Last Updated: March 3, 2020
Sometimes titled information security engineer, information systems security engineer, or information assurance engineer, security engineers develop and supervise information technology (IT) security systems that prevent cybercrime information breaches.
Some companies combine the roles of security analyst and security engineer, so these titles often get used synonymously, but security analyst positions often focus on identifying cybersecurity weaknesses, while security engineers focus on building defensive systems such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems.
As commerce and data storage increasingly moves online, most organizations require information security systems, so information security professionals work in many industries from computer systems design and manufacturing to insurance, finance, and education.
The information below describes security engineer education and experience requisites, job responsibilities, and skill sets. This page also introduces cyber degree programs that can launch you toward exciting career opportunities in this growing, lucrative field. According to PayScale, security engineers earn a healthy average annual salary of $88,741.
What Does a Security Engineer Do?
Companies hire security engineers to keep sensitive data safe from cyberattacks. By securing financial records, client information, and other confidential data, security engineers protect organizational finances and reputations.
Companies expect security engineers to detect, investigate, and prevent intrusions and to resolve technical problems with IT equipment and software. Security engineers implement intrusion detection systems, install firewalls, and sometimes collaborate with other IT professionals to solve security problems. Frequently conducting tests, security assessments, and risk analyses, these professionals report their findings, evaluate new security measures, and make IT security recommendations to company leadership.
Many security engineer positions require 1-5 years of relevant IT work experience, so aspiring security engineers usually need to start with entry-level positions such as computer support technician. Inexperienced students should choose information security programs with relevant internships that can lead to entry-level positions.
Entry-level information systems jobs allow professionals to learn from upper-level engineers and to gain experience in program testing, risk management, and other information security responsibilities. Senior security engineers and security managers typically need 5-10 years' related work experience as security, network, or system administrators.
Steps to Become a Security Engineer
Preparing for your security engineer career can save time and money. Current high school students interested in security engineering should focus on science, math, and computer courses. Communication skills also deserve attention because security engineers need to report their findings clearly and efficiently to colleagues, clients, and sometimes law enforcement professionals.
Next, aspiring security engineers should earn an undergraduate degree in cybersecurity or a related field such as computer science, engineering, or programming. Other good majors include information systems, information technology, and applied mathematics. By offering curricula specifically designed to cultivate the hard and soft skills needed by security engineers and other cybersecurity professionals, schools offering concentrations or majors in cybersecurity or information security can expedite your route to this career.
The related bachelor's degrees above typically meet security engineer education requirements. However, earning a master's degree renders professionals more competitive for top-level positions. Working professionals with unrelated bachelor's degrees often use master's programs to obtain the security engineering education necessary for this career path.
Security engineers usually need 1-5 years of related IT experience. Students should consult with their schools' career services office for help with career planning and job searching. Many college degree programs include internships as part of the final year curriculum. Relevant internships and entry-level information systems jobs allow new graduates to learn from more advanced IT security professionals.
Many security engineer positions also require professional certifications obtained from programs provided by IT companies, online cybersecurity schools, and professional organizations such as the Information Systems Security Association.
The certifications needed usually depend on the position sought, but the most common include certified information systems security professional, certified ethical hacker, and global information assurance certification. The number of available cybersecurity certifications can prove overwhelming, so consult this cybersecurity certifications guide for more information on professional certifications in this field.
As they solve security issues and manage complex security projects, security engineers also employ the many soft and hard skills described below.
Top Required Skills for a Security Engineer
PayScale identifies web security and encryption, software development, computer security, and cybersecurity as top skills influencing security engineer salaries. Security testing and auditing, vulnerability assessment, and network security management are also valuable.
More specifically, security engineers often need hard skills in intrusion detection, firewalls, threat modeling, and ethical hacking. Other specific hard skills include network architectures, protocols, routing, and access controllers.
Security engineers must understand major operating systems, such as Linux, UNIX, and Windows, and major database platforms like MySQL and MSSQL. Security engineers need to know security systems infrastructure, audit functions, and encryption tools. These professionals must also know how to perform computer forensics work, virus and phishing attempt detection and prevention, and security compliance.
Meanwhile, security engineers also need soft skills such as leadership, problem-solving, and project management skills, which come into play as security engineers manage complex IT security projects generating threat detection and other security solutions.
Through curricula focused on information technology security, computer engineering, and information systems, cybersecurity degree programs encourage development of the hard and soft skills described above. However, information security professionals must update their skill sets frequently to accommodate this rapidly changing field, so continuing education via online certifications and courses often proves necessary as well.
Security Engineer Salary
Salaries vary by industry, location, company, and position, but most security engineers take home generous paychecks and enjoy excellent career prospects. PayScale data suggests that security engineers make a median salary of about $89,000 annually, with entry-level security engineers taking home about $69,000 and very experienced professionals making as much as $111,000 per year.
Projected job growth for information security professionals between 2018 and 2028 looks promising. BLS does not provide career data for security engineer positions specifically, but it projects 32% job growth for the related career of information security analyst. BLS identifies computer systems design, management, and credit intermediation as the top-employing industries for information security analysts. Insurance and consulting industries also employ many information security analysts, according to BLS.
PayScale identifies San Francisco, Seattle, and New York as top-paying cities for security engineers, although the cost of living in these areas inflates these salaries considerably. According to BLS, top-paying Southern states for information security analysts include Virginia, Texas, and Florida. Top employers for security engineers include Google, Amazon, Cisco, and Microsoft.
Looking for More Cyber Degree Programs?
- Bachelor's in Cyber Security Programs
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- Best Online Master's in Cyber Security Programs