What you need to know for a Cyber Security Job
Cyber security jobs are one of the fastest-growing career options available in today's market. They offer great salary prospects, the opportunity to work in interesting and dynamic sectors, and lots of potential for advancement.
But whether you're entering the workforce for the first time or looking for a change of career, navigating the complex and varied world of cyber security jobs that are available will be the first challenges you'll have to face on this career path.
Knowing what roles employers are looking for, what skills and qualifications you'll need, and whether you'll require additional accreditation such as security clearances will help you find a position that's right for you and ensure you know what to expect in an interview and beyond.
Types of cyber security job
If you're turning to the world of cyber security for the first time, an essential initial step is to understand what roles are available and which you would be best suited to. Cyber security is a very wide-ranging term, and the responsibilities of a security analyst will be very different from those of an engineer or penetration tester, for example.
What types of jobs can you get in cyber security?
There are a wide range of positions available within the cyber security sector. Some, such as security engineers and architects, will be very heavily coding-based as you help build and improve the defences of systems and networks. Others are more analysis focused, requiring you to look for patterns and spot intrusions.
For those with a passion for puzzles and lateral thinking, jobs like penetration tester and certified ethical hacker may be especially suitable. These positions are all about testing defences built by others to find weaknesses and break into systems. As cyber attacks become ever-more sophisticated and damaging, these jobs are in especially high demand as organisations seek to better understand where their weaknesses lie.
What entry-level cyber security jobs can get you started?
If you're looking to get started with a career in cyber security, there are a range of entry-level positions that are available. These still offer attractive salaries, as many organisations are very keen to attract new talent into the sector, and can act as a springboard to build your experience and ready you for more advanced roles.
Some of the job titles and positions you can expect to see when looking at the sector for the first time include:
- information security analyst
- incident responder
- security architect
- security engineer
- digital forensic analyst
- security specialist
- penetration tester
However, there are often great variations in exactly what these roles will involve, with some firms viewing these job titles as more mid-level positions. It's therefore important to study the job description carefully to determine exactly how much experience is required and what, if any, training will be provided.
What are the roles and responsibilities of cyber security professionals?
Day-to-day activities and responsibilities depend on the exact role, but in general, there are a few key activities that you can expect to be involved in as a cyber security professional. These typically include:
- monitoring systems for intrusions
- reviewing and improving security solutions
- researching new threats and security technologies
- designing response and recovery plans for cyber attacks
- testing systems for weaknesses
More senior roles such as security managers and security consultants will also need a range of project management and communication skills. This can range from developing and presenting a security plan to board-level executives to balancing finances and effectively managing more junior team members. Meanwhile, job titles such as cyber security consultant offer you the flexibility to pick and choose your roles and enhance your salary.
Useful skills for a cyber security job
Good technical proficiencies such as programming and network administration are often thought of as the key skills for jobs in cyber security. However, these are far from the only requirements for work in this sector. A range of other skills, such as good communication, problems solving and organisational skills are also a must-have.
What certifications are useful for a cyber security job?
One of the best things you can do to progress in a cyber security career is ensure you're continually updating and improving your knowledge. This field is a fast-moving environment, where security professionals are fighting a constant arms race against hackers.
Cyber crime is always evolving, so you have to evolve with it. This means that, in addition to keeping up with the latest industry news and developments, it pays to maintain your professional development through frequent training and upskilling. Fortunately, there are a wealth of options to help you achieve this.
What are the best programming and scripting languages to learn for cyber security?
If you are looking to enhance your cv and stand the best possible chance of a successful application, having additional cyber security certifications on top of academic qualifications and practical experience is essential. This shows you're up-to-date with the latest techniques and technologies.
There are a wide range of professional qualifications tailored for cyber security professionals, from entry-level to advanced services. As well as dedicated training bodies such as (isc)2, comptia and ec-council, you can get vendor-specific qualifications from the likes of microsoft, cisco and google that will provide you with all the cyber security skills needed for particular platforms.
What are the best programming and scripting languages to learn for cyber security?
For many cyber security jobs, a working knowledge of programming will be needed. Especially for roles such as security engineer or security architect, these skills will be essential.
There's no 'right' answer to what's the best programming language. It will depend on the job you're doing and what systems you'll be working with. However, having a good grounding in a few of the basics will stand you in good stead whatever you encounter.
Key languages to consider include:
- python - a general purpose language, python offers straightforward syntax and is useful for many cyber security tasks like scanning and analysing malware, as well as being a good stepping stone to more complex languages.
- C and c++ - one of the oldest languages, c is used by many hackers to gain low-level access to hardware, while a lot of malware is built using c++, so if you're looking at roles such as penetration tester, they're a must-have.
- Sql - if you're working to protect databases, understanding sql is vital in defending against common attacks such as sql injections, which are one of the biggest cyber threats faced by web applications.
Training and education requirements for cyber security jobs
The good news for those looking to enter cyber security is that there's no one route into the profession. For some, an academic path that takes in both undergraduate and postgraduate courses is the best way. However, for those who desire a more hands-on approach, an apprenticeship or even working your way up using experience in more general it roles are practical entry routes to these specialisms.
What is the minimum level of education required to become a cyber security professional?
The majority of cyber security roles will ask applicants for at least a bachelor's degree in a relevant subject. This does not necessarily have to be in security itself, as many professionals transition from other areas, but it certainly helps to have one in a stem field - ie, science, technology engineering and maths.
It's worth pointing out, however, that not every role will require a degree-level academic education. If you have experience in it roles, you can also demonstrate your capabilities by securing a wide range of professional qualifications. These often don't have any academic prerequisites, but some may require a certain number of years' experience in the industry before you can take the relevant exams.
What university degrees are useful to become a cyber security professional?
If you are looking at university as the first step in the road to a career in cyber security, subjects such as computer science, information technology, network engineering or other stem subjects such as maths are often a great place to start.
Undertaking a dedicated cyber security course may be another option. These have become increasingly popular in recent years, with a growing number of universities offering such courses, especially at master's level. Many of these are certified by the national cyber security centre, so you can be sure when applying for these courses that you'll be getting the highest-quality education available.
How long does it take to become a cyber security professional?
The time taken to get into cyber security will greatly depend on the route you choose into the profession and the level of prior experience you have. For example, many entry-level cyber security certifications that will be demanded by recruiters will offer intensive courses that can be completed in a few days before taking the final exam - but prior to this, you'll be expected to have several years' experience in a relevant field.
If you're looking at a postgraduate degree to boost your education and enhance your cv, these are typically one-year courses when taken as a full-time degree, or two to three years if you want to take a part-time course, which may be particularly appealing if you want to continue working in it while you study.
Another option is cyber security apprenticeships. These have the benefit of letting you earn while you learn, as well as getting practical real-world experience. These usually last around 15 months and are the equivalent of a bachelor's degree.
Security clearances required for cyber security jobs
Some cyber security jobs, however, will require more than academic or professional qualifications. Roles in certain sectors will often also require you to obtain a security clearance. This is essential if you're working with highly sensitive and classified data.
What types of cyber security jobs require security clearances?
Any role that will require you to have frequent interaction with sensitive data is likely to require some form of security clearance. However, generally speaking, you're much more likely to require a security clearance if you're working in the public sector. Civil service and central government jobs, for instance, have very strict security clearance requirements.
Some private sector organisations may also ask you to have a security clearance. This may be especially the case if you're applying for roles with companies that have government or defence contracts, as well as those in sectors such as finance, utilities or telecommunications.
These are all sectors that are at particularly high risk of cyber attack by both criminals and nation-state actors, and so also demand the most skilled and experienced cyber security professionals. These are therefore often some of the most sought-after and highly-paid sectors in which to work.
What types of security clearances are required?
The type of security clearance you'll require will usually depend on the classification level of the data you'll be working with - the more sensitive the data, the more scrutiny you'll have to go through.
For public sector jobs, in addition to the standard baseline personnel security standard (bpss) checks required for any access to government assets, you'll likely to need a counter-terrorist check (ctc), as well as either a security check (sc) or the more stringent developed vetting (dv) security clearance if you'll be working with data classified as 'secret' or 'top secret'.
What organizations issue cyber security clearances?
If you're applying for central government cyber security jobs that need high-level clearances like sc or dv, your application will be processed by the uk security vetting service. This is a government agency that's part of the cabinet office, and employs highly trained vettors to perform a background investigation, analyse your history and circumstances and, if necessary, conduct an in-person interview.
Does a career in this area sound like the right path for you? Then check out our latest cyber security jobs listings and find out where your next position could take you.