Digital security technologies are getting more and more advanced each year to withstand increasingly sophisticated cyber threats. High-profile cyber-attacks in recent years include WannaCry in 2017, which affected the NHS and cost the UK £92 million.
To answer the rising demand for defence against data breaches, growing numbers of young people are considering a career in cyber security. How can you know whether cyber security is the right career path for you? What qualifications do you need to get into this rapidly expanding field? What kind of salary can you expect as a cyber security pro? Keep reading to find out.
Is Cyber Security Hard?
Since professional internet security is a new field compared to more traditional careers like science or engineering, many people aren’t sure what to expect from education and training in cyber security. “How hard is it?” prospective students may ask.
A degree in cyber security may have easier math and science requirements than physics, biochemistry, or computer sciences. Many cyber security programmes can accommodate students with a limited technical background. Research-based courses and labs are usually limited as well.
On the other hand, studying cyber security involves extensive materials that may quickly become outdated. A crucial element in successful cyber security training is keeping up to date with recent technologies and methods. A cyber security professional has high flexibility and commitment to ongoing learning even after receiving official qualifications.
What Qualifications Do You Need?
Many people who work in cyber security today have a degree in a related field such as IT, computer science, or network engineering, followed by a targeted cyber security program. However, the straightest and easiest path to a digital security career is a BSc in cyber security. Professionals who want to take their career to the next step may also consider an MSc degree in cyber security.
Apart from academic credentials, the following skills can also give an advantage to people pursuing a career in IT security:
- Analytical and problem-solving capabilities
- Technological knowledge across different platforms
- High attention to detail
- Excellent communication skills
- An understanding of cyber crime and computer forensics
- A strong desire to learn
The last point is perhaps the most important. Following set protocols isn’t enough to succeed in cyber security. This career path often requires adaptability and thinking outside the box.
Is Cyber Security A Good Career?
While cyber-attacks aren’t going anywhere, the demand for cyber security professionals is likely to keep growing. In the UK, the need for data and network security is expanding so rapidly that about 100,000 unfilled cyber security positions will exist by 2022, according to various authority forecasts. Other countries also experience a cyber security employee deficiency.
If you are willing to work hard, pursue relevant education, and keep honing your professional skills, cyber security is one of the safest career choices you can make. The industry has low unemployment rates in general, and competent professionals can expect job security for many years to come.
In fact, while professionals in other industries may send out their CVs and get no response from employers, cyber security experts often have recruiters knocking on their doors.
Other advantages of a career in cyber security include:
- Attractive salaries: Because demand for professionals is often higher than qualified labour supply in this field, cyber security employees usually enjoy good salaries and excellent employment conditions. Although cyber security envelops a broad range of professions and salaries will vary accordingly, people who choose cyber security as a career generally earn above average.
- Flexibility: While many cyber security workers adhere to traditional 9-to-5 in-office hours, an increasing number of professional options in this field allows people to choose their hours and even work remotely while living in any location they prefer.
- Multiple career options: Compared to some narrow-range career paths, cyber security allows employees to diversify their specialisations and switch between sub-sectors. You can work for the government or a private agency, enter a firm as an employee, or start your own business. The possibilities are practically endless.
- Plenty of room to grow: You probably shouldn’t expect a salary in the top 10% percentile in your first year of working in cyber security, but you will have many opportunities to grow and show your expertise through relevant cyber security courses, specialisations, and work experience.
We asked our Caledonian University lecturers and Glasgow cyber security experts here at Ascent Cyber for their thoughts on whether cyber security is a good career choice. Here’s what we have to say:
“If you enjoy problem solving in ever changing environments, and using your knowledge and skillset to make a positive impact then Cyber Security is definitely a career for you. It has so many avenues and areas of speciality, so you have options that suit your specific interests, whether is ethical hacking, digital forensics, network infrastructure or web application security. It is an industry full of exciting opportunities and challenges, and there is a huge demand for new talent. A career in cyber security can be challenging, but it is also hugely rewarding!”
What’s It Like to Work in Cyber Security?
So, what does a typical day look like for a cyber security pro? The answer differs depending on the data security niche in which you specialise. Below are a few examples.
Advanced Systems Analyst
If you are an advanced systems analyst or computer network operator, your daily routine may include:
- Creating and maintaining user accounts, system access, and public key infrastructure
- Software installation and maintenance while being mindful of issues like memory and disk space
- Taking care of system security compliance complete with regular updates
- Running data vulnerability scans and addressing cyber security threats
Cyber Threat Hunter
Threat hunters are always on their toes, working hard to locate and thwart advanced system breaches. Threat hunters may split their days between researching threat sources and analysing the patterns of past cyber-attacks to figure out what strategy can prevent recurring threats.
A threat hunter’s tasks often include:
- Running penetration tests against the company’s cyber system
- Advanced cyber vulnerability research
- Conducting development and scripting tests for cyber security
- Spotlighting software weaknesses and loopholes in malware detection mechanisms
Cryptanalysts often work with law enforcement services and government intelligence agencies to unlock malicious encryption codes unlawful parties may use. Unlike cryptographers, who encrypt sensitive data to protect it, cryptanalysts can uncover hacked data through code-cracking.
A cryptanalyst is an advanced cyber security position that involves high competency in mathematics, computer sciences, and programming languages. Specialists who focus on cryptanalysis may use their skills to:
- Analyse programming code to reveal cypher keys
- Return encrypted data to its original format
- Turn ciphered text into plain text via decryption to convey messages using insecure channels
- Develop PKI (public key infrastructure) guides
As you can see, while there is some overlap between the daily tasks of different cyber security professionals, each specialisation has its unique features.
So should I Get a Degree in Cyber Security?
Some articles describing the advantages of a career in cyber security stress that it is possible to achieve success in this field without a targeted degree. While it is true that many cyber security employees have completed short cyber security courses and jumped straight into the job, a university degree focusing specifically on cyber security can give you leverage as you enter the workforce.
When two people with similar skill sets interview for a job, the one with an academic degree uniquely tailored to the position is more likely to catch a potential employer’s eye.
As cyber security gets more traction, the requirements for new positions are likely to become increasingly formal. Many new job openings already list a bachelor’s degree in cyber security as a starting requirement. A master’s degree can give applicants an even bigger advantage in positions that require managerial skills, decision making, and team responsibility.
How Much Does Cyber Security Pay in the UK?
The average salaries for people working in cyber security in the UK hover around £40,000 a year, but numbers vary greatly depending on your qualifications, years of working experience, and chosen specialisation.
For example, a starting cyber security analyst may earn an annual salary of just over £30,000, while experienced professionals in high-level positions may earn over £100,000.
What Jobs Can You Get with a Cyber Security Degree?
An academic degree can give you access to a broad range of cyber security jobs, including:
- Information security analyst
- Cyber security engineer
- Security consultant
- Network security architect
- Ethical hacker
- Cyber security project manager
What Does It Take to Be a Cyber Security Expert?
An academic degree is only the first step towards a successful career in cyber security. Gaining expertise is a long-term goal that involves hands-on experience, continuous cyber security training, advanced certifications, and keeping updated on the latest technologies. You may also want to consider the advantages of a MSc degree for higher-level positions and more lucrative salary options.
So How Do I Get Started?
At this point, you may say, “Cyber security sounds like the perfect career for me. How do I take the first step towards getting into this desirable, ever-evolving profession?”
We invite you to explore the BSc and MSc cyber security programmes of Glasgow Caledonian University.
The BSc (Hons) degree involves a two- to four-year full-time study programme that prepares its graduates for a career in security engineering, communication networks, or digital forensics. GCU graduates work in various agencies spanning law enforcement, government, business, and the private sector.
The MSc cyber security programme requires one year of full-time study and allows graduates to pursue advanced positions in cyber and network security. Students who have earned their MSc in cyber security often work as cyber security analysts, security engineers, and information security accreditors.