Security Engineer Career Overview
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Security engineers develop and supervise data and technology security systems to prevent breaches, taps, and leaks associated with cybercrime. Alternate titles for this career include information assurance engineer, information systems security engineer, and information security engineer.
Companies may combine a security engineering role with an analyst's role, but these positions typically focus on different things. Security analysts identify cybersecurity weaknesses. Security engineers build systems, such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems, to defend against attacks or leaks.
As commerce and data storage move into the cloud, organizations require more robust information security systems. As a result, information security professionals can work across industries such as computer systems design, manufacturing, insurance, finance, and education.
The guide below describes some of security engineers' job responsibilities and skill sets. It touches on the history of the role itself and how to become a security engineer. This page also introduces degrees that launch young professionals toward exciting career opportunities in this growing, lucrative field.
According to Payscale, security engineers made an average annual salary of $95,820 as of February 2022.
History of Cybersecurity Engineers
Cybersecurity dates back to 1972. That's when Ray Tomlinson, who invented the first type of email correspondence, wrote a program that became the first antivirus software.
As the need for more advanced cybersecurity defenses grew in the late 1970s and early 1980s, institutions such as the U.S. Air Force, Stanford University, and University of California Los Angeles carried out additional research and development of cybersecurity software.
In the 1980s, the U.S. government created the Trusted Computer System Evaluation Criteria (TCSEC). The TCSEC team established cybersecurity protocols that influenced the next generation of security developments. This work led to the U.S. and Europe collaborating on the Common Criteria, a new standard of internationally focused security practices.
The Common Criteria protocols are still in practice. However, organizations and businesses today rely on security engineers for online defense. Security engineers help tailor cybersecurity defenses to meet their clients' needs in nuanced, effective ways.
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Career Paths Similar to Security Engineers
...the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 33% increase in information security analyst positions from 2020-2030.
Many roles for security engineers require a bachelor's degree and some work experience. Learners may suit some jobs better than others depending on their education, experience, and professional certifications.
Security engineers can expect strong job growth. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 33% increase in information security analyst positions from 2020-2030.
The table below illustrates popular jobs related to security engineering.
|Career||Description||Required Education||Required Experience||Average Annual Salary (February 2022)|
|Penetration Tester||Also referred to as a vulnerability or pen tester, these workers check for weaknesses in digital security systems. They often work in teams to help other security experts develop solutions for malicious attacks.||Bachelor's degree||None required. Encryption or system security certifications may be beneficial.||$88,040|
|Security Architect||These cybersecurity professionals anticipate malicious attacks and build systems to stop them. Architects often lead teams of cybersecurity professionals and help establish organizations' security policies.||Bachelor's degree||None required. Previous work experience as a security engineer, consultant, or analyst may help.||$126,830|
|Security Software Developer||These developers improve computer programs and applications to integrate updated security protocols. They also create new security technologies. Developers can take on projects in non-security areas, including cloud storage solutions.||Bachelor's degree||Workers pursuing security software developer roles often enter the field as general developers to gain experience.||$73,190|
What Does a Security Engineer Do?
Security engineers keep sensitive data safe from breaches, taps, and leaks. These professionals protect organizational data, reputations, and finances. They secure client information, financial records, and other confidential information.
To accomplish this goal, security engineers typically work with a team of other cybersecurity professionals. This includes penetration testers, security analysts, and technology managers.
Cybersecurity engineers detect, investigate, and prevent attacks. They resolve problems with technology such as IT software and equipment. Specifically, security engineers install firewalls, implement breach detection systems, and work with other professionals to solve security-related problems.
Security engineers keep sensitive data safe from breaches, taps, and leaks
Security engineers also conduct assessments, test security systems, and analyze risks. They report their findings and make recommendations to company executives.
These professionals face tough challenges. The tools and tactics used in security engineering jobs change often.
Cybercriminals grow increasingly sophisticated. Internal threats multiply when employees deal with complex security systems. Consequently, engineers face an ongoing struggle to keep data secure while not stressing non-technical employees and systems.
At the beginning of their careers, security engineers may build systems for small companies or business operations. As they mature in their roles, these professionals may maintain security protocols or try to break other engineers' creations to test their strength and durability.
Engineers with exceptional leadership and management skills may move into roles as security managers or chief information security officers.
Key Soft Skills for Security Engineers
Security engineers serve as both thought leaders and ask leaders of people. They must stay aware of the latest in security information and manage other cybersecurity professionals' work.
Security engineers often lead teams to complete defined deliverables on a tight timeframe. As project managers, these professionals also oversee workers, break down deliverables into tasks, and manage budgets and timelines.
The ability to solve problems defines a security engineer's career. These professionals address security-related issues through the frameworks, tools, and processes involved in problem-solving.
Security engineers regularly communicate with other cybersecurity professionals, corporate leaders, and IT sales professionals. They also educate staff members about cybersecurity policies.
Key Hard Skills for Security Engineers
Ethical hackers simulate cyber attacks from criminals. Security engineers need to understand ethical hacking so they can build and maintain systems that support it.
Computer Operating Systems
Security engineers need hands-on familiarity with major operating systems. These systems include Linux, UNIX, and Windows. Security engineers should also understand major database platforms like MySQL and MSSQL.
Computer networks include local area networks, wide area networks, and intranets. Engineers help design and build the phases of these networks and protect them against damage.
Computer forensics refers to the investigation of cybercrime. Security engineer skills include recognizing and working in the space where digital data meets the law.
A Day in the Life of a Security Engineer
Cybersecurity engineers design security tools and structures to keep their companies safe from breaches and leaks. To design those tools and structures, engineers spend some time learning about new and emerging technologies relevant to their industry.
Problem-solving is among the most important parts of a security engineer's day. Engineers must solve business case problems for their companies or clients. They also help educate others about cybercrime and data security.
Consequently, security engineers need top-notch communication skills to explain complex issues and build trust in their relationships.
Cybersecurity engineers work with security lawyers, penetration testers, and security analysts. They also meet with corporate executives, managers, and cybersecurity sales professionals to help determine appropriate investments in security tools and strategies.
Security Engineer Salary and Career Outlook
According to Payscale, security engineers earned an average annual salary of $95,820 as of February 2022. Many factors affect a security engineer's salary, including industry, location, education, experience, and job level.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that security professionals who work in the finance industry typically earn more than their colleagues in other sectors. Public sector employees often earn some of the lowest wages.
According to Payscale, security engineers earned an average annual salary of $95,820 as of February 2022.
Salary alone, however, does not determine a job's financial benefits. A job in an area with a high cost of living, for example, should pay more than the same job in another area just to cover basic goods and services.
A security engineer's educational background, work experience, and job level all determine salary packages.
Average Salary for Security Engineers
Source: Payscale, February 2022
How to Become a Cybersecurity Engineer
The career path for a security engineer typically begins with a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity, computer science, or a related field. A bachelor's usually takes four years, though some schools offer accelerated options.
After graduation, prospective security engineers usually spend 1-5 years working in IT jobs. During this time, they can work with mentors, earn cybersecurity credentials, and join professional associations to advance their careers.
After gaining a few years of experience, these professionals can apply to a master's program in security engineering or a related field. Graduate students typically participate in an internship. Many also write a thesis or complete an applied research project.
After finishing a master's degree, graduates can apply for security engineering positions.
To learn more about how to become a security engineer, see the links below. These pages offer detailed information on degree programs, bootcamps, and professional certifications.
Steps to Becoming a Security Engineer: Prospective students can learn more about college degrees and certifications to prepare for a security engineer career. Associate in Cybersecurity Programs: Learn more about two-year cybersecurity programs, admission requirements, and concentration options for associate degree-seekers. Bachelor's in Cybersecurity Programs: Discover potential career paths, earning potential, admission requirements, and population concentrations for these four-year programs. Best Online Bachelor's in Cybersecurity Programs: Learn more about the top five online cybersecurity bachelor's degrees, admission requirements, and common course requirements for remote students. Master's in Cybersecurity Programs: Find out what it takes to earn a master's degree in cybersecurity, including skills you will learn and potential career paths. Best Online Master's in Cybersecurity Programs: In addition to information on the top five online master's degrees, distance learners can find out more about common graduate admission requirements, typical coursework, and security engineer career paths. Guide to Cybersecurity Bootcamps: Learn how to identify a quality cybersecurity bootcamp, which topics you can study, and how a bootcamp may benefit your career. Certifications for Cybersecurity Professionals: Learn what types of security certifications are available, how much they cost, and how they might benefit your cybersecurity career.
Professional Organizations for Security Engineers
The world's largest source for information security training, SANS offers more than 60 courses on demand, online, and in person. Security engineers can take a course, earn a certification, complete a degree, or opt for free educational resources.
CIS is a community-driven nonprofit organization composed of IT professionals and security engineers from around the globe. The center provides information on cyber threats through a multi-state information sharing and analysis center. Members can access various tools, resources, and services.
One of the oldest organizations for information security professionals, CompTIA provides industry-leading certifications. The organization also offers a career center, networking options, and awards for members. CompTIA helps shape public policy as it relates to cybersecurity and IT as well.
A global organization for security professionals, ISACA offers industry-wide standards of information security. It also provides credentials, training, events, and career connections. Students and recent graduates can take advantage of special membership options to help launch their security engineer careers.
ISSA is a nonprofit, international, membership-based organization. ISSA offers online education forums, conferences, and publications covering the latest in information systems security. Its primary goal is to promote best practices in information confidentiality and provide resources for information security professionals.
Learn More About Security Engineers
How To Become a Security Engineer
This page describes how to become a cybersecurity engineer, including education, career paths, and earning potential. Students and career-switchers may benefit from this information.
Day in the Life of a Security Engineer
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in the life of a professional in security engineering.
FAQ About Jobs in Security Engineering
How long does it take to become a security engineer?
Education requirements for security engineering jobs usually start with a four-year undergraduate degree. Many security engineers also hold a master's degree and 1-5 years of prior experience in an IT position.
What degree is needed to be a security engineer?
To get started as a security engineer, professionals need an undergraduate degree in a field like cybersecurity, computer science, or IT. Advanced jobs in security engineering may require a master's degree as well.
What other requirements are needed to be a security engineer?
Requirements for security engineers vary among positions and companies. A four-year degree can help prepare you for entry-level positions. However, workers may need a few years of work experience to pursue more advanced, specialized, or higher-paying roles.
Are jobs in security engineering hard to get?
Workers with a four-year degree and strong work ethic are competitive applicants for entry-level positions. The BLS projects a 33% increase in positions for information security analysts from 2020-2030. This outlook bodes well for job-seekers.
In 2019, Monali Mirel Chuatico graduated with her bachelor's in computer science, which gave her the foundation that she needed to excel in roles such as a data engineer, front-end developer, UX designer, and computer science instructor.
Monali is currently a data engineer at Mission Lane. As a data analytics captain at a nonprofit called COOP Careers, Monali helps new grads and young professionals overcome underemployment by teaching them data analytics tools and mentoring them on their professional development journey.
Page last reviewed on Jan. 27, 2022
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