tutorials and practice.
  2. Explore Available Bootcamps. Cybersecurity bootcamps last between a few months and two years. These short programs can develop core skills needed for certification.
  3. Pursue Certification. Many certifications do not require applicants to hold a degree. With skills alone, individuals can often earn entry-level certification.
  4. Gain Experience. Apply for jobs after earning certification. Initial work opportunities may not focus only on security, but any computer science position can fulfill work requirements for security-specific positions.
  5. Complete Continuing Education.
  6. Recertify Regularly and Consider More Certifications.

Should I Become a Security Specialist?

The security specialist role best suits people who enjoy new challenges and want to protect data. Professionals in this industry also need strong problem-solving skills.

A big challenge for aspiring security specialists is getting their first job without years of experience. Networking, internships, and certifications can help individuals land entry-level security positions. Many cybersecurity experts start out as network engineers, help desk technicians, or systems administrators.

More certifications and experience can lead to top roles such as senior security analyst. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 33% increase in information security analyst positions from 2020-2030. As of 2020, these high-level security professionals earned a median annual salary of $103,590, with the top 10% earning over $163,300.

With training and experience, candidates can also pursue other security specialties, such as computer forensics, penetration testing, and governance, risk, and compliance.

Pros

  • High salary
  • Challenging, evolving field
  • Promising job outlook
  • Diverse positions and career paths

Cons

  • Difficult to land a job without prior experience
  • Requires in-depth knowledge and extensive skill
  • May be on call outside of regular working hours
  • May need to work more than 40 hours a week

The Cybersecurity Specialist Job Hunt

The security specialist profession is growing quickly. The BLS projects 16,300 new information security analyst jobs each year from 2020-2030. Still, looking for ways to stand out from the competition can help cybersecurity hopefuls land their dream job.

Networking plays a vital role in the job hunt. Individuals should create professional connections early. Students can attend university job fairs, ask professors about internship opportunities, and join IT security organizations. Groups like the Information Systems Security Association International host conferences and seminars that provide ample networking opportunities.

Aspiring cybersecurity specialists can also find recent job listings through the following job sites.

Dice exclusively lists tech positions. The website also offers resources to help candidates land technology jobs.

Employers add ten jobs per second on Indeed, attracting over 250 million visitors each month. Input your desired job title and location and explore hundreds of tech positions.

This popular website features over 11 million job postings across various industries, including technology. Job-seekers can consult company information, employee reviews, and reported salaries.

Over 250,000 companies post tech and engineering jobs on this site. Users can search for cybersecurity positions and browse listings from high-profile companies.

Instead of searching for jobs, candidates create a profile and Whitetruffle matches them with employers. Businesses like Postmates, Venmo, GoPro, and Netflix use Whitetruffle to find tech employees.

Resources for Future Cybersecurity Specialists

What Is a Security Specialist?

What Is a Security Specialist?

This page provides an overview of the security specialist profession. Review professional expectations, median salaries, typical responsibilities, and required skills for security specialists.

Salary and Career Outlook for Security Specialists

Salary and Career Outlook for Security Specialists

Before investing in higher education or certifications, explore salaries in cybersecurity and learn about the projected career outlook for the coming decade.

Day in the Life of a Security Specialist

Day in the Life of a Security Specialist

Discover whether the security specialist profession fits your strengths and interests by exploring daily tasks and responsibilities.

Certifications for Security Specialists

Certifications for Security Specialists

Explore the necessary certifications for security specialists and learn more about the educational requirements for this profession. Start your journey to becoming a security specialist by earning one of these certifications.


Frequently Asked Questions About Security Specialist Careers

What is the job description of a cybersecurity specialist?

Cybersecurity specialists protect sensitive data and analyze vulnerable spots in company networks. These professionals detect and analyze potential threats, evaluate risks, and respond to security incidents. Job titles include network defender, incident responder, and security administrator.

Is an IT security specialist the same thing as a cybersecurity specialist?

IT security specialists and cybersecurity specialists perform similar jobs. People often use these titles interchangeably. However, cybersecurity specialists usually focus on analyzing, monitoring, and responding to threats, while IT security specialists research, monitor, and install protective software.

Is learning becoming an expert security specialist hard?

If you enjoy problem-solving, working with various networks, and mastering the latest technology, becoming a security specialist may not be hard. However, to become an expert in the field, you may need certification and years of experience.

How do I start a cybersecurity job with no experience?

Most cybersecurity jobs require some experience. With the necessary technical skills, you can apply for entry-level tech positions. You can also pursue entry-level certifications that prove your expertise without professional experience.


Featured Image: baranozdemir / E+ / Getty Images

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