Technological innovations arrive at lightning speed these days, and already, the virtual world bears little resemblance to what we imagined was possible even a few short years ago. Unfortunately, these advancements are accompanied by a range of alarming threats, which are also escalating at an equally rapid pace.
With each new technological development comes an opportunity for bad actors to leverage emerging technologies and compromise both individual users and major organizations. The effects can be devastating, but thankfully, many safeguards can be implemented to limit the potential for security incidents.
This never-ending effort to combat threat actors presents a myriad of opportunities for talented professionals to pursue exciting careers and get involved in the most compelling cybersecurity initiatives. To that end, skilled and adaptable cybersecurity professionals are in strong demand and can see impressive wages as they take steps to secure the digital landscape.
If you feel drawn to this field, you can expect to find a wealth of job opportunities with businesses across a variety of sectors, in several prominent government agencies, and even in education and nonprofits.
As you contemplate career paths in cybersecurity, you will want to get a strong feel for the practice as a whole and especially for its most prominent specializations. Each niche presents unique challenges and opportunities. To help, we have compiled a guide to choosing a career path in cybersecurity. Keep reading to learn more about the field's most important specializations and the many job opportunities they provide.
What Is Cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity is a complex concept involving a wide range of tools, techniques, and systems used to protect networks and devices from digital attacks. This practice calls for a layered approach, in which no single strategy can be expected to address the full scope of cyber threats.
Rather, cybersecurity experts and teams must develop nuanced, comprehensive solutions designed to identify and address an array of vulnerabilities, while also providing a strong baseline of protection via access control, authentication, cryptography, and more.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides a comprehensive definition of cybersecurity that, despite the field's many changes, has remained relevant and will for some time: "The process of protecting information by preventing, detecting, and responding to attacks." NIST references also reveal the importance of "strengthen[ing] the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of [electronic information and communications] systems."
What Does a Career in Cybersecurity Look Like?
If there is one constant in cybersecurity, it's change. To that end, careers in cybersecurity can be difficult to predict, as the field is expected to evolve considerably in the next few years. With advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning come additional opportunities to safeguard digital systems, but new threats continue to emerge and call for creative solutions.
Cybersecurity professionals past and present have been charged with understanding the most up-to-date vulnerabilities and threats so they can provide the best prevention and mitigation strategies available. These roles also call for impressive critical thinking and problem-solving skills, along with the ability to communicate vital details about emerging threats and solutions.
The modern cybersecurity landscape is vast, with many tools, technologies, and systems employed to combat today's greatest threats. Because these threats can take so many forms, most cybersecurity professionals focus on specific areas, where their work contributes to the big picture of cybersecurity. The following are a few of the most compelling cybersecurity specializations that could form the basis of a rewarding career:
Focused on protecting network infrastructure from unauthorized access, network security is a broad practice that covers a variety of important solutions. These include everything from access control to antivirus software. The concept also encompasses many types of controls, such as:
- Physical security. In a digital world, there remain many physical elements that can be compromised. Tangible components and resources can be surprisingly vulnerable, so physical security protocols offer protection via surveillance and access control.
- Technical security. These are the cybersecurity initiatives most people are familiar with. Technical security involves limiting vulnerabilities in hardware or software via encryption, firewalls, and instruction prevention.
- Administrative security. This important cybersecurity component determines who has access and at what level. It involves the many policies and guidelines that determine how users should be authenticated.
Often referred to as InfoSec, information security involves the many policies and processes designed to protect sensitive information. Information security centers around the confidentiality-integrity-availability (CIA) triad:
- Confidentiality. Akin to privacy, confidentiality aims to safeguard personal information.
- Integrity. Data must be accurate and trustworthy throughout its life cycle.
- Availability. Authorized parties should consistently enjoy access to data, so the systems that display this information must be properly maintained.
InfoSec analysts have many responsibilities, but their work often involves monitoring networks and checking for vulnerabilities. They ensure that data is secured when it's at rest, in transit, and in use. A similar specialty known as security operations (SecOps) blends information security and information technology initiatives to boost collaboration.
As a crucial component of the criminal justice system, forensic science applies several scientific disciplines (such as chemistry, physics, and biology) to investigative processes to find and examine evidence that might link a particular suspect to the scene of a crime.
This field holds many similarities with computer forensics but, as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) points out, is distinct in its reliance on latent evidence, such as fingerprints. Both areas of forensics call for strong investigative skills and a relentless pursuit of the truth.
Sometimes referred to as digital forensics, computer forensics blends critical components of legal forensics with computer science to gather evidence from a variety of devices and networks. Specifically, the processes for obtaining and analyzing this evidence must be pursued in a manner that would be deemed admissible in a court of law. Computer forensics tasks range from analyzing the last visited websites on devices to combing social media accounts to get a more informed view of suspects.
Digital forensics and incident response (DFIR) is an emerging subcategory of computer forensics that emphasizes the link between computer forensics strategies and remediation efforts. DFIR ties investigative elements with playbook development and response planning, under the assumption that cybercrime is now a matter of when, not if.
Centered around the secure transmission of data through techniques involving coding and obfuscation, cryptography is a long-held practice that dates back millennia but has entered an exciting new era in our digital world.
Modern cryptography is one of the cornerstones of cybersecurity, as sophisticated threat actors seek to hide their most damaging tactics. Cryptography experts help to thwart these attacks before they occur, utilizing a vast knowledge base surrounding prior cryptographic attack methods as well as emerging insights regarding new threats on the horizon.
Not all hackers are malicious. Ethical hackers identify cybersecurity weaknesses and exploit them for noble reasons: to help organizations determine where they are vulnerable and what they can do to prevent future attacks. Ethical hacking provides a valuable glimpse at the threat actor's point of view, revealing where weak points exist and how malicious players might take advantage if given the opportunity.
Without ethical hacking, organizations are effectively operating with blinders on as they implement cybersecurity initiatives that may be poorly suited to addressing the actual threats they face in the modern digital landscape. From the ethical hacker's perspective, however, this role is deeply compelling, as it blends the thrill of hacking into systems with the satisfaction of providing powerful insight and protection where it's needed most.
Loss prevention is a familiar concept in retail, but it also has a role to play in cybersecurity. Known as data loss prevention (DLP), this aspect of cybersecurity can have a tremendous impact on a corporation's bottom line. Stolen data can lead to devastating losses, both from the perspective of targeted individuals and organizations.
Proprietary formulas, algorithms, and other intellectual property must be protected via cutting-edge loss prevention measures. Such measures are especially important for the remote and hybrid workforce as organizations adopt Bright Your Own Device (BYOD) policies. DLP analysts and engineers draw on comprehensive cybersecurity skills to conduct risk assessments and monitor data transfers.
Career Paths in Cybersecurity
If the many fields and practices highlighted above are any indication, cybersecurity is a diverse career field with a world of potential for anyone with a knack for navigating cutting-edge technologies. Thankfully, a foot in the door isn't hard to achieve with the right education and know-how.
A comprehensive skill set (consisting of both technical and soft skills) is essential, along with the adaptability to embrace new solutions as they become available. In-depth knowledge is crucial, especially when pursuing today's most in-demand specialties. With so many different forms of cybersecurity emerging, it's important to recognize which opportunities exist and the specific types of training they require.
Choosing a Career Path in Cybersecurity
As you familiarize yourself with the wide world of cybersecurity, you may feel drawn to a particular specialization. Equipped with a strong foundation in computer science, you can continue to develop a more specialized skill set that allows you to thrive in many of the niches described above.
Beyond this, you will also find several opportunities for advancement, allowing you to not only tackle today's top cyberthreats but also provide valuable insight, guidance, and leadership to fellow cybersecurity professionals. As you climb the cybersecurity career ladder, you may encounter opportunities at these levels:
Many ambitious cybersecurity professionals enter the field as entry-level analysts. This is a great opportunity for those who have recently graduated at the bachelor's level but need practical experience in the field to move into mid- and high-level positions. Common examples of entry-level roles include:
- Data loss prevention analyst
- Cryptography engineer
- Penetration testing specialist
- Network security engineer
- Information security forensic analyst
There are a variety of compelling mid-level career opportunities in the cybersecurity sector. After acquiring several years of professional experience, many entry-level analysts move into more advanced analyst roles, granting them far more autonomy and allowing them to specialize in areas they find compelling.
Making the leap to mid-level status could also include taking on a management role, perhaps overseeing small teams of cybersecurity analysts or specialists. Ambitious self-starters may also consider consulting roles, allowing for greater flexibility and the ability to bring a valuable outside perspective to organizations requiring high-level insights.
Senior and Upper Management
Equipped with a graduate-level degree and sufficient professional experience, many cybersecurity professionals can move into senior and executive roles. One of the most influential positions is Chief security officer (CSO), a role that involves overseeing every aspect of the cybersecurity ecosystem.
Other roles may be more targeted, such as information security manager or forensic technology manager. These management-oriented positions are often only available to candidates with years of experience and graduate-level credentials.
Preparing for a Powerful Future in Cybersecurity
As a cybersecurity professional, you can play a significant role in protecting individual users and entire organizations. No matter which cybersecurity career path you find compelling, you could gain valuable preparation while seeking a targeted degree such as a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity or a Master of Science in Cybersecurity Management.
Lindenwood’s cybersecurity programs are available online and in an accelerated format via Lindenwood Global. If you are ready to gain foundational cybersecurity skills and explore ethical issues in cybersecurity, reach out to learn more about our relevant degree programs.