How to Become a Cybersecurity Engineer

Cybercriminal activity is on the rise, and these malicious actors are using increasingly complex and sophisticated measures to attack and breach organizations, as well as individual users. According to an annual report from Cybersecurity Ventures, cybercrime will cost businesses a total of $10.5 trillion annually by 2025.

As cybercriminal threats increase, more companies across every industry are seeking out professionals that can help them thwart these activities and protect their digital assets. Cybersecurity Ventures estimates the number of unfilled cybersecurity roles in the millions. Employers are racing to find the best cybersecurity candidates to fill these positions and are offering attractive salaries, benefits and other perks to encourage recruitment.

One of the most in-demand positions currently in this field is the role of cybersecurity engineer. A cybersecurity engineer plays an invaluable role in an enterprise’s data security posture, helping to design, implement and monitor security features that guard against unauthorized access and other threats.

Today, we’re taking a closer look at how to become a cybersecurity engineer, including the skills professionals need to pursue this career, the tasks these engineers perform and the type of compensation they earn, as well as how a master’s of science in cybersecurity can make all these things a reality.

What Do Cybersecurity Engineers Do

Cybersecurity engineers — also known as information security engineers, data security engineers or similar titles — are responsible for putting in place the security and protection features that guard against cyberattacks and other digital threats. In addition to establishing and developing these safeguards, cybersecurity engineers continually monitor these systems and update them when necessary to prevent zero-day and other emerging threats.

A cybersecurity engineer oversees an enterprise’s most crucial digital systems and information technology (IT) infrastructure and works to protect key platforms, including the business’s critical applications, data storage and network underpinning all digital activity.

To get the best sense of the capabilities of the protection measures put in place, cybersecurity engineers will also perform penetration testing. These tests take into account the most current threats against a business’s key infrastructure systems. Penetration testing helps engineers ensure that security features can adequately stand up to these threats.

As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) pointed out, the cybersecurity engineer is responsible for remaining up to date on the latest IT trends and emerging threats. This means that these professionals engage in considerable research to learn about and understand the techniques hackers use to breach their targets, as well as the protection systems that can prevent these types of unauthorized access.

Cybersecurity engineers may work alone within smaller organizations, but they typically collaborate with the rest of the IT department. Engineers also work closely with other department supervisors and company leaders. Cybersecurity engineers prepare reports for these stakeholders that detail any attempted attacks on the organization, as well as the response to and result of these instances.

A cybersecurity engineer monitors server traffic.

What Skills Do Cybersecurity Engineers Need

To support the responsibilities of this role, cybersecurity engineers should have expertise in current cybersecurity practices and systems. This includes maintaining awareness of the latest threats and hacker techniques, as well as new and emerging cybersecurity best practices.

Cybersecurity engineers should understand not only the data security and protection measures but also the platforms and network systems that these measures safeguard. After all, without knowledge of the inner workings of an enterprise’s network and other IT infrastructure, a cybersecurity engineer will not be able to adequately secure these critical systems.

In addition to this IT, digital data and cybersecurity expertise, engineers will need to have certain soft skills to be successful, including the following:

  • Analytical skills: These professionals should be able to analyze IT systems, as well as the approaches that potential hackers might take to attack. Engineers will also analyze the current data security policies in place and seek out areas for improvement.
  • Communication skills: Cybersecurity engineers are responsible for preparing reports related to any attack attempts and providing these to the business’s leaders. Engineers must be able to explain their findings and results in a way that makes sense to individuals without a strong technological background or expertise.
  • Problem-solving skills: The work of a cybersecurity engineer also requires strong problem-solving skills and the ability to find creative solutions to emerging data security concerns.

Cybersecurity Salary

Information security analysts, the BLS classification that includes cybersecurity engineers, earned a median annual salary of $103,590 in 2020. The BLS also reported the upper 10% of professionals earned about $163,300 annually, indicating that with the right education and experience, salaries can be above the average.

Steps to Become a Cybersecurity Engineer

The right combination of education and experience can lead to a competitive, rewarding career as a cybersecurity engineer.

Education

Most employers will require candidates to hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, IT or a related field, but a master’s degree is preferable for senior positions with more responsibility.

Experience

Experience for a cybersecurity engineer is usually earned through lower-level jobs in the IT field, such as a computer systems administrator. If you’re interested in a specific area, such as database security, you should pursue entry-level positions in that sphere, such as data security analyst or penetration tester.

Certifications

Certifications help cybersecurity engineers showcase their expertise and prove themselves valuable assets in the job market. The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), which the International Information System Security Certification Consortium awards, is among the most recognizable and valuable certifications in the field, though others focused on specific domains are also notable.

An Exciting Cybersecurity Career Path

Professionals interested in pursuing this in-demand and competitive career opportunity can best prepare with a degree program like the online Master of Science in Cybersecurity from the University of Nevada, Reno. Students in the program learn about the latest cybersecurity practices, including those used to secure internet-connected platforms and enterprise networks.

The program also covers mobile security, data privacy, digital forensics, cryptography and other leading cybersecurity topics. To find out more about a career in this space, check out our interview with Dr. Shamik Sengupta, executive director for the University’s Cybersecurity Center.

Check out the full details of our leading online Master of Science in Cybersecurity program.

Recommended Readings

Coding for Kids and Teens: A Guide to Online Tools and Resources

How to Become a Security Architect: Educational Requirements and Potential Career Paths

4 Types of Cyber Security Careers to Look into After Graduation

Sources:

Cybercrime Magazine, “Cybercrime To Cost The World $10.5 Trillion Annually By 2025”

Cybercrime Magazine, “Global Cybercrime Damages Predicted To Reach $6 Trillion Annually By 2021”

Herjavec Group, The 2020 Official Annual Cybercrime Report

Infosec, “How to Become a Cybersecurity Engineer

The New York Times, “The Mad Dash to Find a Cybersecurity Force

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Information Security Analysts