Since the dawn of the information age, businesses have become increasingly reliant on computer systems and data-sharing technologies to gain a competitive advantage in their industries. Government agencies and nonprofits have also embraced digitization, allowing them to forge stronger connections with the communities they serve. Despite the convenience and efficiency offered by cutting-edge information systems, they come with a high degree of risk unless the right security measures are put in place.
Information systems security professionals play a key role in modern workplaces by helping organizations anticipate, prevent and respond to cyberattacks. Using their education and experience, they formulate actionable recommendations for protecting sensitive information, designing new security systems and establishing a stronger IT posture. One of the most impactful roles in this field is that of an information security analyst, which is only growing in demand as more companies scale up their computing resources. Before pursuing this job title, however, aspiring students and mid-career professionals alike should understand how to become an information security analyst, which skills are required and where their years of experience can be put to good use.
What Do Information Security Analysts Do?
Information security analysts are responsible for planning and implementing security measures that help protect an organization’s data, networks, applications and systems from cyberattacks. Since every institution relies on a different collection of technologies and management processes, professionals in this role must be adaptable and willing to take on new responsibilities. For example, one study from Tech Pro Research found that 82% of surveyed manufacturing, automotive and energy companies have either implemented industrial internet of things technologies or are planning to do so over the next few years. To insulate these internet-connected devices from malicious actors, information security analysts must understand what their core weaknesses are and how they fit into a broader IT security framework.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), information security analysts may be expected to perform the following work duties:
- Monitoring private networks for security breaches and suspicious activity
- Conducting systems audits, penetration testing and mock cyberattacks to locate vulnerabilities
- Managing security software, including firewalls, data encryption frameworks and antivirus tools
- Developing new security measures and standards to educate non-technical employees
- Protecting sensitive information from data breaches, identity theft and fraud
- Preparing reports on documented security breaches and the resulting damages
Alongside the above responsibilities, information security analysts are constantly researching the latest IT security risks and trends to stay one step ahead of cybercriminals. When new threats are identified, they may be asked to recommend security enhancements or new cybersecurity tools to help close the gap.
Where Do Information Security Analysts Work?
Information security analysts work for companies in every industry with a digital footprint, from retail and marketing to finance and healthcare. Their education and experience are invaluable to for-profit companies, nonprofit organizations and government agencies that rely on IT systems to function. According to research from the BLS, the largest employers of information security analysts include:
- Computer systems design and related services (26%)
- Finance and insurance firms (18%)
- Management companies and enterprises (9%)
- Information brokers (8%)
- Administrative and support services (6%)
Although many information systems security professionals are employed in-house, there are also opportunities to work for third-party consulting firms. IT security consultants help other companies scale up their cybersecurity programs, optimize their threat detection systems and protect sensitive data from malicious actors, both internal and external.
Job Outlook and Salary
Digital transformation continues to be a top concern for business leaders around the world. In fact, one study from IDG found that 89% of companies have already adopted a digital-first business strategy or are planning to in the near future. This surge in IT investment has created a massive demand for systems analysts, data scientists and information security analysts who understand how to design, deploy and protect complex computer systems.
Research from the BLS found the employment of information security analysts is projected to grow 31% between 2019 and 2029, which is considered much faster than the average for all U.S. occupations. As cyberattacks become more frequent and sophisticated, companies will need to develop innovative solutions to prevent data breaches, reduce unplanned downtime and minimize disruption for end users. Information security analysts with the right educational backgrounds, skills set and work experiences are well positioned to fill these impactful roles, though anyone from a computer-related field could consider pursuing this career path.
In terms of pay, information security analysts earned a median annual wage of $99,730 as of May 2019. The highest 10% of earners — those with years of experience in the field and relevant master’s degrees — took home more than $158,860. Entry-level information security analyst positions typically pay around $57,810 on average.
Top Skills for Information Security Analysts
Since the role of information security analysts is constantly changing in response to new cyberattacks, security technologies and other IT-related trends, it’s important for professionals to continuously hone their skills. While candidates with a background in a computer-related field usually possess the basic competencies needed to fill these positions, some abilities require years of real-world experience and practice to master. Here are a few top skills highlighted by the Occupational Information Network that every aspiring security analyst should consider internalizing:
- Problem-solving skills: Modern cybercriminals are continuously developing new hacking methods and infiltration techniques to get around organizations’ system and network defenses. For example, the Independent IT-Security Institute registers over 350,000 new malicious programs each day, many of which rely on older malware strains as a base. To mitigate these risks, information security analysts must be able to identify complex problems, review security logs and make evidence-based recommendations that lead to long-term solutions.
- Critical thinking: In many cases, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to a given cybersecurity challenge. Information security analysts use logic and reasoning to compare different mitigation strategies, paying close attention to the strengths and weaknesses of each proposed solution. After weighing their options, professionals in this role must be able to explain how their recommendations will actively reduce their organization’s attack surface and prevent cyberattacks.
- Active listening: Information security analysts often work alongside both professionals in the IT department and other stakeholders who may not have the knowledge needed to understand complex tech problems. To be successful, candidates must be able to give their undivided attention to coworkers, digest the points being made and ask the right follow-up questions. This level of collaboration can help create a more unified IT management framework and locate vulnerabilities that may have gone unnoticed.
- Written and verbal communication: As part of their work duties, information security analysts create detailed reports and presentations that are delivered to IT leaders, C-suite executives and other non-technical staff. To ensure their insights and recommendations are clear and digestible, professionals in this role must be able to effectively communicate via a wide range of mediums. For example, formulating graphs, charts and statistics can add a visual element to highly complex information, making it easier to explain one’s findings and recommended solutions.
Starting down the Information Security Analyst Career Path
If you’re wondering how to become an information security analyst or what a typical career path looks like, it’s important to consider how your education can give you a competitive advantage. While candidates with a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field can fill these complex roles, most employers prefer applicants with a master’s degree and years of experience in the field.
The online Master of Science in Cybersecurity from the University of Nevada, Reno, is designed to prepare you for the rigors of an information security analyst career. Students gain both the technical skills and theoretical knowledge needed to address the ever-evolving cybersecurity landscape. With hands-on courses in internet security, computer systems administration and digital forensics, you can develop key competencies modern employers are looking for.