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Career paths in cybersecurity: Key skills, salary expectations and job description

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Cybersecurity professionals are in increasingly high demand, especially since society is so digital and data-driven. Businesses and individuals must take decisive and defensive actions to avoid becoming future targets as cyberattacks become more common and well-orchestrated. 

Table of contents

  • Key skills for cybersecurity professionals
  • Cybersecurity career salary expectations
  • How to start a cybersecurity career

[ Learn more: What is cybersecurity: Definition, importance, threats and best practices ]

The following information about cybersecurity careers and salaries will help you know what to expect and which skills are most beneficial for people in the industry. It will also give you a rundown of potential roles and responsibilities. 

Key skills for cybersecurity professionals

One of the most common questions people have about cybersecurity before getting into the field is whether it’s a good career. However, no single option is universally ideal for everyone. It all depends on what skills people have and what they want to achieve as working professionals. 

Cybersecurity careers are like others in that people are most likely to succeed in them by having certain skills. That doesn’t mean individuals should give up on cybersecurity career paths if they don’t have all the capabilities yet. However, specific skills are undoubtedly valuable for anyone aiming to thrive in a cybersecurity career. Here are some of the main areas to focus on. 

Problem-solving skills

Some people say every part of cybersecurity involves problem-solving to some degree. Professionals working in the field must frequently tackle issues with unknown outcomes. Consider cases where cybersecurity teams face new kinds of ransomware or zero-day vulnerabilities. They don’t get through those situations without excellent problem-solving skills. 

Having the willingness to examine issues from all angles will also help. When people analyze situations thoroughly, they’re more likely to discover things others may overlook. That’s especially important in cybersecurity since the attack methods malicious parties use evolve so often. 

Knowledge of programming languages

People on cybersecurity career paths also need to know multiple programming languages. For example, C and C++ equip internet security professionals can respond to and defend lower-level operations within the online infrastructure.

There’s also Python, which is becoming more popular within the cybersecurity community. It helps people discover vulnerabilities and how to fix them. People also appreciate its simple syntax. 

Java is also useful to have within a cybersecurity professional’s programming language skill set. Hackers often use it to create botnets or break into mobile apps. However, it’s helpful for ethical hacking, too. 

Be inquisitiveness

Having a strong desire to learn and ask questions while in a role often supports career advancement regardless of position. Cybersecurity is a fast-moving industry, and people will do well if they’re strongly motivated to feed their curiosity with new knowledge. 

It’s also important to seek answers independently and become committed to ongoing learning, even after becoming well-established in the career. This could mean reading industry case studies, attending conferences, enrolling in a mentoring program and pursuing at least one cybersecurity career path certification.

An understanding of vulnerabilities and attack methods

Internet security researchers must stay aware of the current vulnerabilities hackers exploit and the methods used. One good way to do that is to regularly read findings from cybersecurity researchers. They’re often the people who detect flaws in connected products, alerting the world to new ways hackers could wreak havoc. 

In 2021, there were an astounding 21,957 known internet security vulnerabilities. That was a 19.6% increase over 2020 figures. The change in only two years shows how important it is for people pursuing a cybersecurity career path to stay educated about the methods hackers use. 

It’s also worthwhile to think about learning to be an ethical hacker. That way, people can become familiar with the ins and outs of systems and products, getting information that shows them how malicious hackers would likely behave. 

Be flexible

Working as a cybersecurity professional requires people to become highly adaptable and well-equipped to deal with ever-changing circumstances. For example, malicious parties have developed malware that can more easily evade detection mechanisms. That means people cannot always rely on previously successful strategies to find it. 

Another relatively recent change is that hackers no longer carry out ransomware attacks solely to get money from victims. Many now engage in so-called double-extortion, demanding money and threatening to leak stolen data if they don’t get it. 

Flexibility prepares people to tackle the changing intricacies of the cybersecurity landscape. It will also help them learn to love how varied a workday can be. Evidence of a sudden intrusion on a network would create an all-hands-on-deck situation occurring on what was previously a comparatively slow workday. 

Knowledge of networking and systems administration

A networking and systems administration background is also beneficial for a cybersecurity career. They can understand, maintain, update and troubleshoot the aspects of an internet infrastructure that send and receive data. These skills also help people properly secure a network. 

A critical part of system maintenance from a cybersecurity perspective involves setting and updating the permissions that determine whether a person can engage in certain actions on the network. That’s an important step in ensuring they only have access to the content or tools necessary for their roles.

Setting those parameters has become even more important recently, with many people spending at least part of their time working remotely. An organization’s cybersecurity must stay tight, even in distributed workforces. Having networking and systems administration skills helps that happen. 

Communications

Communication skills are essential for all computer science professionals, including those in cybersecurity. Internet security experts also have to learn to communicate clearly with people from all backgrounds. Those in leadership positions may primarily engage with lower-level team members.

However, instances will also arise that require them to speak to individuals with little or no professional knowledge of cybersecurity. They’ll be able to help teach best practices that keep companies and people safer from attacks. 

There will almost certainly be occasions where cybersecurity professionals must talk to c-suite members to convince them to invest in the latest technologies, update them on the outcomes of new protocols or tell them about potential vulnerabilities. These examples highlight why clear communications are so vital to workplace success. 

Cybersecurity career salary expectations

Anyone reading a cybersecurity career guide would understandably want to know how much they can anticipate earning in the field. The amounts vary depending on factors such as experience, the demands of their role and whether they have certain traits that make them exceptionally competitive. 

What is the average entry-level cybersecurity salary?

Statistics show that entry-level cybersecurity analysts make an average of $71,884 as of January 2022. However, the earnings across job postings of this type span from $65,516 to $78,788. The cybersecurity jobs salary varies according to numerous factors. 

For example, applying for a job in an area where cybersecurity skills are in short supply may result in a higher starting salary than if the market were saturated. Additionally, the strength of a person’s resume could help them negotiate higher earnings. 

Experiences such as cybersecurity internships or ethical hacking competitions could help a hiring manager see that a candidate is motivated and an excellent fit at a company. Industry certifications can also help someone stand out from other applicants by proving they have strong foundational skills. 

What should you expect for a government cybersecurity salary?

After deciding to go into the cybersecurity field, people should consider where they might apply their skills. Taking a government-based role could result in an above-average salary, along with other perks. Techshielder, a company based in the United Kingdom, recently published an article ranking the top cities for cybersecurity jobs. 

It ranked Washington, D.C. the highest, thanks to its high average salary of approximately $115,228. The researchers also praised the District of Columbia’s job availability for cybersecurity professionals and noted that many government agencies have headquarters there.

Of course, government security jobs are also available in other cities. The specifics also vary depending on the branch of government someone chooses. U.S. federal employees get benefits like health, dental and life insurance. However, the perks could differ in local or state government roles. 

What does a cybersecurity career entail?

The main goal of any cybersecurity professional is to protect an organization’s data from being compromised. Here are some things internet security professionals typically do and what those efforts require. 

Preventing insider data breaches

Many cybersecurity threats originate from inside a company. Experts often say people are the weakest links in a company’s security strategy due to human error. Being tired, under pressure or poorly trained raises the likelihood of mistakes that cause data breaches. 

Someone sending an email to the wrong person, or failing to secure a company laptop that ultimately gets stolen, are two of the many scenarios that could cause unintentional data breaches. Disgruntled employees could also purposefully take information with them when leaving or harm a company’s systems. 

Cybersecurity professionals can reduce these outcomes by creating checklists to reduce people’s chances of making errors due to carelessness or forgetfulness. Solutions exist that show how and where a person uses data. They reduce the chances of someone taking or getting unwarranted access to information. 

Stopping malicious network intrusions

The cybersecurity career path also includes thwarting attempts to gain unauthorized network access from the outside. Often, that means installing endpoint protection and using monitoring software that spots unusual activity. One study found that it takes an average of 207 days to find a breach. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) tools can reduce that number when algorithms learn network activity and detect deviations. A cybersecurity career also requires installing and configuring firewalls. Keeping software and hardware up to date is critical since outdated products often contain unpatched vulnerabilities. 

Preventing unauthorized parties from breaking into the network requires a multipronged approach. People who embark on a cybersecurity career path must learn defense fundamentals. They should also stay abreast of newer technologies that could further strengthen the network against external threats. 

Teaching people about common attack vectors

Many people who don’t work in cybersecurity focus mostly on the convenient and exciting aspects of the internet. They often overlook the potential dangers and the decisions that could put someone at a greater risk of experiencing, or even causing, cybersecurity problems. 

Cybercriminals frequently create realistic-looking emails to convince recipients to provide sensitive details. People that know about the techniques associated with such attacks are less likely to fall for them. Reusing passwords across multiple sites also puts individuals at an increased risk of hacking. 

Cybersecurity careers give professionals plenty of opportunities to educate people about staying safe online. That could happen in a workplace, but it might also involve going to schools and public events to give easy-to-follow tips that positively change how individuals use the internet and influence those they know.

Performing damage control after breaches occur

Even the most diligent and skilled cybersecurity practitioners cannot hope to stop all breaches. However, these professionals are instrumental in limiting negative outcomes. That means investigating how attackers got into the network and what they did afterward, then responding so similar vulnerabilities will not be exploited again. 

This part of a cybersecurity professional’s job often involves speaking with law enforcement or industry regulators. They may also engage with public relations teams so affected parties get clear, accurate information about what happened. 

Additionally, damage control could require performing a risk assessment to improve an organization’s security posture and response readiness. If internet criminals believe they’ve found easy targets, they might plan more attacks soon. That’s why cybersecurity experts must proactively assess what went wrong and deal with the identified issues. 

How to start a cybersecurity career

This cybersecurity career guide might encourage you to take the path toward an exciting, rewarding future. The internet makes it easy to find formal and informal education methods. 

For example, you might invest in several highly regarded cybersecurity books or self-paced online courses, all while staying informed about the latest industry trends and tools. Many educational institutions also offer diploma and certificate courses for in-person and remote learners. 

As you digest the information in this guide, the main thing to remember is that there’s no official roadmap for cybersecurity career growth. Spend time thinking about aspects such as your budget, availability, location and obligations before settling on how you’ll begin advancing in your chosen profession.

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