How to Become a Cyber Security Specialist


Here are the essential steps for becoming a cyber security specialist:


1. Excel at math and computer science in high school

2. Determine if this field is suited to your interests and personal traits

3. Earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a similar field

4. Get an entry-level job during school or upon graduation

5. Advance your career as you gain experience


Continue reading below to get a good idea of what you'll need to get started in this field, and how to succeed. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as an overview of salary level expectations, a list of possible employers, actual job postings, and much more!



What Education Will I Need?

Some employers will accept years of relevant work experience in place of education, but oftentimes they will require you to have a bachelor’s degree in a field related to Computer Science. In rare cases, and for seem higher-level positions, such as those in research and teaching, a master’s degree may be required.


Success Tip: While you're in high school, excel at math, computer science and related fields. This will both serve as excellent direct preparation for this career, and will help you qualify for Computer Science programs at the university level.





What is a Cyber Security Specialist?

A cyber security specialist is an information technology (IT) specialist who assesses security risks to digital information, including related software and hardware, and develops policies, procedures and contingency plans to detect, prevent or minimize the effects of security breaches and concerns.



What Are Their Job Duties?

Cyber security specialists are typically responsible for the following tasks:


• Analyzing and establishing security requirements for systems/networks

• Defending systems against unauthorized access, modification and/or destruction

• Configuring and supporting security tools such as firewalls, patch management systems, etc.

• Defining access privileges, control structures and resources

• Performing vulnerability testing, risk and security assessments

• Designing and conducting security audits to ensure operational security

• Identifying abnormalities and report violations

• Overseeing and monitoring routine security administration

• Developing and updating business continuity and disaster recovery protocols

• Training fellow employees in security awareness, protocols and procedures

• Responding immediately to security incidents and provide post-incident analysis

• Providing technical advice to colleagues





Is This Field Right for Me?

If you have the following traits, you should be a good fit for this career:


• An interest in understanding the risks to the security of information or data

• The ability to anticipate information security risks

• An interest in combating cyber crime

• A high degree of honesty and integrity

• A keen interest in IT, and developments within the sector

• An interest analyzing data and solving problems

• Creativity, patience, a logical mind and objectivity

• A proactive approach to work activities, with the confidence to make decisions

• An understanding of confidentiality issues, and the laws relating to them



What is the Average Salary Level?

Cyber security specialists earn a median salary of around $90,120 per year in the United States. Their salary can vary based on factors such as their level of experience and education, the specific region in which they work, level of responsibility involved in the job, and other factors. 



Salary Figures

As mentioned above, the salary level you could earn as a cyber security specialist can vary, typically depending on the following factors:


• Your level of education

• Your level of experience

• The level of responsibility involved in your job

• The size and type of your employer

• The region in which you work

• Many other factors


Cyber Security Specialist Salary in Canada (Alberta): According to the 2018 Alberta Wage & Salary Survey, the average salary level of Albertans working in the Systems Security Analyst occupational group is $87,074 per year. Unfortunately, no reliable salary information could be found for the rest of Canada at the time of writing (June 9, 2019).


Cyber Security Specialist Salary in the United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of Americans working in the Information Security Analysts occupational group is $90,120 per year.*



What Types of Employers Are There?

Job opportunities typically exist internally with virtually any small or medium sized organization that needs to protect sensitive information. They may also be employed by external IT and information security companies, or as freelancers, that contract their services out to clients. 


Organizations that employ cyber security specialists might include:


• IT companies

• Law enforcement agencies 

• The Armed Forces

• Government departments and agencies (all levels)

• Information security consultancy services

• Colleges and universities

• Medium and large public and private companies

• Self-employment (as a freelancer)


Success Tip: Employers may use slightly different job titles for the same role, or the same title for different roles. Therefore, when exploring careers in cyber security, read each job description carefully to get an understanding of what's involved with a particular role.



Current Job Opportunities

Our job board below has cyber security specialist postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.



What Career Advancement Opportunities Are There?

Displaying competence and a good work ethic can afford you plenty of career advancement options, including:


• Earning an increase in pay and benefits

• Moving into senior-level roles

• Becoming a tester that finds security holes and flaws by deliberately cracking systems

• Moving into management/administrative roles

• Moving into teaching or research roles

• Moving into self-employment/consultancy work

• Moving abroad for jobs


Success Tip: Earning a graduate degree can greatly help advance your career by helping to qualify you for jobs in research, teaching, and senior-level administrative roles.



What are Careers Similar to This One?

Listed below are careers that are in the same field, or involve many of the same skills, competencies and/or responsibilities:


• Chief Information Officer (CIO)

• Computer Systems Engineer

• Cryptologist

• Data Analyst

• Mathematician 

• Network Architect

• Test Engineer

• Video Game Developer



Scholarships for Becoming a Cyber Security Specialist

All of the scholarships on our Computer Science, Computer Engineering, and Software Engineering Scholarships pages are relevant for becoming a cyber security specialist.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!




Please consult the following resources to learn more about what it takes to work in this field, and how to get there:


• Occupational Profile: “Systems Security Analyst.” (n.d.). Alberta Government - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved June 9, 2019.

• Occupational Outlook Handbook: “Information Security Analysts.” (n.d.). United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved January 31, 2017. 

• Jobs: “Information Security Specialist”, AGCAS editors (November, 2016). Prospects. Retrieved January 31, 2017.

• Job Profiles: “IT Security Coordinator” (Dec. 16, 2016). National Careers Service. Retrieved January 31, 2017.



Majors in Our Database Relevant for this Career

We have career guides for over 60 university majors in our database. Below we've outlined those that are most relevant for this profession. Click on the link(s) to see what else you can do with these majors!


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