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Have you considered a career change? Do you love working with computers to solve complex problems, thinking on your feet, and constantly learning to address new issues?
If so, you should consider looking into cybersecurity. It’s a rapidly evolving field with major opportunities for growth and advancement–and high demand for employees that isn’t being met.
Maybe it’s time to look into trade school. Fortunately for you, InterCoast Colleges is now offering a brand new cybersecurity course to help prepare you for future success in the industry.
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about cybersecurity, including developments in the industry, why more professionals are needed more than ever, what a day in the life of a cybersecurity professional looks like, and how we can help you prepare for your future.
The Need for Cybersecurity
Before we talk about how to become a cybersecurity professional, let’s take a look at why this is such an exciting field to enter.
The Demand for Cybersecurity Professionals
First, let’s talk about your job prospects. Put it this way: if you’re finding the job market stretched thin, you’re not in cybersecurity.
Cybersecurity has had a talent gap for some time, and it’s reaching an industry crisis. The public and private sectors posted 313,735 openings for cybersecurity professionals between September 2017 and August 2018, and it’s estimated that there will be about 3.5 million unfilled industry positions by 2021.
How did we get here?
For one thing, the sheer proliferation of technology is making it difficult for businesses to fill all of the information technology positions they need, never mind positions that require specialized skills. Large corporations have the most resources to snatch up highly qualified candidates, but the public sector and smaller companies need these candidates just as much.
This is good news for job seekers, as it opens the field up to those who may not have the degree or advanced education a company was initially looking for. Women and veterans have major pipelines into the industry, and many hiring managers know that technical expertise can be gained on the job.
Why is Cybersecurity Important?
Why is the demand for cybersecurity professionals so high?
In simple terms, because the cost of not having effective cybersecurity is simply too high for most companies to afford.
IBM estimates that the global average cost of a data breach is $3.9 million. Even a large company cannot afford to lose that amount of money on a regular basis.
Add in everything else that comes with a data breach and the cost is untenable.
At an individual level, a data breach can result in anything from extortion to theft. At a company level, the company could lose valuable secrets, and they also lose consumer trust–and these days, consumer trust is as important as price when it comes to a brand’s success.
Securing networks isn’t just vital to keeping a company functioning–it’s vital to keeping our society functioning. Think about how much of society relies on digital networks to house private information.
Without cybersecurity professionals, the world becomes a much more dangerous place.
What Cybersecurity Technicians Do
So, companies need cybersecurity technicians and specialists. That begs the question: what do cybersecurity specialists actually do all day?
Here’s a snapshot of what you might do day-to-day as a cybersecurity professional.
A Day in the Life
A day in the life of a cybersecurity professional is pretty diverse. In fact, a day might look rather different depending on who you work for. The same job title at two different companies could mean two totally different jobs.
However, there are a few common themes among cybersecurity specialists. Here are a few things you’ll most likely spend your time working on.
More than anything, you’ll spend your time planning security.
Security specialists strive to prevent security threats before they can occur. This means they spend a great deal of time crafting security strategies during the planning stages of software, networks, systems, and data centers.
That might seem like a lot of work, but it’s actually less expensive to build a security system as you go than it is to retrofit a security system to a preexisting network. Plus, it helps the company avoid the downtime between when their system is operational and when their security protocols are complete.
Because of this, cybersecurity specialists must be good at analyzing specifications for critical components to determine potential risks and vulnerabilities and what they can do to mitigate them.
Of course, cybersecurity specialists don’t just hop from one company to the next once a security system is complete.
Threats evolve alongside the system, which means that cybersecurity specialists must keep abreast of everything that’s going on in their purview.
Because of this, cybersecurity specialists place network and computer monitors on servers and at critical points on the network. These monitors will send information to a central server, reporting data that will later be analyzed in detail.
This makes it easier for cybersecurity professionals to monitor their systems at critical junctures and spot any aberrations quickly.
Part and parcel of monitoring the system is securing the system and the system infrastructure.
Despite every precaution otherwise, even the best system in the world has vulnerabilities that get overlooked in an audit (or found during a security breach).
It is the job of cybersecurity specialists to spot these vulnerabilities and fortify them against future threats, as well as cleaning them out of any current threats.
It is your job to find these weak spots, but it’s also your job to figure out how potential breaches could occur, digitally or physically. A hacker could break into the system, but a breach could also happen if an unauthorized user gets inside the system (or a naive employee accidentally invites them in).
Responding to Incidents
Finally, a cybersecurity professional is responsible for responding to any threats to their systems in an efficient, effective manner that minimizes damage and protects the system against future harm.
Every network is secure until it suddenly isn’t. When it isn’t, cybersecurity specialists spring into action. Your job is to figure out where the problem is, prevent it from spreading through the entire system, weed out the problem, close the vulnerability, and, if possible, identify the perpetrator.
To this end, many companies have response teams for this exact purpose, with escalation protocols in case a breach occurs. As a security specialist, it’s your job to offer professional guidance, appropriate responses, and a reasonable course of action.
What You Should Know About a Career in Cybersecurity
Does all of that sound appealing to you? If so, congratulations! This exciting career path might be the right avenue for you.
But before you start signing up for classes, there are a few things you should know about this career. Here are six things to keep in mind about cybersecurity.
There is No “Standard” Career Path
Looking for a career path with a clear trajectory of titles and advancement that you can map out as easily as the rising and setting sun?
That’s not cybersecurity.
Compared to much older fields like law that have a clear point of entry, a well-mapped career progression and a thoroughly mapped set of titles to work through, cybersecurity is sort of like the Wild West.
There’s a lot of vagueness about what you could do and how you could move through your career in the field, but on the other hand, there’s a lot of blue sky too.
That’s because, in the scheme of things, cybersecurity is a relatively new industry.
That means that there isn’t a strictly defined point of entry into the field. That’s good news for newcomers because it creates an environment that favors technical expertise and knowledge over experience. Experience still matters, of course, but if you don’t have as much experience, it isn’t a deal-breaker for employers as long as you know what you’re doing.
Security Clearance is a Big Deal
While there is no single career trajectory set in stone, there are certain things you can do to set yourself apart (and set yourself up for success).
Like getting a security clearance, for example.
Since the United States government and contractors who do work for the federal government make up a significant portion of the cybersecurity industry, you’ll almost certainly be required to obtain a security clearance.
While you may not work with sensitive information in the same way as an analyst, you will be working in the systems that handle that information, which means that the government must be able to trust you.
Unfortunately, you can’t just apply to get a clearance on your own–you have to be sponsored by a recognized government contractor in order to get one. It’s also much longer than the typical background check–plan to wait at least 90 days to get your clearance.
The good news is that it’s easier to maintain a security clearance once you already have one, so long as you keep your record clean in the meantime. And once you already have an active clearance, it makes you more attractive to potential employers since they don’t have to go to the trouble of sponsoring you.
Naive Users are a Bigger Threat than Hackers
You might picture cybersecurity like something out of the movies–protecting your company from ruthless hackers by strengthening the system and fending off threats.
The day to day reality of cybersecurity isn’t like the movies.
In real life, you’ll spend less time defending against hackers and more time defending against naive employees who unwittingly let hackers in the back door.
For example, it’s fairly easy for a hacker to convince someone that they’re from IT and that they need their password to fix a nonexistent problem. It’s much less effort to use simple hat tricks like that than applying brute force techniques.
In other words, when you go into this job, ignorance is a greater enemy than malicious intent. This is why you’ll spend much of your time crafting technology policies and educating employees on best-use practices.
Test, Test, and Test Again
With that in mind, you’ll spend so much time crafting new policies and advocating for technological changes that it’s easy to forget about testing your changes before releasing them into the wild.
A good rule of thumb? You can never do enough tests.
Before you roll out any security change, make sure to test it against as many possible scenarios as you can in an environment that closely resembles your live production system. This will help ensure that the change goes smoothly.
Keep in mind, though, that some changes can have unexpected consequences, so you’ll have to be prepared to manage those too. So make sure to thoroughly analyze new results when you implement a change to make sure everything is going according to plan.
Learning Never Stops
In case you hadn’t already made the connection, learning never stops in cybersecurity.
There is no resting on your laurels in cybersecurity. Technology is constantly evolving, which means that threats are always changing and people are always finding new ways to mess up a system they don’t fully understand.
More than that, new threats appear quickly, so security professionals need to be able to respond just as quickly.
If you want to stay ahead, you should approach the career as though you’re a perennial student, whether you take courses on emerging trends and threats or you maintain a steady reading list of news sources and blogs so you know what you’re up against.
Security is a Journey, not a Destination
Finally, keep in mind that security is not a destination, but rather a journey.
The only truly secure system is one locked behind a sealed door and taken off the network. In other words, the only secure system is a completely inaccessible system that’s useless to your company.
Even then, that key could end up in someone else’s hands, and that leaves the system compromised.
Treat security as an ongoing process, which feeds into treating the career as a lifelong learning process. If you never stop learning and improving your system alongside your knowledge, you’ll be in good shape as a cybersecurity specialist.
How to Become a Cybersecurity Specialist
If cybersecurity sounds like your kind of job, let’s talk about how you can break into the cybersecurity field.
It all starts with your education.
Most cybersecurity professionals need at least a Bachelor’s degree in any of the following fields:
- Computer science
- Information technology
- Computer engineering
- Computer programming
A degree in a related field can also work in your favor, so long as you can show that you have the skills necessary to complete the job.
Cybersecurity professionals looking to advance in the field may want to investigate pursuing a Master’s degree in computer science, information assurance and security, or other related fields.
If you have a Bachelor’s and need to jump-start your application to a Master’s, a certificate program or Associate’s degree may give you the edge you need.
From there, you’ll want to look into specific certifications.
These depend mostly on what part of the industry you wish to work in. The United States government and the military, as well as private companies who contract with them, may require specific certifications.
If you plan to work for the government, the military, or a contractor, you will need a security clearance. As previously noted, you’ll need an employer to sponsor you for this, but this won’t be too much of a hang-up if you’re just breaking into the field (companies know that it’s the cost of doing business).
In addition, some companies may offer tuition assistance to help their employees attain further certifications or advanced degrees. Take advantage of these opportunities as they arise, as they can only help you in the future.
How InterCoast Colleges Can Help
This is where InterCoast Colleges can help you get your foot in the door.
We’re excited to offer a brand new Associate degree in computer security and computer networking. These programs are exactly what you need to bridge the gap between your current skills and skills an employer or Master’s program is looking for.
What We Can Offer
If you’re considering a career in cybersecurity, you want to enter the field with as many advantages as you can get.
That means finding a vocational school that will take the time to properly prepare you for your new career in the specific focus areas you’re most excited about.
A degree from InterCoast Colleges will set you up for success by providing a comprehensive introduction to everything you need to know about cybersecurity.
Topics covered in our degree programs include:
- Hardware security
- Network security
- Ethical hacking
- Linux security
- Certified Information Systems Security (CISS)
- Penetration testing
- Security Practitioner Professional (CASP+)
- Computing Technology Industry Association Comp TIA A+ Certifications
When you enter into the cybersecurity field, you’ll know your way around all kinds of complex security situations, and you’ll know how to address problems head on.
Keep reading for a complete breakdown of each knowledge area and what you’ll get from a course of study with InterCoast Colleges.
Hardware security is a type of vulnerability protection that comes from a physical device installed in the hardware of a computer system, rather than a software. Common examples include things like proxy servers and firewalls.
Why do you need this type of security? Because hardware security protects what software can’t.
Let’s say you have a security software. Chances are, that software runs on multipurpose equipment, so it isn’t designed to specifically match the system in question. It’s also vulnerable to viruses and unwitting employees–in the blink of an eye, a virus has claimed your security keys, and you have to start over.
Hardware security devices are designed for only one purpose, and they only run a few clearly delineated programs, which makes it much more difficult for malware to hide.
The chips will shut down a system if they sense any activity outside their original programming, and some chips will wipe all sensitive information if they sense any physical stimuli like changes to the flow of electricity or breaches of the physical casing.
In addition, you can check and see if a computer has hardware security, as these chips come with a digital certificate that is almost impossible to fake, so you can rest assured that the information is secure even if you can’t check the physical computer.
Of course, you can’t neglect network security either.
Network security is a specialized computer networking field that involves securing a computer network infrastructure against breaches.
It works by combining multiple layers of defense in the network and at the edges of it. Each of these layers implements its own set of policies and controls, and users must have security keys in order to access the network.
Network security includes things like:
- Access control
- Antivirus and anti-malware software
- Behavioral analytics
- Data loss prevention
- Email security
- Intrusion prevention
- Network segmentation
- Web security
- Wireless security
As you can see, there’s quite a lot to learn here. A good network security professional will never run out of things to do–and you’ll never run out of new things to learn.
There’s black hat hacking, which is what Hollywood movies tend to glorify, and then there’s white hat or ethical hacking, which is what companies need.
Where black hat hackers look to steal information and break into systems, white hat hackers or ethical hackers are information security experts who systematically attempt to break into a computer network, application, or system in order to test for vulnerabilities that their black hat counterparts could exploit. All of this is done with the owner’s permission, of course.
Essentially, ethical hacking is a test run of what would happen if a malicious hacker broke into a system. That way, a company can prevent such a scenario from happening in real life.
As such, ethical hackers are trained cybersecurity professionals who abide by certain standards of conduct, including:
- Receiving express permission from the owner to probe the system
- Respecting the privacy of the company in question (focus on the system flaws, not private company information)
- Always closing and re-sealing work so that you don’t leave any holes for a black hat hacker to exploit
- Letting the company or developers know about any errors you found
It is possible to get an ethical hacker certification, and our program puts you on track to get one if you are so inclined.
The security training we’ve discussed thus far has to do with computer systems in general. Linux security, on the other hand, is training to specifically deal with security issues in Linux systems.
Why would you need training in Linux specifically? Because Linux is more secure than Windows.
There are a few reasons for this. First, Windows users are generally granted admin access by default, which means they can access any part of the system, including the most crucial parts.
It’s sort of like giving a Top Secret clearance to a foreign spy.
Linux systems, on the other hand, only grant users lower-level accounts to start, which is all most users need anyway. Because of this, a virus can only access what the user can access, not the crucial parts of the system.
You don’t even really need an antivirus software on Linux, though you can get one if you’re so inclined. Newcomers to the market are usually thrown by the glaring lack of Linux antivirus systems, but there’s a lacking market presence for a reason–hackers don’t generally go after a Linux system the same way they would Windows, so you don’t need antivirus.
That said, because Linux is so different, security professionals have to have training in Linux specifically, as a lot of Windows or Mac knowledge isn’t transferable to Linux. You won’t encounter Linux as often, but knowing your way around it can certainly give you a leg up.
Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) exam is a six-hour exam for security professionals, certifying them in ten different security areas, including:
- Security management practices
- Disaster recovery planning
- Business continuity planning
- Physical security
- Access control systems and methodology
- Management practices
- Networking security
Think of it like the MCAT of cybersecurity. It’s one of the top-paying IT certifications out there.
And we’re going to prepare you to take it.
Penetration testing is often confused with a vulnerability scan or a compliance audit. Some people think it’s the same thing as ethical hacking. Either way, it’s a vital component of any company’s cybersecurity.
Essentially, penetration testing is a simulation of a cyberattack. It’s designed to test what your system will do in the event of a real attack, figure out what areas at most at risk, and test IT breach security.
It doesn’t stop at just uncovering vulnerabilities: it exploits them to figure out exactly what a hacker or virus could get away with if they got into a system.
It may involve automated tools, but the primary driver behind the test is the individuals running the test and responding to it–their knowledge, their experience, and how they can leverage what they have against an incoming attack.
The benefit of penetration testing is that it allows companies to explore multiple attack vectors against the same target. This way, they get a comprehensive understanding of their current risks and what they can do to mitigate them.
Knowing your way around penetration testing makes you a valuable candidate because it means you can go deeper than a vulnerability check. Even systems that are 100% compliant may still be vulnerable to hacking. Penetration tests reveal those vulnerabilities, while compliance audits simply check the existence of necessary controls.
Security Practitioner Professional (CASP+)
A Security Practitioner Professional (CASP+) certification is sort of like CISSP certification. Having both under your belt will make you extremely valuable in the eyes of a hiring manager.
A CASP+ certification tests and certifies your abilities in implementing and managing information security. It validates advanced competency in security operations and architecture, risk management, and integration of enterprise security.
Those who successfully pass the exam will have the necessary knowledge to:
- Implement cryptographic techniques such as blockchain and mobile device encryption
- Interpret risks through trend data
- Anticipate cyber-defense needs to meet business goals
- Integrate cloud and virtualization technologies into enterprise architecture
As such, the test covers things like cryptography, risk assessment and management, security operations, security administration, networks and communications, and malicious code.
Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA A+) Certifications
Finally, there are CompTIA A+ certifications, which are a new problem-solving avenue for cybersecurity professionals and employers alike.
The new certifications are designed to reflect challenges in the cybersecurity landscape of today and prepare professionals to address real-world issues in the workforce.
They’re unique because credentials are awarded based on performance-based exams. Rather than giving professionals a theoretical environment, CompTIA A+ exams demand that users can think on their feet to perform difficult tasks in complex IT environments.
If you want to be a key player in a critical response team, this is exactly the certification you need to stand out.
Helping You Prepare for Your Future in Cybersecurity
Are you ready to build your future in cybersecurity?
It’s a deeply rewarding field that will challenge you to constantly improve and learn throughout your career. But to get there, you need the right program.
That’s where we come in.
InterCoast Colleges is proud to offer high-quality Associate’s degree programs that will prepare you for a rewarding career in networking and cybersecurity. It all starts with you, choosing to make a positive change in your life to pursue a career you’ll love.
Ready? Us too. Click here to get started.