Security Consulting Career Overview
| Victoria Leigh Modified on July 19, 2022
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In a world that increasingly relies on cloud computing, organizations need cybersecurity consultants more than ever to protect sensitive data. These professionals assess digital security measures for their organization and clients. They also analyze security systems, review potential breaches, and supervise the implementation of solutions.
Security consultants may oversee security operations for one company or consult with clients independently to help organizations identify areas for improvements. According to PayScale, these professionals earn an average annual salary of $85,430 as of November 2021.
This guide covers how to become a security consultant, along with typical job responsibilities. We also explore crucial job skills plus security consultant salaries and advancement opportunities.
History of Cybersecurity Consulting Jobs
Computer viruses are as old as the internet itself. In the late 1980s, a simple virus damaged random files on infected computers until a researcher created the first antivirus program to neutralize it.
Technology developed rapidly in the following decades. The dangers of malware also grew, resulting in millions of infected computers and millions of dollars of damage. Cybersecurity consulting emerged to meet the needs of organizations vulnerable to cyberattacks.
Cybersecurity consulting fulfills three critical needs for companies:
- Offering external cybersecurity expertise and perspectives
- Providing support to internal IT staff
- Drawing on a large pool of available resources
Organizations can also hire consultants for ongoing support or after a cybersecurity breach.
Similar Roles and Career Paths
To develop the experience needed for a cybersecurity consulting career, professionals typically start in related entry-level jobs, like a security analyst or incident responder.
Security consulting roles build specialized skills in compliance, network architecture, and project management. With additional education and training, these skills can lead to advanced career opportunities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), chief information security officers earn a median annual salary of $151,150 as of 2020.
Learn more about the job titles you may encounter on your security consulting career path in the table below.
|Career||Description||Required Education||Required Experience||Average Annual Salary (November 2021)|
|Security Analyst||Security analysts plan and carry out procedures to protect networks and systems against cyberattacks.||Bachelor's degree; some employers prefer a master's||Some related experience||$73,140|
|Security Engineer||Security engineers support organizations by seeking out vulnerabilities, configuring firewalls, and writing scripts to respond to incidents.||Bachelor's degree; some employers prefer a master's||1-5 years of IT experience||$94,790|
|Incident Responder||Incident responders assess and respond to cybersecurity threats with network forensics analysis and penetration testing.||Bachelor's degree; some employers prefer a master's||Some related experience||$85,080|
|Security Architect||Security architects design, program, and install systems and applications to maintain and improve IT security.||Bachelor's degree; some employers prefer a master's||5-10 years of IT experience||$125,350|
|Chief Information Security Officer||Chief information security officers manage organizations' IT security teams, budgets, policies, and practices.||Bachelor's degree; many employers prefer a master's||5-10 years of IT experience||$165,160|
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What Does a Security Consultant Do?
Whether working for a single company or multiple clients, security consultants analyze potential cybersecurity threats by running systems tests and searching for potential breaches. These workers must understand how hackers operate to protect against attacks.
Companies hire cybersecurity consultants to protect their digital assets, which may include consumer data, custom software coding, and sensitive information. These professionals may also train staff to understand and protect themselves against information security risks.
Security consultants suggest infrastructure improvements to upper management. Once the company selects a strategy, a security consultant oversees the implementation of new security measures and helps maintain them over time. Security consulting experts must stay up to date on the latest improvements and risk factors.
Security breaches can erode consumer confidence and threaten the organization's future, making security a top priority for many companies. Cybersecurity consulting jobs typically require 1-3 years of experience. Entry-level roles in security consulting may include junior positions on teams of IT specialists.
Key Soft Skills for Security Consultants
- Communication: Good communicators know how to listen closely and express themselves clearly. Security consultants must discuss IT concerns with clients, write clear reports, and present findings and solutions to management.
- Adaptability: Cyberattacks continually change and evolve. Security consultants must know how to research these industry changes and respond to new threats accordingly.
- Collaboration: While identifying risks and creating solutions, cybersecurity consultants may work with managers, IT teams, and other departments. Consultants need to know how to work effectively with technical and non-technical professionals.
- Problem-Solving: Security consultants use problem-solving skills to choose the right investigative tools, identify vulnerabilities, and develop appropriate solutions for each client.
Key Hard Skills for Security Consultants
- Penetration Testing: Penetration tests use simulated cyberattacks to identify vulnerabilities. Security consultants must know how to conduct network tests, application tests, and social engineering tests with safety measures in place.
- Threat Management: Threat management tools can help stop cyberattacks from reaching an organization's IT system. Security consultants need a strong understanding of firewalls, antivirus software, spam detection, and leak prevention technologies, including installation and configuration.
- Technology Familiarity: Organizations' IT networks use many different operating systems, hardware, and software. Security consultants who work with multiple clients must shift between various platforms, including technology still in development.
- Business Knowledge: A foundational knowledge of business operations allows consultants to easily navigate company structures, identify vulnerable information, and communicate effectively with managers and staff.
A Day in the Life of a Security Consultant
Security consultants help businesses and organizations secure IT systems and networks. These professionals often work with multiple clients to evaluate existing IT procedures, conduct penetration tests, and discuss problems and solutions with managers.
Security consultants help implement solutions by installing and configuring firewalls, updating written policies, and ensuring technical and business processes align. Security consultants may also mentor and advise company employees on information security concepts, like the dangers of email phishing.
Security Consultant Salary and Career Outlook
Payscale reports that security consultants earn an average annual salary of $85,430 as of November 2021. Salary potential can increase depending on many factors, including education, years of experience, location, and the particular industry.
According to the BLS, information security analysts earned higher salaries in California, New York, and New Jersey than anywhere else in the country. As of May 2020, security consultants in California earned an annual mean wage of $125,990, while security consultants in New York and New Jersey earned $125,920 and $123,280, respectively.
With cybersecurity in demand across industries, security consultants can find employment in many different fields. The BLS reports that the top-paying industries for information security analysts included electronic shopping and mail-order houses, semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing, and legal services, with the highest annual mean wage at $132,150.
Furthermore, the BLS projects a 33% growth rate for information security analysts from 2020-2030 — more than four times faster than the national average. Security consulting experts can take advantage of booming opportunities over the next decade.
Source: PayScale, November 2021
How to Start a Career in Cybersecurity Consulting
The path to a security consulting career begins with education. An aspiring consultant can enroll in a bachelor's program or complete an intensive cybersecurity bootcamp over several months. Graduates typically need to obtain a few years of related IT experience before applying for consulting positions.
Obtaining a cybersecurity consulting job can take 2-9 years of combined education and experience. Earning a professional certification in cybersecurity or information systems can expand job prospects.
Visit the links below to learn more about becoming a security consultant.
- Steps to Becoming a Security Consultant: Visit this guide for a detailed breakdown of education, experience, and certification requirements for security consultants.
- Bachelor's in Cybersecurity Programs: Compare the most popular majors for cybersecurity students and learn where a bachelor's degree can take you.
- Online Bachelor's in Cybersecurity Programs: Is an online college program right for you? Learn what to expect from an online undergraduate degree.
- Master's in Cybersecurity Programs: This page explores the benefits of earning an advanced cybersecurity degree and compares the best master's specializations.
- Best Online Master's in Cybersecurity Programs: Using our unique methodology, we rank and compare the top five online master's degrees in cybersecurity.
- Guide to Cybersecurity Bootcamps: Bootcamps offer fast-paced, intensive career training. Get the details about this popular alternative education option.
- Certifications for Cybersecurity Professionals: This comprehensive guide explores the benefits of certification and provides links to credentialing organizations in the field.
Resources for Security Consultants
Since its founding in 1989, SANS has become a trusted source for cybersecurity training. The institute offers courses and certifications in multiple field specializations. Community members can access webcasts, peer research, open-source tools, and other resources.
This nonprofit organization promotes effective cybersecurity efforts by connecting information security professionals across the globe. Benefits of membership include professional development offerings, access to local chapter meetings, and networking opportunities.
Founded in 1990, FIRST facilitates communication between IT security professionals around the world. Forum members can share information, coordinate responses, and network. FIRST hosts a conference in a different part of the world each year.
As the world's largest global association of cybersecurity professionals, (ISC)² offers certifications for all career stages. Benefits of membership include opportunities for peer-to-peer networking, industry event discounts, and professional development and recognition.
Learn More About Security Consulting
How to Become a Security Consultant
This guide lays out a step-by-step path for aspiring security consultants. Explore necessary skills, education and experience requirements, and professional certification options.
Salary and Career Outlook for Security Consultants
Get a glimpse of your potential as a security consultant. This page explores the job market and breaks down salary data by experience, education, and location.
Day in the Life of a Security Consultant
What exactly does a cybersecurity consultant do every day? Visit this guide to review typical workplaces, job responsibilities, and work schedules.
Frequently Asked Questions About Careers in Security Consulting
Do you need a degree to be a cybersecurity consultant?
Most cybersecurity consultants have a bachelor's degree in the field. Since degrees provide a solid educational foundation, many employers prefer to hire college graduates. However, alternative pathways exist, like cybersecurity bootcamps. If you can demonstrate proficiency through work experience, you may not need a degree to become a cybersecurity consultant.
What is the main role of a security consultant?
A security consultant's primary responsibility involves helping organizations protect their IT systems from cyberattacks and unauthorized access. These professionals identify system vulnerabilities, develop security solutions, and ensure compliance with regulations.
What job titles do security consultants go by?
Security consultants may also work as cybersecurity analysts and information security analysts. Professionals with more advanced titles, like information security managers, perform similar consulting tasks with additional oversight responsibilities.
How much do cybersecurity consultants make?
According to the BLS, information security analysts — including security consultants — earned a median salary of $103,590 in 2020. Factors that affect earning potential include geographic location, years of experience, and education.
Born and raised in upstate New York, Brian Nichols began his IT education through a vocational high school where he focused on computer science, IT fundamentals, and networking. Brian then went to his local community college, where he received his associate of science in computer information science. He then received his bachelor of science in applied networking and system administration from a private college. Brian now lives in Kansas City, where he works full-time as a DevOps engineer. Brian is also a part-time instructor in cybersecurity. He's passionate about cybersecurity and helping students succeed.
Brian Nichols is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.
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