Security Specialist Career Overview

| Mary Blowers Modified on March 22, 2022

Security Specialist Career Overview

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The demand for security specialists who can develop effective cybersecurity solutions continues to grow. According to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), ransomware attacks occur about every 11 seconds in 2021, up from every 39 seconds in 2019.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a median salary of $103,590 for information security analysts in 2020.

Security specialists, also known as cybersecurity specialists, develop and implement security measures that protect computer networks and systems. Companies often hire security specialists to secure data networks, prevent security breaches, and make changes to improve security. Due to the industry's evolving nature, security specialists' responsibilities are complex and ever-changing.

Computer security specialist careers often come with large compensation packages. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a median salary of $103,590 for information security analysts in 2020. Security specialists enjoy strong job prospects, with the BLS projecting a 33% job growth from 2020-2030.

History of Cybersecurity Specialists

Threats to online security closely shadow the history and development of the internet itself. Starting as early as the 1990s, simple antivirus software like the Reaper, created by Ray Tomlinson, became necessary to protect user's online activity.

In the early 2000's the continued growth of internet usage led to a rise in internet crime and a call for further internet security. Now, major breaches, like LinkedIn's data leak in June 2021, threaten to affect a shocking amount of users.

Cybersecurity specialists offer solutions to many of these threats. These specialists apply programming languages and ingenuity to create solutions for complex issues. Developing security systems often involves the collaboration of many specialized professionals. Read about other careers in internet security below.

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Similar Specializations and Career Paths

Controlling all aspects of cybersecurity for an organization involves the expertise of many trained professionals. Top positions in cybersecurity include security auditor, security software developer, security manager, and security architect.

Career Description Required Education Required Experience Average Annual Salary
Security Auditor Security auditors process and analyze computer security systems. They apply computer and information technologies, cybersecurity methods, and penetration testing to identify threats. Bachelor's degree in information systems management, computer science, accounting, or a related field Preferred 3-5 years of experience in security, network, or information technology $70,440
Security Software Developer Security software developers design and implement new security technologies. They troubleshoot and improve existing programs and integrate new security protocols into existing software applications. Bachelor's degree in computer science, software engineering, or a related field Preferred experience in general software development and coding $73,460
Security Manager Security managers lead their organizations’ security departments. They act in supervisory roles and assume responsibility for cybersecurity operations. They often collaborate with information technology administrators and other security professionals. Bachelor's degree in information technology, information assurance, or cybersecurity or related field; master’s degree in cybersecurity or information systems preferred Preferred 5+ years experience in the information security field $118,536
Security Architect Security architects use knowledge of hardware and software to anticipate threats and design solutions. They also require expertise in programming, research, and policy development. Bachelor's degree in computer security, computer science, or a related field; graduate degrees in information technology security or cybersecurity preferred Preferred experience in entry- and mid-level information technology security positions $125,920
Source: Payscale

What Does a Security Specialist Do?

Security specialists take responsibility for their organizations' computer-related security, protecting company data against cyberattacks. Companies hire these professionals to prevent security breaches by analyzing current systems, researching ever-evolving risks, suggesting improvements, and implementing changes.

Specific fallout from security breaches can vary depending on the type of work an organization does. Cyberattacks can result in the loss of consumer confidence, sensitive information leaks, network failures, stalled production, and compliance infractions, giving security specialists a crucial role in their company's overall health.

Security analysts sometimes work with multiple departments.

Security analysts, in particular, spend their days studying the devices in use, analyzing network structure, and testing security measures like firewalls and software permissions. They look for weak points and aim to shore up defenses.

Analysts often report to upper administration and may have to present findings and recommendations before management. Security analysts sometimes work with multiple departments to ensure their colleagues understand the organization's best practices for information security.

Employers often require prospective cybersecurity specialists to have prior job experience, potentially through entry-level positions with information security teams or internships completed as part of college studies.

Key Soft Skills for Security Specialists

  • Communication: Security specialists must monitor existing security infrastructure and communicate all threats. Effective communication enables professionals to take correct action to prevent security breaches. Specialists may also need to simplify issues/solutions for discussions with administrators.
  • Collaboration: Ensuring the information security for an entire organization requires coordination. Security specialists often work in teams and must readily and effectively collaborate with other security professionals.
  • Attention to Detail: Intercepting security threats takes detailed technological solutions that need constant monitoring and improvement. Cybersecurity specialists conduct deep computer system analyses and inspect the smallest details for improvement.
  • Problem Solving: Security specialists regularly identify security problems and propose effective solutions. This position requires critical thinking and problem-solving skills to create comprehensive solutions for new and evolving threats.

Key Hard Skills for Security Specialists

  • Programming Languages: A fundamental understanding of programming languages like Python, Golang, and JavaScript helps security specialists stay ahead of cybercriminal activity. Additionally, developing a strong understanding of a system's architecture makes it easier to defend.
  • Security Information and Event Management (SIEM): Cybersecurity specialists need experience using SIEM tools and services to analyze security threats. They use SIEM products to create automation and real-time analysis to produce alerts and implement response plans.
  • Malware Prevention: Security specialists apply advanced threat protection software to detect, prevent, and identify security threats. A strong understanding of malware prevention software helps specialists predict threats that might breach existing security solutions.
  • Computer Forensics: A strong understanding of forensic tools and investigative methods helps security specialists find anomalies and malicious activities on a network. Computer forensics applications aid specialists in investigating hidden, encrypted, or even deleted information.

A Day in the Life of a Security Specialist

A security specialist's exact duties may vary by company, but they can expect to complete the following tasks in the course of their work.

  • Run tests and use malware prevention software to identify new threats to their organization's data networks.
  • Research ever-evolving risks, analyze past breaches, and implement new security measures like firewalls.
  • Collaborate with other security colleagues and propose network improvements and new software solutions to security managers and architects.

Computer Security Specialist Career and Salary Outlook

According to Payscale, security specialists with 10 or more years of experience earned an average annual salary of $98,389 as of September 2021. Security specialist salary prospects improve as employees gain more specialized skills in areas like risk management, security information and event management, cybersecurity, and security testing and auditing.

The BLS predicts a 13% growth nationwide for computer and information technology-related occupations from 2020-2030, far outpacing the national average growth rate for all occupations. As cloud computing grows and cyberattacks evolve, employers need security specialists to help keep their companies safe.

Salary varies widely by industry. According to Payscale, major companies paying security specialists well above the national average include the Boeing Company, the Walt Disney Company, and American Express Co. Aspiring cybersecurity specialists may also find ample opportunities in companies like CACI International Inc, American Electric Power, and IBM.

$103,590


Source: BLS

How to Become a Cybersecurity Specialist

Information security requires employees to possess hard skills, such as programming languages, and engage in complex technological solutions. These jobs require a college degree. Security specialists should begin by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity or a related area, such as computer science.

Security specialists use the skills developed in their degree programs when they implement and modify software, and conduct deep computer system analysis. They need a deep understanding of computer and network infrastructure to identify and effectively solve any breaches that occur.

Many employers require cybersecurity specialists to obtain prior work experience in information security or a related field. Experience in a particular industry, such as banking, may give aspiring security specialists a leg up on other applicants aiming to work in that specific field.

Many employers require cybersecurity specialists to obtain prior work experience in information security or a related field.

Aspiring security specialists can also seek out internships and make connections through the professors in their programs. Entry-level cybersecurity specialists may work as subordinate team members or enter the field through more junior positions in IT departments.

Security certification is often required for advancement, and can help candidates boost their resumes and stand out in the job market. With these credentials, security professionals validate and even improve their ability to implement best practices as security specialists, paving the way to more expertise and job opportunities.

Professional Organizations for Security Specialists

CISA is a national organization that seeks to understand, manage, and reduce risk to cyber and physical infrastructure. They offer industry resources, analyses, and tools to help build cyber communications.

NICCS offers comprehensive information on cybersecurity education and careers. The NICCS Education and Training Catalog helps cybersecurity professionals find over 6,000 cybersecurity-related courses.

AISP helps local and state governments responsibly use data. They collaborate across sectors to inform best practices, research, and funding opportunities for ethical data sharing.

CSIA offers an environment for an exchange of ideas between national security thought leaders. CSIA focuses on intelligence issues related to cybersecurity, military, and space.

Learn More About Security Specialists

How to Become a Security Specialist

How to Become a Security Specialist

Read our informational guide to learn about the degrees, certifications, and professional experiences needed to become a security specialist.

Salary and Career Outlook for Security Specialists

Salary and Career Outlook for Security Specialists

Explore this page to learn how factors like location, education, and work experience affect the salary and career outlook for security specialists.

Day in the Life of a Security Specialist

Day in the Life of a Security Specialist

Learn more about the responsibilities, duties, and daily tasks of security specialists and how they make a difference in their companies.

Certifications for Security Specialists

Certifications for Security Specialists

Read this guide to learn about the professional certifications that can help security specialists secure higher paying jobs and promotions.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cybersecurity Specialists

What does a security specialist do?

Security specialists implement cybersecurity measures that protect an organization's computer networks and systems. Security specialists also secure data networks, intercept security breaches, and make changes to improve security.

Are there other names that cybersecurity specialists go by?

Cybersecurity specialists may also be known as security specialists, information technology security specialists, and security analysts. Their exact title, designation, and responsibilities vary by company.

How many skills do you need to be a cybersecurity specialist?

Qualified cybersecurity specialists need a strong foundation of soft and hard skills to complete their daily tasks. Some of those skills include communication, collaboration, malware prevention, and computer forensics.

What are some best practices that security specialists should follow?

Aspiring security specialists should gain as much experience as possible in using SIEM, programming languages, firewalls, and threat protection software. A strong foundation of education, combined with internships and professional experience, set candidates up for success.

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Portrait of Monali Mirel Chuatico

Monali Mirel Chuatico

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.

Monali is passionate about implementing creative solutions, building community, advocating for mental health, empowering women, and educating youth. Monali's goal is to gain more experience in her field, expand her skill set, and do meaningful work that will positively impact the world.

Monali Mirel Chuatico is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.

Page last reviewed December 13, 2021


Featured Image: kate_sept2004 / E+ / Getty Images

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