Cybersecurity Requirements: Skills for a Cyber Career

Industry Advice Computing and IT

Predating the internet, cybersecurity careers have been around for as long as humans have used computers to store and retrieve information. However, over the past few decades, as cybercriminals and cyberattacks have become more sophisticated and advanced, what was once seen as a best practice reserved for only the largest and most impressive organizations has become a necessity within virtually any business. 

This increasing reliance on cybersecurity has resulted in average salaries of more than $100,000 per year for those in cybersecurity roles, as well as an expected industry growth rate of around 32 percent by 2032 (which is much faster than the three percent expected for all occupations.)

While this positive career outlook has led to an increase in opportunities, those hoping to land a role in this coveted sector are often expected to meet certain requirements. Read on to explore exactly what is required of these high-level professionals and how you, too, can set yourself up for success in this lucrative field.

Cybersecurity Requirements

1. Strong Technical Background

Cybersecurity is a highly technical field requiring professionals in the industry to perform a range of tasks and duties depending on their particular focus. For example, cybersecurity analysts are broadly responsible for protecting an organization’s data and networks, application security engineers monitor all software applications used by an organization, and computer forensics investigators analyze previous and ongoing cyberattacks and events in order to contain and abate them.

While virtually all professionals in this field are required to have high-level coding skills, the exact technical abilities that are needed for success in the field will largely depend upon the exact role or job title that you choose to pursue. Some of the more common skills cybersecurity specialists possess include:

  • Security incident handling and response.
  • Intrusion detection.
  • Digital forensics.
  • Data management protection.
  • Auditing and compliance.
  • Security Information and Event Management (SIEM).
  • Mobile device and application security.

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“In the arms race between attackers and defenders, the adversary only needs to find one vulnerability to exploit or attack a system,” says Guevara Noubir, professor and Executive Director of cybersecurity programs at Northeastern University. With this in mind, he explains:

“Success in a cybersecurity career requires a solid technical foundation to make sound judgements, passion and curiosity to remain at the top of the game, and rigor to be bullet proof—or at least not fall prey to simple attacks as we unfortunately continue to witness on an almost daily basis.”

2. An Analytical Mindset

Cybersecurity professionals of all kinds should not merely be reactive to threats; they must seek to identify potential threats early—before an event occurs—and put protocols in place to mitigate this risk whenever possible. Similarly, they must understand that the actors they are defending against are very often other humans who are capable of critical—and sometimes creative—thinking, with the potential to derail their efforts. 

According to Noubir, a human adversary is oftentimes more challenging to counteract than a malicious program or code because they are capable of adjusting their strategy as they observe you interfering with their actions.

Analytical skills are a critical weapon in the battle against cybercrime, allowing cybersecurity professionals to model, predict, and preempt these attempts. The ability to think like a hacker before and during an attack can sometimes mean the difference between a successful defense and wasted effort. 

Digging In Deeper: Noubir summarizes the specific analytical skills that cybersecurity professionals should prioritize in the article “Emerging Trends in Cybersecurity.” 

3. Soft Skills

In cybersecurity professions, it is clear that technical and analytical skills are a requirement for working in the industry. In fact, proficiency in these technical aspects of the job has often been thought to trump all other considerations.

In today’s workplaces, however, soft skills—such as the ability to communicate effectively, think critically, work well with others, and lead a team—have taken on increased significance. These abilities can be a real differentiator within the space, allowing you to build more effective relationships with both your team members and other professionals within your organization who are perhaps not as technically inclined.

One of the most important soft skills for cybersecurity professionals to embrace and develop is communication. Whether you communicate through face-to-face interaction, writing, presentation, or some other form, your ability to effectively convey knowledge to others on your team will be essential to your success. 

Similarly, for individuals who aspire to work within management or a leadership position —for example, as a team lead, department head, project manager, or security director—management skills will be incredibly beneficial. Time management, project management, budget planning and management, and the ability to work effectively with a range of individuals are all crucial to effectively managing any cybersecurity team or initiative.

How a Master’s Degree in Cybersecurity Can Help 

Some entry-level cybersecurity positions can be attainable with only an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree, particularly for applicants who already have a breadth of hands-on experience

However, because a career in cybersecurity involves such a heavy technical workload, many organizations require that applicants hold a master’s degree in cybersecurityor a related field, such as computer science or data science—even at the entry level. For those hoping to land an advanced role in this field, a graduate degree is even more commonly required.

Did You Know: Depending on the specific industry you work or hope to work in, further training or specializations may be required. For example, a professional working within the medical industry might go on to earn a certificate in health informatics privacy and security in order to better prepare for the unique challenges, laws, and regulations associated with handling patient health information. 

Are you considering a graduate degree in cybersecurity? When evaluating programs, be sure to look for those with instructors who have actually spent time working in the industry, experiential learning opportunities that are built into the curriculum, and an array of networking opportunities available to help set your career on track after graduation. These characteristics define Northeastern’s master’s in cybersecurity program and have been proven to provide a well-rounded, impactful education for aspiring cybersecurity specialists.

Think you’re ready to break into a cybersecurity career? Download our free guide to Advancing Your Career in Cybersecurity or explore our master’s degree program today. 


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