How to Become a
Cyber Security Engineer
Essential Education, Skills, and Job Interview Prep
Cyber security is one of the hottest fields in tech. As the prevalence of bug bounty programs shows, companies are willing to give out generous rewards to anyone who can find vulnerabilities in their systems. Cyber security professionals are therefore compensated well for their dedication, hard work, and the results of their labor.
In this guide, we take a look at what it takes to enter this lucrative profession. But before we get down to exploring how to become a cyber security engineer, we must first understand what a cyber security engineer is.
What Is a Cyber Security Engineer?
Cyber security engineers are responsible for maintaining the security of software and hardware systems. These professionals ensure that an organization’s systems are secure from unauthorized external access. They are also responsible for fixing any security issues or threats that may arise.
Cyber security engineers are very important to organizations of all sizes. In today’s competitive world, cybercriminals and other kinds of malicious actors are always on the lookout for ways to access a company’s internal knowledge or resources.
Cyber Security Engineer Salary and Job Outlook
Cyber security engineers are paid extraordinarily well. According to PayScale, the average salary of a cyber security engineer is nearly $97,000. Moreover, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a staggering 31 percent increase in information security roles for the period between 2019 and 2029.
Entry-Level Cyber Security Engineer Job Requirements
Even though you can make a decent living in the cyber security space without extensive formal education, you will need professional certification or a bachelor’s degree for most entry-level cyber security jobs.
The reason behind this stringent requirement is that cyber security is a high-stakes field. Proven knowledge of the profession is necessary to meet most companies’ high standards for security.
How to Ace Your Cyber Security Engineer Job Interview
Interviews for cyber security roles are intense. Employers look for someone they can trust to protect their business. If you make it through, you will be responsible for managing all aspects of digital security for them. This raises the stakes and makes cyber security interviews a rigorous process.
As far as technical knowledge is concerned, you need to be well versed in networking, cryptography, web technologies, and more. Below are some of the most commonly asked job interview questions for cyber security roles.
Common Cyber Security Engineer Job Interview Questions
- Explain the differences between threats, risks, and vulnerabilities.
- Describe a brute-force attack and explain how it can be prevented.
- Define SSL and HTTPS. Which of these is more secure?
- Describe each layer of the OSI model in detail.
What Degree Should I Get to Become a Cyber Security Engineer?
In today’s professional world, a degree is mandatory for almost every job. Cyber security engineering is no exception. You need a bachelor’s degree to apply to most entry-level positions in the cyber security field. This makes sense because cyber security engineers are required to be extremely knowledgeable and experienced.
Associate Degree in Cyber Security
An Associate of Science, Associate of Applied Science, or even an associate degree in a business-related field could be your ticket into cyber security. A blend of business and technical knowledge can help you better understand the stakes of cyber security. With any of these two-year degrees, you will be a valuable asset to any organization.
Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science or Information Systems
If you already have an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree will solidify your knowledge of cyber security. A bachelor’s degree is mandatory for most jobs, serving as a testimony to your experience and skills. Most undergraduate programs in computer science or information technology take about four years to complete.
Master’s Degree in Cyber Security
While a Master’s Degree in Cyber Security is not mandatory, it is a great addition to your resume. A master’s degree is a good idea if you’re looking to specialize, if you want more training, or if you’re eyeing a more senior position. You can expect to spend about two years in a master’s degree program.
Cyber Security Doctoral Degree
While very few choose to take this path, a doctoral degree in the field of cyber security can open doors for you if you want a position in research or education.
What Does a Cyber Security Engineer Do?
Before you decide to become a cyber security engineer, it is important to understand what they do. Below are some of their main responsibilities.
Audit Company Infrastructure
Cyber security engineers are expected to let the company know how well its infrastructure is holding up. This means you will often be required to carry out tests and assessments to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your company’s information systems.
Find Vulnerabilities Before Intruders Do
In assessing the security of a system, it is common practice to simulate attacks to identify bugs and vulnerabilities long before they are recognized and exploited by external hackers. Penetration testing is a great technique used for achieving the same purpose.
Be Prepared to Run Damage Control
After assessing their company’s strengths and weaknesses, cyber security engineers should still be prepared to respond to a real cyber attack. While your job as a cyber security engineer is to ensure that security breaches do not happen, you also need to be able to control damage if a breach happens anyway.
Essential Cyber Security Engineer Skills
Below are some of the top skills you need to have and concepts you need to know to become an effective cyber security engineer.
Scripting and Command Line
The command line is the most crucial tool for a cyber security engineer. It is what network security experts use to access other tools in their digital arsenal. They also use it to assess the vulnerabilities of a system remotely. If the command line is the interface that enables you to communicate with the system, scripts are the efficient means by which you do the talking.
Cyber security engineers also need a working knowledge of operating systems. All hardware systems run an operating system, which is what manages the applications and processes that run on a device. Sound knowledge of how operating systems work is crucial for nipping cyber issues in the bud.
While knowledge of the command line and operating systems is an essential first step for managing devices, you won’t get very far until you also understand the intricate relationships between devices.
Nearly all modern systems are connected to a network, so it is important to understand how a conventional computer network works. Most cyber attacks happen remotely, and securing your private networks is a must.
How to Become a Cyber
Security Engineer: A Step-by-Step Guide
Now that you have a sense of what cyber security engineers do, let’s walk through how you can become one.
Assess Your Interest
One reason we have been focusing on the details of the job is to give you a chance to see if cyber security engineering piques your interest. Whether you see it as a way to earn money or you believe it’s something that you’ll love doing, you should know what you’re getting into before beginning your journey.
Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in a Related Field
While cyber security engineers can find work without formal education, a bachelor’s degree is the most reliable way to break into the field. It does not necessarily have to be focused on security directly. A degree in information sciences or computer science will do just fine. Just make sure to take classes in cyber security along the way.
Get Some Work Experience
While it may seem difficult to find work at the start, any job that you can get at this stage will go a long way in making you a better engineer. If you can find a part-time gig or an internship that suits you, it will strengthen your cyber security resume and improve your prospects for full-time cyber security openings.
Go for Top Certifications
This is undoubtedly the most important step in the process. Certifications like CompTIA Security+ and Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) not only authenticate your skills, but also reflect the effort you put in to complete them. This shows that you are not limited to book learning, and that you can walk the talk.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Cyber Security Engineer?
If you have little to no experience in computer science or programming, you can become proficient in the field in 12 to 16 months. However, if you do have some experience in software development or programming, four to six months should be sufficient for a strong foundation in cyber security.
Keep in mind that cyber security engineering is not an easy career path. There are a lot of high stakes involved, so you need to be well prepared before a company will be willing to hand over their systems’ security responsibilities to you.
Should You Become a Cyber Security Engineer in 2021?
You should join this profession if you want good wages and job security. According to Grand View Research, the global market is expanding at the breakneck pace of 10 percent per year, and is expected to continue on that trajectory through 2027.
Cyber security is one of the highest paying tech fields. Attacks and breaches happen all the time, so cyber security engineers are in high demand. If this article sparked your interest, then you should choose your education path and start studying.
Cyber Security Engineer FAQ
Is the field of cyber security going to stay around for long?
The short answer is yes. As long as computers need to be guarded against malicious actors, cyber security will continue to thrive.
Also, cyber security cannot be automated easily. Because each computer environment or infrastructure is unique, human intervention is required to prevent unauthorized access.
Do I need to be a software engineer to be good at cyber security?
Not necessarily. Knowing something about software will help you protect it better, but you can excel in the role without this knowledge.
What is VAPT?
VAPT stands for vulnerability assessment and penetration testing. VAPT is one of the most common routines for a cyber security engineer. When auditing a software system, you would normally begin with a vulnerability assessment, which is a series of tests to check how vulnerable the system is.
If needed, penetration testing is then carried out to check if intruders can gain access to the system. As a whole, VAPT helps in outlining the safety measures required to protect the system from intruders.
Do I need a degree in cyber security to start earning?
You need at least a bachelor’s degree to work as a cyber security professional for most companies. However, if you are looking to freelance, you can get pretty far without formal education. Most large organizations have bug bounty programs, which will give you a cash reward if you can detect vulnerabilities in their system.
Apart from public bug bounty programs, you can offer your services as an independent cyber security consultant to organizations. In this scenario, your work history will be more important than your degrees.