The digitization of the business world is having a major impact on how companies operate, creating new employment opportunities for building, managing and protecting computer systems. As organizations integrate more advanced technologies, the need for network security experts and cybersecurity professionals is only expanding. According to research from the analytics software company Burning Glass, the volume of cybersecurity job postings has grown 94% since 2013, and positions in this field now account for 13% of all IT-related roles. To compete for these employment opportunities, candidates must have the right educational backgrounds, skill sets and computer security experiences, which is why a master’s degree in cybersecurity is such a valuable stepping stone.
To help you prepare for a successful career in cybersecurity, we’ve pulled together key insights and requirements that every aspiring professional should understand. Let’s take a close look at how to become a security architect, what this role entails and how an advanced degree fits into the bigger picture.
What Is a Security Architect?
Security architects are responsible for maintaining the operability of computer systems and protecting sensitive information from exploitation and theft. By performing deep cybersecurity research, these professionals anticipate how cybercriminals might infiltrate secure networks, steal data and distribute malware to business-critical IT assets. According to the InfoSec Institute, security architects are expected to stay current on the latest developments and security architectures to ensure they’re one step ahead of malicious actors, both in and outside their companies. However, since every organization relies on different computer systems and upholds disparate security standards, these roles often come with a high degree of variability.
Security architects are only one component of modern cybersecurity teams, and the amount of influence they have on IT decisions typically aligns with their level of experience. For example, some security architects take on day-to-day systems administrator tasks, while those in management positions may focus on developing project timelines for system upgrades. According to Robert Half, a security analyst’s job description may include the following responsibilities:
- Reviewing current computer systems and networks for vulnerabilities and enhancements
- Conducting penetration tests and identifying suspicious behavior
- Managing network security and access privileges to minimize risk
- Establishing disaster recovery strategies and data loss prevention tactics
- Responding to security events and providing post-breach analyses
Alongside their core cybersecurity responsibilities, some security architects also help to improve the performance of computer systems and private networks through continuous monitoring. They design and implement new security architectures that increase efficiency while minimizing an organization’s attack surface. These tasks have become particularly important in the modern era, where cybercrime has become a multi-trillion dollar problem. According to a 2020 report from Herjavec Group, the global cost of cybercrime is expected to reach $6 trillion by 2021. To help limit the frequency of data breaches and the resulting financial and reputational damages, security architects must possess certain hard skills, technical knowledge and character traits.
What Skills Do You Need To Become a Security Architect?
Many aspiring professionals wonder how to become a security architect in an ever-shifting IT landscape, where new computer systems and vulnerabilities are constantly cropping up. The speed of technological innovation has made managing security architectures quite challenging, especially for organizations committed to digital transformation. For example, a 2019 study from Nutanix found that 86% of enterprise survey respondents believe hybrid cloud is their ideal IT operating model. However, since this framework requires alignment between legacy systems and cloud-based applications, it can be difficult to develop security structures that provide total visibility and control over all workloads.
Although the roles and responsibilities of security architects are constantly changing in response to new threats and enhancement opportunities, there are specific skills that organizations desire. Here are a few key skill sets security professionals should possess:
The structure of computer networks plays a leading role in the stability and security of business systems, including end user devices, sensitive data stores and IT management applications. Without robust oversight of network traffic and user behavior, organizations can unknowingly introduce new vulnerabilities that could lead to a major breach. Security architects must have a deep understanding of security structures, including those related to peer-to-peer and client/server frameworks, cloud storage, data center management and wide-area networks. They must also understand how to manage virtual private networks and enable secure remote access for distributed teams and off-site employees. This requires knowledge of how computer networks recognize, authenticate and authorize user devices.
Security architects are expected to design and implement protections that keep data communication networks insulated from malicious actors. They must also integrate device-level safeguards that mitigate the risk of malware, phishing scams, brute-force ransomware attacks and other hacking techniques. To be effective, professionals should develop a working knowledge of operating systems and network security architectures, which can help identify vulnerabilities that could lead to unplanned downtime or data loss. Problem-solving skills are essential to this process, as some risks require creative solutions that may not be obvious at first glance.
Interpersonal and Communication Skills
Security architects regularly collaborate with IT decision-makers and other business leaders to ensure cybersecurity strategies align with organizational needs and goals. They play an active role in planning, integrating and monitoring security solutions when emergent risks are identified or new technologies are introduced. Verbal and written communication are the bedrock of these partnerships, as security architects must be able to explain complex technical concerns to audiences that don’t share their educational backgrounds and experience.
Job Outlook and Salary
Information on security architects’ employment outlook and salaries are rather limited, as the job title is often interchangeable with other cybersecurity career paths. According to PayScale, security architects earn an average base salary of $124,051, with those in entry-level roles making $78,612. Adjacent job titles have a bit more data available. Employment of security analysts is expected to grow by 31% from 2019 to 2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with professionals earning a median annual wage of $99,730. Computer network architect positions have an anticipated job growth of 5% between 2019 to 2029, per BLS data, and offer a median salary of $112,690.
Pursuing a Security Architect Career Path
For those interested in learning how to become a security architect, the first step is to gain experience through higher education. Earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science is a great place to start, as these programs provide foundational knowledge of computer systems, software applications, network architecture and cybersecurity. After completing undergraduate coursework, many aspiring security professionals move onto graduate programs to expand their skill sets and focus on a particular specialization.
The online Master of Cybersecurity program at the University of Nevada, Reno is designed to prepare professionals for a variety of IT-related career paths, including security architect, security analyst and systems administrator roles. Students gain the technical skills and theoretical knowledge needed to address evolving cybersecurity challenges and protect computer systems from malicious activity. Core courses include computer systems administration, digital forensics, cybersecurity law and cryptography.
After graduating from the online MSCY program, security professionals often seek out entry-level positions that align with their goals and personal interests. For example, security analyst jobs can help bridge the gap between concepts learned in the classroom and real-world scenarios, providing context for security architect career paths. Gaining experience in the cybersecurity workforce can also open up new employment opportunities, including management positions and leadership roles.