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Cybersecurity Career Paths

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With recent innovations in computing technology, every company has deployed their services to the cloud. Networks have risen to an unfathomable scale. Almost every company now holds thousands of terabytes of critical data regarding their customers and clients in the cloud. While this age of networks and big data has created a lot of ease for people, if not stored properly, the confidential data of millions of individuals could become exposed to malicious parties.

This has created a large demand for cybersecurity experts. Companies spend millions of dollars hiring cybersecurity experts to safeguard and maintain their servers and to prevent unauthorized access to confidential data. Therefore, cybersecurity has become a lucrative career path for rookie and veteran IT experts alike.

The IT industry is heavily invested in industrial security to protect sensitive information for businesses, both big and small. It would be foolish to ignore the horizon of cybersecurity career paths in the near future.

What is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is the exercise of protecting networks and computers from BlackHat hackers and threat actors. Hackers may try to access, delete, or alter sensitive information that is stored on servers.

It is the job of cybersecurity experts to prevent any sort of data breach. It is their responsibility to analyze all possible ways that a malicious party can access your data. Cybersecurity analysts seek to create methods, rules, and frameworks to stop such attacks from occurring.

Cyberattacks are one of the fastest-growing crimes in the Western world, consistently building up in size, sophistication, and intensity. It is a no-brainer that companies are prepared to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring the best cybersecurity professionals to protect their million-dollar empires.

Cybersecurity Careers in 2021

Cybersecurity itself is a very broad umbrella field, consisting of many smaller fields that focus on specific aspects of security. For someone new to cybersecurity, it can be daunting to determine which career path to take.

In this article, we have compiled a list of the most in-demand cybersecurity career paths in the market.

1. Penetration Testing

Penetration testing is one of the trendiest jobs in the world. If you are familiar with penetration testing, you might have already heard of this term, or other, similar terms, like ethical hacking and security testing. These terms all mean the same thing.

What Does a Penetration Tester Do?

The job of a penetration tester is to ‘penetrate’ an organization’s systems to discover any vulnerabilities and exploits that might exist in that system.

A penetration tester first plans out all possible methods and ways that he or she can use to exploit the vulnerabilities of a system. The penetration tester then uses all possible tools at his or her disposal to emulate malicious attacks on the system. He or she might even use software tools to hack misconfigured ports or rely on software engineering to get a password from an employee.

After the penetration tester is done performing all the necessary tests, he or she compiles a report detailing the tests that were performed and the responses received, as well as how any noted exploits were found. Then, the pen tester reports these findings so that a system or network administrator can patch the holes in the network.

What is the Demand for Penetration Testers?

Due to the ever-growing market of cloud-based technologies, everything is slowly becoming network-based. This has resulted in a higher-than-ever demand for cybersecurity experts. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Information Security analysts, an umbrella category for cybersecurity-related jobs, have a projected percent change in employment of 31% from 2019 to 2029.

This is much higher than the average of 4% for other jobs. This means that if you decide to be a penetration tester, you can be sure that your skills will not become irrelevant 5 to 10 years down the line.

How Much Do Penetration Testers Earn?

According to PayScale, a leading website in salary assessment, the average yearly salary of a penetration tester is $85,134. This estimation is highly dependent on personal factors, such as the location of the job, your own experience level, and the industry that you work in.

How to Start a Career in Penetration Testing

The most important thing to have as a penetration tester is knowledge of how computer systems work. The better that you understand what makes or breaks a system, the better you can become at penetration testing.

To this end, having a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, Cybersecurity, Networking, or any other IT-related field can be a big bonus for securing a job in penetration testing. But, that is not all. Certifications are often just as important in cybersecurity fields as degrees. Getting a certification in penetration testing can boost your reputation for potential hiring companies. Some good certifications include the PenTest+ offered by CompTia and the certification by the GIAC, but the most famous certifications are offered by Offensive Security (the makers of Kali Linux).

Most companies will not hire you if you have no experience in managing computer systems, so becoming a system or network administrator, gaining experience, and slowly transitioning into a penetration testing field is a great place to start.

2. Forensic Investigation

When it comes to hacking, it is not a surprise that most criminals do the same. It is a forensic investigator’s job to track all digital criminal activity in a network or device.

What Do Forensic Investigators Do?

The job of a forensic investigator is to gather evidence from a computer device for an investigation. The skills of a forensic investigator are necessary in the field of law where, in modern times, a lot of evidence is on computers.

Evidence of security breaches and DDOS attacks can most often be found left on servers, and it is the job of the forensic investigator to gather all the evidence and link it together to create a picture of what exactly happened.

A forensic investigator does this by copying all the data on the targeted device as an image and analyzing the data on this image, such as access dates of files, modification dates, data in unused space, deleted data, etc. These things help the forensic investigator to create a final report, analyzing everything that has been found, and providing system administrators and law teams with a clear picture of the data breach.

Importance of Forensic Investigators in the IT Industry

Forensic investigators have a specialized role in the IT community. Unlike penetration testers, who work to prevent security breaches, forensic experts do not prevent hacks but, rather, help in the aftermath. These professionals have the responsibility of finding who might have performed the hack and providing law teams with the evidence.

While it is low compared to other career paths in this list, the demand for cyber forensic experts is still very high, with a growth of 32% in job demand expected by the end of 2029. This job is in particular demand among law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI.

How Much Do Forensic Investigators Earn?

PayScale mentions on its website that an average forensic investigator earns $73,892. This pay depends on many factors, such as experience and industry. The yearly salary can range from around $50,000 for beginners to up to $118,000 for experienced professionals.

How to Become a Forensic Investigator

A base requirement for becoming a forensic investigator is an undergraduate degree in a field such as Computer Science or Computer Engineering. This provides the core foundation of knowledge in programming and computer systems that is required for any aspiring forensic investigator. Specialization in Cybersecurity in your degree can also be a big plus in the eyes of prospective employers.

Certifications for Cyber Forensics are a great way to show that you have the necessary skillset to become a Forensic investigator. These can be incredibly helpful in landing a job. Organizations like the International Association of Computer Investigation Specialists (IACIS) and AccessData provide useful, reputable certifications for forensic investigators.

Lastly, strong analytical and investigational skills can go a long way in helping you to develop your career. Gaining more experience in the field is vital to helping you develop such skills.

3. Risk Assessment

Businesses are always vulnerable to risks and data breaches. One wrong step and you can lose a lot of capital. Risk management is critical to every organization, and the process starts at risk assessment.

What Do Risk Assessors Do?

Like the name indicates, risk management is primarily a proactive approach to analyze potential threats and risks to businesses. The main job of a risk assessor is to keep tabs on the risk profiles in an organization’s IT resources.

A risk assessor determines the impact of a security and data compromise on an organization. Resultantly, he or she would collaborate with a Vulnerability Management team to reduce risks to an acceptable level and make proactive measures.

An organization may or may not be familiar with the importance of some systems for their existence. A Risk Assessor must use his or her analysis capabilities to analyze levels of dependency in different areas of the company.

For example, a programmer may consider a single library to not be as important to the system, but a failure inside this library may result in a failure of the entire system. Most organizations cannot afford such system failures, so they hire risk assessment experts to analyze these risks.

What is the Demand for Risk Assessment Specialists?

The overall market for risk management and assessment specialists has been growing for the last 15 years, with an average growth of about 4.85% every year. And this is seemingly growing every single year. More than 15,000 jobs were posted with requirements for a risk assessment specialist.

How Much Do Risk Assessment Specialists Earn?

Although total earnings can be as steep as $187,000 and as little as $27,500, many salaries for risk assessment specialists fall between $69,000 (25th percentile) and $133,000 (75th percentile) in the United States. The overall pay range for a risk assessor varies wildly (up to $64,000), which implies that there may be fewer skill-based growth opportunities, but it is still possible to increase pay based on location and years of experience. [1][2]

How to Become a Risk Assessment Specialist

Risk analysis jobs require a minimum of an undergraduate degree in Computer Sciences, Programming, Business, Finance, or related fields. A cybersecurity risk analysis expert should be comfortable with Software Architecture, Operating Systems. Most importantly, a risk assessor must be familiar with programming languages and logic building.

Larger Institutions and multinational organizations may prefer a Master’s graduate degree or even an MBA in Information Systems. System Analysis and comprehension of existing Risk Management capabilities inside an organization is a must for any risk assessment specialist.

4. SOC (Defense Security)

Cybersecurity remains one of the biggest IT industries, and many organizations have invested millions in the research and development of an effective Information Security framework. Security Operation Center, or SOC, is one of the most popular InfoSec frameworks, and with good reason.

What Does a SOC Defense Security Specialist Do?

Recently, the OWASP Project for web app security has created the Security Operation Center (SOC) structure for companies to mitigate cyber-attacks using appropriate technical regulations.

In addition to contributing to cybersecurity incidents, the other main goals of SOC include creating an organization resilient to future threats, providing effective security controls, and allowing prompt detection of threats.

How Much Do SOC Defense Security Specialists Earn?

SOC is a niche field that sees little demand in the market but has a very high paid salary. A typical Cybersecurity Defense Security specialist working in SOC will earn about $120,000 per year. As an entry-level SOC expert, you may expect a salary ranging from $84,000 to $150,000. [1][2]

How to Become a Defense Security Specialist

Since a SOC specialist in Defense Security is a fundamentally complex role in the world of cybersecurity, there are many career paths that you can follow at first, and rise up through the ranks into a specific SOC role.

Some companies require an undergraduate degree and at least 4-5 years of work experience for an entry-level role in SOC. A technical bachelor’s degree can help you get into the cybersecurity industry and move your way up into a role in SOC. Having a master’s degree specializing in cybersecurity or the approved certifications will prove invaluable to start your career.

5. Malware Analyst (Reverse Engineering)

Imagine you are working with a big organization and there is a lot of sensitive information on your laptop. Suppose you are attacked by malware and you send the laptop to the cybersecurity department, only to hear that they have never seen this malware before. This is where a Malware Analyst offers his or her expertise.

What Does a Malware Analyst Do?

A malware analyst is tasked with analyzing malware, trojans, worms, spyware, and other such malicious programs to understand how they work. A malware analyst works by decompiling and deconstructing malware.

This might be performed by running the malware in a sandboxed environment and seeing what it changes. Otherwise, the analyst could run the malware through a debugger and try to understand the process and purpose of the malicious program. Malware analysts employ a variety of techniques and tools to reverse-engineer viruses.

Malware analysts are very important for modern internet infrastructure. It is the job of malware analysts to deconstruct a virus to understand what makes it work. They use this information to generate a signature for the malware, which is used by antivirus programs on millions of computers to identify malicious software as it enters the system.

How Much Do Malware Analysts Earn?

The salary of the average malware analyst is an astounding $92,880, according to PayScale. This is much higher than the average. The starting salary of $66,000 is also way above the average salary of cybersecurity experts.

With the growing market of anti-viruses, malware analysts can rest assured that their skills are not only in demand today, but will also be in the future. [1][2]

How to Become a Malware Analyst

As in all cybersecurity careers, a bachelor’s degree in computer science or computer engineering is a must for this career path. You should especially focus on Operating Systems, Computer Architecture, and other subjects that are needed to understand low-level programming. A good understanding of Debuggers, Assembly Language, and all other Interpreted and Compiled languages, in addition to previous malware analysis work, can also help in developing the necessary skillset to become a malware analyst.

Certifications for malware analysts include the GIAC Reverse Engineering Malware (GREM) certification and the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). These are two great certifications to have in your resume.

6. Incident Response Analyst

Have you ever wondered what happens when a cyber-attack occurs? How do companies and businesses do damage repentance? They have a special incident response analyst team at their discretion that will help them respond appropriately to the incoming attack while minimizing the damage.

What Does an Incident Response Analyst Do?

An incident response analyst works with a response team to determine and evaluate cyber threats to the security systems of an organization. An incident response analyst is also responsible for avoiding escalation of serious security threats, providing reports to the security team of the organization, using tools to minimize the impact of a security breach on the computer network, and conducting analysis to ensure that the computer network of the organization is clear of threats.

The duties of an incident response analyst also include implementing and optimizing security tools to avoid the recurrence of safety problems. An incident response analyst may also communicate about security threats with law enforcement, if necessary.

The incident responder is responsible for using digital forensics tools to evaluate and analyze digital media in cases of suspected computer hacking. The responder then reports the results in an easy-to-read format. Because many computer-related concepts can be very technical, it is essential to create the reports in words that everyone can understand. The reports could eventually be used as proof in legal cases.

Incident respondents may also be called as fact or expert witnesses to testify in court. They may also be working to develop incident remediation solutions with outside departments.

How Much Does an Incident Response Analyst Earn?

Recent surveys show pay rates as elevated as $115,000+ for incident response analysts, while PayScale brings an average yearly wage of $80,247. Top-paying industries include finance and banking, enterprise and consulting, and IT. According to PayScale, you are most likely to get an incident response analyst job in cities like New York, Atlanta, and Seattle, while Cisco, BoA, and Covestic are among the highest-paying employers for such jobs. [1][2]

How to Become an Incident Response Analyst

The most important part of being an Incident Responder is to react appropriately to compromising circumstances. Soft skills, such as adaptability, perseverance, and, most importantly, a good understanding of the field is extremely important to this profession. Additionally, communication is also a key factor in this field, as analysts must communicate about incidents to law enforcement agents and corporate sectors. Most companies hiring security incident response analysts will look for such qualities.

The qualification requirements for incident analysts include a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science or Cybersecurity. You must have at least two to three years of work experience in the cybersecurity industry before you can be hired as an incident response analyst. You would also be required to be experienced in security technologies, such as SSL, HTTP, and HTTPS, along with an understanding of major operating systems, including Windows, Linux, and Mac OS.

Next Steps

There is more advanced technology on your smartphone than it took to land a man on the moon. Half a century ago, the idea of a hand-held mobile device would be considered fiction. With technology changing so fast, everyone’s privacy is now under threat of attack, especially since most data is digital and stored online.

It does not come as a surprise how much the cybersecurity industry has grown in the last decade, and how much this field is expected to continue to grow. There are a lot of Cybersecurity career paths that you can choose from and a lot of room for you to grow in. We advise you to start learning today. Take one tiny step at a time, and without even realizing, you will be a mile from where you began. If you work hard enough, there is no doubt you can achieve your dream profession.


  1. https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Salaries/Risk-Assessor-Salary
  2. https://www.salary.com/research/salary/recruiting/risk-assessment-specialist-salary/san-jose-ca

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