Are you interested in a career in cyber security? It is a rapidly developing industry with many opportunities available for people with the relevant skills, all challenging and rewarding in their own way. But is cyber security hard? It is a good question, and the answer can depend on your dedication and perspective.
This article will examine the cyber security industry, the challenges you will face, the available rewards, and the skills that are in demand. We also discuss how you can increase your skills and knowledge to kick-start your career and become a cyber security professional.
By the conclusion of this article, you will understand what role is right for you in the industry, what skills you need for those roles, and how to build your knowledge to progress your career.
Is Cyber Security Hard To Learn?
First, we need to ask, what is cyber security? You will likely hear a different answer every time the question is asked. This is because cyber security operates in a huge arena, encompassing many disciplines that demand varied skill sets.
Cyber security is about reducing the risk of cyber attacks on the things we value, known as assets. It is the people, processes, and technology used to achieve this and deal with the consequences. The assets can be things like data, government systems, infrastructure, or devices. Anything that uses technology will probably be able to be attacked so will need protection.
As a security professional, you will be dealing with many aspects of protecting those valuable assets, from preventing data breaches to responding to incidents involving critical systems. What you will be doing depends on which career path you take.
One of the hardest things with cyber security is deciding which area to specialize in, as there are many career paths. From penetration testing to audit and compliance, blue teaming to malware analysis, there is something related to cyber security that will appeal to many different types of people.
When you have decided which pathway to take, you should gain some qualifications to prove to employers that you have the relevant skills and dedication to your career. The StationX skills roadmap is a good place to start and will guide you through building on your skills until you get to a good level of cyber security knowledge
When you are confident in the basics, plenty of excellent information is available from many resources, including our free career guide. You can choose a pathway that interests you and use the guide to help you decide which certifications are best.
What Kind Of Skills Do I Need To Enter Cyber Security?
Technology lies at the heart of cyber security, so if you can get the relevant skills, you can create a good career. Technology constantly changes and advances, so you need to keep up with the latest developments. Be careful, and ensure the skills you are acquiring are still relevant and will be applicable in the future.
A good base knowledge is always required, though, so make sure you know the basics of working with computers, referring back to our skills roadmap for guidance.
Technical skills that employers often ask for include:
- Networking - All devices are connected with a network of one form or another, whether it is cable or wireless. Understanding networking fundamentals is essential for any cyber security professional in a technical role. These cheat sheets on the OSI model and IPv4 subnetting are good starting places to build knowledge. Networking is a huge and complex discipline, so you will always have new things to learn.
- Operating system knowledge - Whether it’s MacOS, Windows, Linux, Android, or IOS, operating systems are how people interact with a computer, and hackers will try to exploit weaknesses. Learn how they work in depth and how they are hacked, and you can start to think like a hacker to protect systems. Learning to use the command line in Linux is also highly recommended, as many cyber security tools, such as those used by Kali Linux (offensive OS) and Kali Purple or Security Onion (defensive OS), rely heavily on this.
- Programming - Coding is a skill used in many roles in cyber security, such as DevSecOps. It is used for automation, writing exploits, analyzing malware, and much more. Python is a great place to start, as hackers, AWS, Cisco, and others use it to automate tasks.
- Cloud services - This is the future of IT, and the transition to the cloud is picking up pace, especially since the pandemic. Many cloud services are badly configured, lacking in defenses, and are a data breach waiting to happen. Skills in this area are not necessary to start a career, but you can certainly look to gain experience here in the future.
As you can see from above, cyber security is technical to a large extent, and these qualifications are in demand. However, it is also the case that soft skills relating to people, communication, and compliance are equally important. Candidates with these skills often excel in cyber security roles as they can communicate complex ideas to the decision-makers in organizations that need clear information.
Soft skills that are relevant to cyber security include:
- Written skills - A poorly written document will not impress anybody, whereas one that is clear, concise, and engaging is more likely to get the results you want. Even the highly technical role of penetration tester involves a detailed report that must be well-written.
- Verbal communication - Presenting ideas to various people verbally is a brilliant skill. If you can confidently convey your message, people will believe what you are saying and be more likely to accept your ideas.
- Organization - Many roles in cyber security involve dealing with multiple problems simultaneously. You might be writing several reports to a deadline or dealing with numerous security incidents. Headless chickens need not apply. Keep a cool head, manage your time, and get results.
- Teamwork - You will often need to work as part of a team, for example, an offensive Red Team, or a defensive Blue Team. Working together to get good results is an essential part of many roles in cyber security.
- Listening skills - This might seem like a strange skill to suggest for cyber security, but in many roles, you need to understand the problem before you can solve it. If you don’t listen carefully and instead assume important details, you might be solving the wrong problem. Listen to people, understand them, and do the right job.
- Problem-solving - This skill requirement is true of most roles in the IT industry, and it is no different for cyber security. No matter your position, you will often need to solve complex problems. This comes with experience, but this could be a great career if you like puzzles.
What Are Some Fields Within Cyber Security I Can Pursue?
As we have discussed, with cyber security being such a vast industry, the fields in which you can work are very varied. Below is a summary of a few of the most popular, but this is not an exhaustive list. You can refer to the StationX cybersecurity career pathway for more details on the roles available in cyber security.
- Penetration testing and ethical hacking / Red Team - Think like a hacker and attempt to break into a network, with permission, and deliver a report identifying the weak spots with remediation advice.
- Blue Team - Work to prevent attacks on networks and systems. There is a growing demand for blue-teamers with good salaries to reflect this.
- Security Operations Centre Analyst - Analyze events and alerts in the SOC to spot threats, intrusions, and anomalies. You are on the front line of defense in this important role.
- Malware Analysis - Reverse engineer malware to investigate its purpose, where it is from, and who developed it. This work can be essential for keeping ahead of the game in relation to malware attacks.
- Cyber Security Architect - A high-level position that involves designing, testing, and provisioning an organization’s security systems. These roles are very well paid but require a lot of experience in very varied fields. Security Architect could be a great career goal for the future.
- Cyber Security Analyst - Maintain the security of networks and systems while monitoring alerts to spot cyber attacks. This is a technical role requiring in-depth knowledge of hardware.
- Network Security Engineer - A similar role to the above, focusing on the networking environment.
- Incident and Intrusion Analyst - Analyze digital evidence, respond to and investigate security incidents to find what happened, and recommend mitigation. Crime labs also rely heavily on digital forensics, so if you are interested in working for law enforcement, this career could be for you.
- Cyber Security Compliance Officer - Overseeing an organization's governance, policies, and procedures to maintain good security. All organizations need detailed policies and procedures to operate properly. Skills in this area are very desirable.
- Cloud Security Engineer and Architect - Specializing in securing cloud-based systems such as Microsoft Azure or Amazon AWS. With the rapid transition to cloud computing, there is a demand for candidates with these skills.
- Security Auditor - Assessing an organization’s compliance to a standard such as ISO27001 or Cyber Essentials. Senior management will require a detailed report containing mitigation and advice. This role can be satisfying, digging deep into an organization's procedures and security status to find weaknesses and advise on ways to improve. Written skills are essential.
- Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) - A senior position responsible for overseeing and developing the cyber security in an organization. This role requires experience in many areas of cyber security, but the salary can be very high.
Take our cyber security career matchmaker quiz to see what careers might be right for you.
Is There A Demand For Cyber Security Professionals?
There is a skills gap, and the industry is desperate for skilled cyber security professionals. You can see from the StationX job heat map that many job openings are available in the United States, which is also true in other parts of the world.
A salary survey for North America showed the potential for salaries in cyber security. If you are skilled, you can expect to command a good wage.
The below examples from SimplyHired give an idea of the salary you can expect from an entry-level Cyber Security Analyst to a high-level CISO position.
Tips To Kick Off My Career
Once you have decided to pursue a career in cyber security, where do you start? You will want to gain knowledge as fast as you can. StationX offers superb resources, such as our certificate roadmap, covering many aspects of cyber security, from the basics to preparing for advanced qualification. Don’t be tempted to jump into more advanced training too early, as you will need the foundation.
Cyber security, like most other jobs in technology, is constantly evolving. It is essential that once you learn the basics, to keep learning, and never stop. If you think you know everything, you've got a lot to learn.
Referring to the skills roadmap a typical career pathway would be to start with the CompTIA A+ to become proficient in computer hardware. Then you can move on to the CompTIA Network+ to learn networking at an enterprise level. You can progress on to develop your skills with CompTIA Security+ to learn about cyber security best practices, terminology, and hands-on practical experience.
This would give you a solid foundation in IT skills, with a good knowledge of networking, ready to build your skills to a higher level. Employers look for these qualifications when selecting interview candidates, so get certified to boost your career.
Training and certification are not the only way that you can learn quickly to kick off your career. Numerous methods can lead to increased knowledge without formal qualifications. Examples of some of these are below:
- Capture The Flag (CTF) Events - These are competitions set up by companies or universities, sometimes with prize money, to see if a team or individual can hack into a cleverly designed network or system. You can learn some amazing skills from watching talented people at these events.
- Attend Security Conferences - Meet other cyber security professionals in person, get contacts, and exchange information. Talking to people is a great way to pick up tips and tricks.
- LinkedIn - Connect with like-minded people on this platform and learn from their posts and insights. Offering to help others is a brilliant way to boost your confidence and refine your skills.
- Internships/Volunteering - You can get some great experience from being willing to start by volunteering or taking a trainee role. You can make some good contacts and learn on the job.
- Blogging and Self-Publicity - Starting a blog to share your journey is a good way to publicize your growing knowledge. The StationX Cyber Security Blog is a good place to look for inspiration as it contains many articles on diverse subjects relating to cyber security.
- Working in IT - Often overlooked, a solid foundation built by working in a general IT role can pay dividends when specializing in cyber security.
How hard cyber security is depends very much on the career path you want to take and your existing skills. Some areas are much harder than others, but all areas are indeed challenging to a certain extent, even positions available to those starting out. All things in life worth doing are challenging, right?
However, the reputation for it being a difficult industry to work in is unfounded. You might find a great role in audit and compliance or training if you are not technical. If you are technical, there are many skills you can learn to benefit your career. There will be a career path for you, no matter what you decide to do.
There are no shortcuts, though. You will have to study, absorb information, and get as much experience as possible, but the reward will be a career with myriad pathways and the chance to learn some fantastic skills. Cyber security may be hard, but it's worth it. If you’re looking for training, consider our VIP Membership for access to a wide select of courses on all things cyber security.