Cyber Security Career Paths - An Overview

Cyber Security

The internet has brought us unprecedented opportunities, including e-commerce, user-generated content such as Youtube, and online education, just to name a few. Despite these positive outcomes, we’re also suffering from the consequences of criminal activities occurring in cyberspace. Cybersecurity is a term referring to both preventive and reactive countermeasures designed to remove or reduce the widespread threats in cyberspace, or in other words, the internet.

Cybersecurity is becoming increasingly important. New threats are appearing constantly. Many of them end up affecting our daily lives. Organizations are aware of this reality and seeking help. To respond to this need, a new breed of I.T. developers has emerged.

We call them cybersecurity professionals. Cybersecurity threats come in many shapes and forms, and so do the career paths in cybersecurity. Penetration testers launch simulated cybersecurity attacks against organizations, to check their readiness. Computer forensics specialists investigate security incidents and produce evidence for legal or other disciplinary actions.

I.T. auditors are responsible for the accounting of an organization’s compliance to the rules and regulations of its own or those imposed by government and industry regulators. Network security professionals are I.T. warriors at the forefront of cybersecurity warfare. They monitor our networks to detect any anomalies and respond to attacks. These are the first responders in cybersecurity.

The field of cybersecurity is still evolving, and there are many more relatively-new job titles already out there or will be coming out soon. The career paths listed here are some of the most representative ones available today.

Careers in Cyber Security

Penetration Tester

Penetration testers conduct simulated attacks against organizations to test their cyber-security readiness. They get permissions ahead of taking any actions to avoid any unintended results. Many details, including the rules of engagement, need to be negotiated before the testing process begins and penetration or pen testing companies usually produce a proposal to be signed by all the stakeholders to get their permissions to go ahead.

One of the most common items to be tested is social engineering readiness. Humans are often the weakest link in cyber-security, and social engineering takes advantage of vulnerabilities found in people to break in. A spear phishing attack is an example. Attackers send an email to a targeted victim to mislead the person to eventually reveal sensitive information or take an action that can compromise the security of an organization.

Penetration testers frequently send spear phishing emails to see how employees respond to them. Another popular test is to bypass defense mechanisms like firewalls and leave a piece of evidence of a successful attack as a proof of the type of a possible attack. This could be as simple as a text file in a file system. Pen testers document all their activities in a comprehensive report demonstrating the strengths and weaknesses of the security stance of an organization.

What’s critical in what they do is that no real harm should exist at any point of their testing and penetration testing should never pose any true threats against the normal business operations of their customers. After all, the goal is to avoid attacks and not become part of the statistics.

Computer Forensics

Computer forensics is a field in which IT developers investigate criminal activities in cyberspace, and produce evidence for legal and regulatory actions. Criminal justice, or CJ, is closely related to computer forensics because people in CJ are one of the consumers of the evidence prepared by computer forensics professionals. These CJ workers include law enforcement officers, and they played a crucial role in the development of computer forensics, especially in it’s early stage.

Early on, they noticed that computers were being used to commit crimes, and they had to quickly acquire necessary computer skills to conduct their criminal investigations and eventually to produce evidence to be submitted to court. This is why we still see heavy law enforcement involvement in the computer forensics industry. We’ve come a long way since this humble beginning of computer forensics. These days, many colleges offer computer forensics courses in their cybersecurity curriculum, or majors specializing in computer forensics.

If you happen to have a background in law enforcement and are interested in pursuing an IT developer career, I strongly recommend that you try computer forensics. You’ll find your criminal justice knowledge handy in many aspects of conducting your computer forensics investigations and generating reports. For those of you who have little knowledge in CJ, don’t worry. The amount of CJ concepts you have to learn to do your job as a computer forensics specialist is manageable.

And you certainly don’t need a CJ degree to be effective in your tasks at hand.

IT Auditing

IT auditing helps organizations account for their compliance to both internal and external rules and regulations associated with information technology. A significant portion of IT auditing is devoted to cybersecurity, due to its increasing importance. There are industry standards, such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, or PCI DSS, that requires companies to go through an annual security audit process.

The rigor and scope depend on the size of the company, and any organizations accepting credit cards as part of their financial transactions are obligated to comply with PCI DSS. If they’re not compliant, they will face a steep fine. In terms of government regulations, one of the most famous is Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. HIPAA requires organizations to implement safeguards, especially in the area of privacy.

Health care providers and companies dealing with sensitive patient health care information or PHI have to be able to demonstrate how their IT personnel are protecting their PHI against potential cybersecurity threats. Both PCI DSS and HIPAA are creating enormous opportunities for IT auditing professionals because organizations have immediate needs to regularly check if they are compliant, and this is what IT auditors are expected to do.

There are also other cybersecurity-related rules and regulations organizations should look out for, which is generating even more IT auditing tasks. If you have an accounting background as well as cybersecurity, you are very well suited to jump into IT auditing because of your aptitude toward compliance and knowledge in computer security. For those of you who have no prior background, I encourage you to check out both accounting and cybersecurity topics, because both are needed to develop your skills as an effective IT auditor.

Network Security

Network Security Professionals are responsible for monitoring suspicious activities in a computer network and taking necessary actions to prevent or stop security attacks against a local area network or wide area network they are in charge of. Networking and telecommunications are an essential component of our modern computer infrastructure. Without them, the internet would not have been made possible.

Unfortunately, network connectivity also enables cyber criminals to get unauthorized access to our computers. There are many known and unknown vulnerabilities in our networking hardware and software which range from operating system glitches to outdated firmware found in switches and routers. Network engineers are a natural fit for becoming network security professionals because of their expertise in computer networking.

However, this transition doesn’t occur automatically unless a candidate makes the necessary investment in studying cybersecurity. There are many aspects of network security which demand years of education and training. These include topics such as firewalls, virtual private networks or VPN, cryptography, intrusion detection and prevention systems, logging and network management. Data science is also important in network security because there is so much network security data generated from numerous sources throughout a network.

Network security professionals should be able to analyze this data in order to make informed decisions on protecting their networks. If you like toys and have an inquisitive mind, network security is a great career path to pursue.

Preparation Tips

After getting more informed about all the opportunities in cybersecurity, you may now be eager to find out how to join the workforce. Cybersecurity is one of those disciplines that demands systematic training and education for those who want to successfully pursue careers in them. You definitely need guidance in the form of a well-developed curriculum. It’s also tremendously helpful if you have access to practitioners who can give you insights that can only be obtained in the trenches.

Because of the diversity of career path you can seek in cybersecurity, it’s important to decide on which specialization to go after as soon as possible. An ideal approach would be for you to develop decent foundational knowledge in cybersecurity first, before you make your own career path decisions. What you learn from textbooks and in classrooms may be quite different from what you could be experiencing as a cybersecurity expert working on a particular problem.

This is why it’s important to have mentors and internship opportunities as part of your preparation for becoming a cybersecurity professional. You will get a much better feel for a certain career path once you spend some quality time actually tackling real-life problems and mingling with industry professionals. Once you know what you want to do, the next step is to drill down into the specific software tools or concepts.

If your job is computer forensics specialist, it’s essential to learn how to use software packages, such as Forensics Toolkit, also known as FTK or EnCase. If you’re in the profession of IT auditing, developing a deep understanding of PCI DSS or HIPAA is a must. The nice thing about the cybersecurity profession is that it has so many facets, and almost anybody with varying interests and capabilities can find their own calling and ways to be driving in what they do.


One of the most widely recognized cybersecurity certifications is Certified Information Systems Security Professional or CISSP. International Information System Security Certification Consortium, or ISC squared, is the organization issuing CISSP certification. It also offers more specialized certifications such as, Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional, or CSSLP and, Certified Cloud Security Professional or CCSP.

If you’re looking for an entry-level cybersecurity certification Security Plus offered by CompTIA is a great choice.

Penetration testers can earn the Certified Ethical Hacker or CEH certification, made available by the International Counsel of Electronic Commerce Consultants, or EC-Council. EC-Council provides more advanced options for pen testers such as EC-Council Certified Security Analyst, or ECSA, and Licensed Penetration Tester, or LPT.

IT auditors can get the Certified Information Systems Auditor, or CISA certification through Information Systems Audit and Control Association, or ISACA.

Some of the well known computer forensic certifications are

  • Global Information Assurance Certification Forensic Examiner or GCFE
  • Global Information Assurance Certification Forensic Analyst or GCFA
  • Certified Cyber Forensic Professional by ISC squared
  • Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator or CHFI by EC-Council.

There are also vendor-specific computer forensic certifications like

  • Access Data Certified Examiner or ACE
  • EnCase Certified Examiner or ENCE

For network security professionals Cisco offers

  • Cisco Certified Network Associates Security
  • Cisco Certified Network Professional Security Certifications

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