What Is Cybersecurity? Everything You Need To Know – Forbes Advisor

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Are you interested in a fulfilling, well-paying career protecting sensitive data and communications from hackers? Consider pursuing cybersecurity. Tech-savvy thinkers who demonstrate close attention to detail can thrive as cybersecurity professionals.

But what is cybersecurity? This guide covers all the basics, including career paths, common courses and business sectors where these workers are needed.

What Is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity involves the protection of information and data on computers, networks and electronic devices. Within the cybersecurity field, professionals anticipate, prevent and respond to attacks.

Nearly every industry takes cybersecurity measures to protect itself from leaks and breaches. Cybersecurity professionals may work with government organizations to safeguard military communications or with businesses to keep malicious actors from accessing financial records. Healthcare companies also use cybersecurity workers to protect their sensitive patient data. Large retailers shield customers’ credit card data with cybersecurity measures as well.

Cybersecurity intrusions have become a major problem, and cybersecurity professionals are needed to step up the defense. Demand reflects this. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment for information security analysts to grow by 33% from 2020 to 2030, far outpacing the 8% projected growth for all U.S. occupations.

Why Is Cybersecurity Important?

As humans have become more reliant on technology, the prevalence and severity of cybercrimes have grown. For example, ransomware is a type of cyberattack that locks an individual’s or organization’s information until certain demands are met, including extorted payments. These attacks have affected financial, healthcare and education organizations, causing significant delays and leaks of information.

Cybersecurity remains important for anticipating, reacting and assessing cyberattacks. Professionals in this field study breaches and malicious actors to safeguard our most sensitive information and communications.

Common Cybersecurity Careers

Cybersecurity professionals can work in many different sectors to protect sensitive data from bad actors. After gaining industry experience, they can pursue management-level roles to oversee departments and craft organizational security efforts.

The following section explores common cybersecurity careers.

Chief Information Security Officer

Average Annual Salary: Around $171,000

Required Education: Bachelor’s degree in computer and information technology, master’s degree often preferred

Job Description: CISOs prepare for, manage and assess cyberthreats. These senior, executive-level professionals oversee and implement organizations’ cybersecurity and information security efforts. CISOs, which may also carry the title of chief security officer, typically collaborate with other executives to reduce damages related to breaches and ensure that security programs meet organizational goals.

Larger employers may require CISOs to hold seven to 10 years of experience in information security and/or cybersecurity. Many hiring managers seek candidates with master’s degrees, but more professional experience can often stand in for formal education.

Though certification is not required for the role, CISOs can pursue relevant credentials like certified information systems security professional (CISSP) and certified chief information security officer to increase their earning power and career opportunities.

Information Security Analyst

Median Annual Salary: $102,600

Required Education: High school diploma and experience, bachelor’s degree in computer science preferred

Job Description: Information security analysts assist organizations by scanning computer systems and networks for potential breaches. They use data encryption software and firewalls to safeguard data and communications. These professionals set companies’ security standards and apply security best practices while remaining current on changes and trends in the field.

Information security analysts primarily work in computer systems design and other related professions, along with the finance and insurance sectors. They often work alongside computer systems analysts and network administrators, requiring strong collaboration skills.

Most employers look to hire applicants with certifications in the field, like CISSP. These professionals can also pursue certified information systems auditor (CISA), certified ethical hacker (CEH) and CISSP credentials.

Security Architect

Average Annual Salary: Around $130,000

Required Education: Bachelor’s degree in computer science or related field, MBA in information systems cyber threats

Job Description: Security architects plan and construct safe networks for businesses and organizations. These systems may include traditional local area and wide area networks, along with modern technologies like cloud computing. Their work also includes researching emerging networking technologies and presenting their findings to stakeholders to suggest upgrades and improvements.

These professionals use network penetration tests, or “ethical hacks,” to perform intrusions in good faith to test the effectiveness of safeguards in place. Security architects, like other cybersecurity workers, also assess cyberattacks and breaches to study damages and plan for data recovery efforts.

While security architects do not need certification, they can pursue credentials like systems security certified practitioner, certified cloud security professional and CISSP to demonstrate their knowledge of and commitment to the field.

Security Engineer

Average Annual Salary: Around $97,000

Required Education: Bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity or related field and experience

Job Description: Security engineers craft and oversee networks for organizations to protect sensitive information and data. They may perform vulnerability tests to find areas for improvement and implement network upgrades to protect against breaches.

These engineers set organizational best practices, training coworkers on security measures and ensuring timely updates for network-connected devices. They also investigate cyberattacks to identify the intruder and avoid future breaches. After an intrusion, a security engineer may collect information on the attack and implement efforts to mitigate data loss and future attacks.

Like other professionals in information security and cybersecurity, security engineers can boost their earning potential and competitiveness in the job market by earning certifications. Typical credentials include CISA, CEH and CISSP.

Education for Cybersecurity Professionals

Bachelor’s Degree in Cybersecurity

A bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity typically takes four years to complete, though some schools offer accelerated pathways with shorter degree timelines. Most employers require candidates to have bachelor’s degrees, making this a common starting place for aspiring cybersecurity professionals.

Typical coursework for a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity covers computer forensics, information technology and security ethics, network security design and computer science. Some programs tailor concentrations to career aspirations, allowing enrollees to focus on aspects of the field such as business, management and digital forensics.

Master’s Degree in Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity professionals and individuals looking to increase their knowledge of the field can pursue master’s degrees, which generally take two years to earn. These programs allow learners to focus on specific elements of cybersecurity, like cybercrime or management, while developing their leadership skills to pursue more advanced roles.

Courses for cybersecurity master’s programs build on bachelor’s curricula through classes in information security strategy and policy, cryptography and cloud architecture security. Many master’s degrees in cybersecurity offer management-focused courses as well.

Master’s-level cybersecurity programs often feature thesis or capstone requirements in their final year. Enrollees can demonstrate their skills through these courses by researching and exploring real-world issues in cybersecurity and providing relevant solutions. Capstone projects typically require a presentation at the end of the semester. A thesis includes an oral defense in front of faculty members.

Cybersecurity Bootcamps

Cybersecurity bootcamps offer shorter, more intensive timelines than traditional degrees. Bootcamp length can vary based on the provider and enrollment type. Part-time bootcamps may stretch on for 25 or more weeks, while full-time programs may only require 12 weeks.

Bootcamps allow enrollees to learn new skills or sharpen their existing abilities on an accelerated timeline. Employers seeking entry-level cybersecurity professionals may hire bootcamp graduates. Candidates with unrelated degrees can also complete bootcamps to demonstrate their skills and commitment to potential employers.

Cybersecurity bootcamps like those provided by Flatiron School, Coding Dojo and the University of Pennsylvania offer career-planning assistance for graduates. Some bootcamps also offer job guarantees or income-share agreements, which allow learners to hold off on making payments until they find relevant employment.

Cybersecurity Certifications

Cybersecurity professionals can earn industry certifications to illustrate their abilities and engagement with the field to hiring managers. The following list is not exhaustive, and cybersecurity professionals should research available credentials relating to their specific professions and aspirations.

CISSP: A CISSP certification, offered by (ISC)², indicates that its holder can successfully plan, deliver and oversee effective cybersecurity programs. This credential typically suits experienced professionals rather than entry-level cybersecurity workers.

CISA: This credential indicates mastery of auditing and monitoring companies’ business and IT systems. Entry-level and mid-career professionals can earn this certification, delivered by ISACA, to improve their IT knowledge and increase their salaries. ISACA reports an average salary of $149,000 for individuals with CISA certification.

CISM: The certified information security manager credential demonstrates high-level knowledge relating to risk assessment, incident management and security governance. Professionals looking to advance into management roles can pursue this certification, which requires continuing professional education credits to renew.

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