How to Become a Security Architect

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Security architecture combines hardware and software knowledge with programming proficiency, research skills, and policy development. Security architects anticipate potential threats and design systems to preempt them. As senior information technology professionals, security architects plan, implement, and supervise computer and network security systems.

Equipped with bachelor’s degrees in computer science or a similar discipline and years of field experience, security architects understand computer and network systems, cybersecurity, and risk management. Industry certifications, continuing education programs, and graduate degrees provide additional expertise in security strategies, methods, and architecture.

Security architect duties require strong communication and organizational leadership skills. Often tasked with leading teams of information technology professionals, security architects may articulate and disseminate computer security policies and procedures across an organization.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 5% growth in employment for computer network architects from 2018-2028. With median salaries topping $122,000 according to PayScale, information technology architecture remains a thriving, lucrative position.

What Does a Security Architect Do?

Security architects assess their organizations’ information technology and computer systems, identifying strengths and weaknesses. They conduct penetration tests, risk analyses, and ethical hacks on local area networks, wide area networks, and virtual private networks. They also assess routers, firewalls, and comparable systems to determine efficacy and efficiency.

Security architects think like hackers. They push existing computer and network security systems to their limits. Once security architects identify vulnerabilities in existing systems, they plan and implement architectural changes to boost security structures.

These professionals often develop and implement entirely new security architectures. They blend knowledge of security hardware and software, organizational needs, and cybersecurity risks with organizational policies and industry standards.

As security architects build and maintain security systems and networks, they prepare budgets, oversee expenses, and allocate personnel resources as needed. Security architects provide guidance to information technology (IT) security team members. They also lead IT analysts, security administrators, and security engineers to coordinate effective security protocols.

Security architects also respond to security breaches. When incidents arise, security architects assess causes, damages, and data recovery, preparing thorough reports for their colleagues, managers, and executives. They also implement appropriate changes, updates, and upgrades in response to vulnerabilities and incursions.

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Steps to Become a Security Architect

Many security architects boast hacker experience. With experience penetrating existing computer and network security systems, former hackers know what to look for when it comes to weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Security architects also gain knowledge of hacking during undergraduate programs in information technology, computer science, or related disciplines. Most employers prefer security architects to hold at least a bachelor’s degree.

Bachelor’s degrees prepare students to enter the IT profession as security, network, or systems administrators. Security administrators install, administer, and monitor organizations’ security solutions. Network and systems administrators manage organizational information technology infrastructures.

Entry-level experience can lead to mid-level roles as security analysts, engineers, and consultants. Security analysts detect and prevent data incursions, while security engineers design information technology security solutions. The skills developed in entry- and mid-level information technology security positions help professionals move into security architect roles.

Experience remains key in security architecture, but information technology security professionals can earn cybersecurity certifications, as well. Certifications further hone skills, build knowledge, and keep aspiring and practicing security architects current in the field.

(ISC)², a leader in the cybersecurity community, offers an information systems security professional certification. Security architects can earn a specialized CISSP credential in architecture. The program integrates technology, leadership, and analytical content to advance field-specific expertise.

CompTIA offers an advanced security practitioner (CASP+) program, as well. Professionals with CASP+ credentials demonstrate expertise in security domain architectural concepts requirements, plus knowledge of cloud and virtualization technology integration and cryptographic techniques.

Graduate degrees in information technology security, cybersecurity, and comparable areas further enhance security architecture careers. Curricula vary by program, but core classes explore advanced incident handling, ethical hacking, and information security governance. Individuals working in specific industries such as healthcare, finance, or government may further concentrate their degrees.

Top Required Skills for a Security Architect

Security architects possess technological, administrative, and leadership skills. Through college coursework and industry certifications, security analysts develop knowledge of operating systems such as Windows and Linux. They also understand wired and wireless security, systems and network architecture, and general information technology principles.

Security architects have a grasp of complex risk management and assessment theories and practices, as well as intricate cybersecurity laws and guidelines. Security architects know how and when to apply security concepts and controls such as routing, authentication, and proxy services.

Knowledge of frameworks such as COBIT, the Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology developed by ISACA, and ITIL, a set of guidelines for IT service management, guide security architects in their managerial and administrative duties. Familiarity with organizational policies, government regulations, and information technology ethics can also help security analysts in their daily duties.

Soft skills for security architects include verbal and written communication. Security architects prepare oral and written reports about security weaknesses, incidents, and protocols. Security architects communicate details about security infrastructure, policies, and practices to technical and nontechnical colleagues, gearing the language they use to the appropriate audience. Creativity and innovative thinking also benefit these professionals. By trying new techniques and employing the latest technologies, security architects stay at the forefront of their craft.

Analytical and problem-solving skills allow security architects to identify and rectify computer and network security vulnerabilities. They must listen and adapt to their organizations’ needs and goals. As team leaders, security architects work closely with fellow IT professionals in planning, employing, and monitoring security solutions.

Security Architect Salary

The BLS projects a 12% growth in computer and IT occupations from 2018-2028. Information technology security professionals can anticipate an added 500,000 new positions in the field. Computer network architects may see 8,400 new positions in coming years.

PayScale reports security architects earn a median annual salary of $122,676. Entry-level security architects take home roughly $77,000 annually, while their mid-level counterparts reported salaries just under $118,000. With 20 or more years in the position, security analysts earn more than $133,000 annually.

Top industries for computer network architects include computer systems design and telecommunications. Per PayScale, security architects indicated that the global defense and security technology company Lockheed Martin Corporation paid the profession’s highest salaries. Information technology consulting company Booz Allen Hamilton and American Airlines offer some of the lowest salaries.

Washington, D.C. offers the fifth-highest annual mean wage to computer network architects. This corresponds to PayScale’s claim that security architects in Washington, D.C. earned more than 19% more than the national median annual salary.

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NOTE: Take a look at our Guide to Cyber Security Certifications for more information and advice.

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