If you’re looking for a change of career or to step up to the next level in your existing one, then getting a cyber security degree is definitely worth investigating.
As AI (Artificial Intelligence) and machine learning become more commonplace, and more of our lives are lived online, there are more opportunities for hackers to take advantage of. This also means that there are more opportunities for cyber security professionals to thwart them at every turn.
It’s almost like a huge virtual game of cops and robbers. Every time cyber security degree-holding experts come up with a new measure, hackers find a way to get around it, and a new measure is needed to keep them out. And it continues on like that.
Not only does this mean that there are plenty of cyber security jobs out there, it means that the career path is varied and interesting. It’s absolutely essential that cyber security professionals keep learning, keep innovating, and keep pioneering new technologies in order to stay ahead.
The question is, what careers are open to you once you have your cyber security degree?
Chief Information Security Officer
Chief Information Security Officers (otherwise known as CISO’s) hold a senior position within a company structure. They tend to report to the Chief Information Officer (CIO), which is often a board-level position.
They will be expected to hold a cyber security degree, have a significant number of years of experience, and prove themselves worthy of a senior leadership position.
The CISO must have an exceptional understanding of cyber security. They are responsible for implementing the security strategies that keep their business secure, and so they must be well versed in the latest threats and technologies at all times. In order to do this well, they must also have a good understanding of business strategy, as their technology strategies will need to be effective enough to support new initiatives and changes within the business. They will work as part of a team of highly skilled professionals from whom a good CISO will take recommendations, but ultimately if there is a security breach, the CISO is likely to take the blame.
The average salary for a CISO is around $185,000, and CISO’s at fortune 500 companies will earn even more than this. With the fantastic salary comes a high level of stress. A lot of CISO’s say that they work more than a 40 hour week, and they feel stressed much of the time.
Information Security Analyst
Information security analysts work at a finer level of detail than the CISO. They are responsible for analyzing an organization’s networks and planning the appropriate security strategies to protect them best. An information security analyst must have a good knowledge of the current threats, as well as what threats might become important in the future, as this allows them to strategize better. They must also be comfortable working with a range of different security technologies.
Generally, an information security analyst will work office hours. However, if there is a breach or other urgent issue, they may be required to work overtime. There is also sometimes a requirement to work overnight, in order to make changes to computer systems when the networks are quiet.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there will be a 31% rise in the required number of Information Security Analysts between 2019 and 2029, with an extra 40,900 jobs being created in that time period. This means that deciding to become an information security analyst will mean that you have excellent job security. The median salary for the role is $99,730.
In order to work as an information security analyst, you will need a cyber security degree or at least a degree in another computer-related discipline. You will also need some experience working in a related field.
Forensic Computer Analyst
Forensic computer analysts mostly work within the law enforcement sector; the field is closely related to forensic science and criminal justice.
In a criminal case where the suspect had wiped their hard drive to get rid of incriminating files, a forensic computer analyst would be called in to retrieve the missing information so that it might be used as part of a criminal case. They also often work on crimes that have been committed on the internet, otherwise known as cybercrime. This might be things like the theft of credit card details or hacking attempts.
Forensic computer analysts work alongside detectives and are often called upon to translate their findings into documents that may be presented to a jury and testify in court.
If you were planning to use a cyber security degree to go into forensic computing, it would be a good idea to seek out a course that allows you to learn about hacking and intrusion techniques. It can also be helpful to have knowledge of the law and justice systems, and accounting.
The average salary for a forensic computer analyst is $93,610. To be employed by a law enforcement agency, you will need a degree and some experience in cyber security. You will usually learn advanced investigative techniques on the job.
A company will employ a penetration (pen) tester to simulate a cyber attack to ascertain whether the security protocols they have put in place are effective. They will try to breach systems in order to uncover vulnerabilities so that the company can then work to resolve those issues.
Companies may employ them to test out the robustness of the network in general, or they might work on a specific application or piece of software if a change has been made. The average salary for a penetration tester is $120,965.
An effective penetration test involves:
- Ascertaining what the goal of the pen test is – for example, are they directing their attack at a particular server or API?
- Gathering intelligence on the system in question, such as domain names, mailboxes, etc.
- Devising the test strategy.
- Using agreed methods to try and gain access. A good pen tester has to be clued up on all of the methods a potential hacker might use so that they can try them all.
- Once access has been gained, the pen tester will attempt to maintain access. The longer a hacker has access to your system, the more damage they can do, so this step is important.
- Analysis. Confirmation of the vulnerabilities, how long the pen tester was able to maintain access, and what damage could have been done.
If you’re interested in a career in pen testing, it’s worth ensuring that your cyber security degree covers ethical hacking.
Security Architects are responsible for designing the security infrastructure for all computer systems and networks within an organization. They also ensure that their design is correctly implemented, tested, and maintained.
Maintenance of a security system involves devising regular testing periodically. Whenever a new threat becomes apparent, and whenever any changes are made to the system – for example, if there is a new software development. The role involves working well with other people in the IT team, as well as across the business.
They must have in-depth knowledge of all of the systems they are protecting and knowledge of the latest security protocols and threats. As a senior member of the IT team, it is up to the security architect to promote ways of working that keep the systems as safe as possible.
As part of their role, they will determine who within the business is allowed to access what parts of each system, and they will devise roles and authorizations to support this. They will also devise disaster recovery plans so that if there is a breach, then the damage is minimized.
The average salary for a security architect is $124,213. A cyber security degree will give you a good grounding if you want to become a security architect. Still, you will also need a great deal of experience in designing security solutions.
Security engineers have a similar remit to that of the security architect; only they don’t hold the same overarching responsibility. A security engineer will be directly involved in the design of computer systems so that they can withstand malicious attacks or natural disasters. Things like floods and power cuts are any IT professionals’ worst nightmare!
The security engineer will be the one who carries out the necessary analysis and testing of security systems, as laid out by the security architect. They will be responsible for carrying out detailed testing based on their knowledge of threats and possible weaknesses in the system and proposing upgrades and improvements accordingly.
Security engineers must enjoy problem-solving and be naturally inquisitive. A cyber security degree with a focus on networking is an excellent start if your career aspiration is security engineering. It often takes some innovative thinking to work out where weaknesses in a computer system might be. They will also often be required to work as part of a larger team, so good collaborative working skills are essential. The average salary for a security engineer is $74,000.
A systems administrator position is a great one to start with once you have obtained your cyber security degree because it allows you to build a wide variety of skills and increase your knowledge in multiple areas. Unlike many other positions listed here, you may be able to obtain work as a systems administrator purely based on your degree, without a huge amount of other work experience.
The role of a systems administrator is to ensure the everyday running of computer networks, which involves:
- Installing network hardware and software
- Upgrading and repairing networks and systems
- Maintain security
- Evaluate system and network performance
- User administration, including assigning of roles and authorizations
- Training users in the use of hardware and software
- Assisting users and problem solving when they encounter errors
Administrators may also help other people in the IT team, such as security architects and systems analysts, with any tasks that they need to do.
The average salary for a systems administrator is $83,510. They generally work full-time hours and may be required to work overtime as needed to carry out system maintenance when the networks are quiet.
IT Security Consultant
IT Security Consultants often work for consultancy firms specializing in IT security. Their role is to work in an advisory capacity; they will come into a company and work with the existing IT team to devise a security strategy that will effectively protect the company against threats.
Consultants might be hired by small businesses that don’t have the budget or the need to hire a full-time security architect, but they do need a security strategy that they can use. Alternatively, sometimes larger companies employ consultants because they are extremely qualified in what they do. They often have a wide range of experience in multiple different industries, which can be incredibly valuable. This is particularly true if a business is embarking on a new project in an area that they don’t have much experience in.
IT security consultants must be highly qualified in order to make themselves worth hiring. As well as having a cyber security degree, they will often have multiple years of experience as well as professional level certifications in their specialist areas.
Working as an IT security consultant is a varied role, changing enormously depending on who you are working with. This can make it an exciting and engaging career choice. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that consultants are often required to travel extensively to work with clients in different parts of the country.
The IT sector is a great one in which to become a freelancer because so much of it is project-based. This means that while a company could have a great need for any one of the job roles above, it may only be until a certain piece of software is implemented, or a certain upgrade is completed.
Rather than employing a full-time member of staff, many companies prefer to work with freelancers for this reason. Freelancers also come with their own specialist area, which can be highly valuable.
Suppose you would like to use your cyber security degree to embark on a career as a freelancer. In that case, it’s worth thinking about what your specialty will be and then gaining as much experience as possible in that area. For example, if you really enjoy working with construction companies on their security architecture, then do as much of this as you can! This will make you an expert in your field, making you a much more attractive prospect.