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How to Become a Cybersecurity Specialist

Written by: University of Tulsa   •  Jan 22, 2024
Cybersecurity Specialist Holds a Laptop While Working in a Data Center.

How to Become a Cybersecurity Specialist

Virtually every organization depends on internet connectivity for communication, collaboration, and efficiency. While digital technology has undoubtedly enhanced business operations across the board, it has also led to some significant vulnerabilities. Cyber attacks can compromise sensitive data, making it impossible for teams to do their work. In other cases, online attacks may result in the payment of hefty “ransoms” or result in reputational damage and significant legal expenses.

To help protect organizations from online attacks, cybersecurity specialists employ a wide number of safeguards, tests, and compliance policies. Those who are drawn to the field of digital security may gravitate toward this role. To become a cybersecurity specialist, developing the right skills through a combination of advanced education and on-the-job training is imperative.

What’s a Cybersecurity Specialist?

A cybersecurity specialist helps a business, nonprofit, or government organization protect its data from theft, damage, or unauthorized access. This includes protecting proprietary information, financial data, or sensitive data belonging to clients and customers. For example, a cybersecurity specialist may help a retail company protect customers’ credit card information or help a health care organization keep patient files from being leaked online.

The work of a cybersecurity specialist involves developing systems to detect and prevent viruses, including different types of ransomware and malware. Additionally, cybersecurity specialists must continually study the latest tactics of cybercriminals, ensuring that their own defensive protocols are up to date. Cybersecurity specialists may also routinely test their systems for vulnerabilities and report on their efforts to stakeholders within the organization.

Cybersecurity Specialist Job Description

The duties and responsibilities of a cybersecurity specialist can vary from one organization to the next. A typical job description looks something like this:

  • Scanning and assessing a network for potential vulnerabilities
  • Monitoring traffic on a network for any irregularities
  • Investigating any data breaches or unauthorized use that occurs
  • Installing and updating security software
  • Educating employees on the best ways to maintain digital security
  • Researching the latest cybersecurity protocols

What Are the Steps for How to Become a Cybersecurity Specialist?

Becoming a cybersecurity specialist requires a robust set of technical competencies and leadership skills. To develop these skills, seeking the right combination of education, certification, and on-the-job experience is important.

Undergraduate Education

A good starting point is earning an undergraduate degree. While educational requirements for a cybersecurity specialist vary by state and by organization, usually having either an associate- or a bachelor’s-level degree is necessary, as it attests to the candidate having some foundational technology skills. This may be a degree in cybersecurity, computer science, or information technology (IT).

Certification

Industry certifications can further confirm skill and aptitude, often leading to higher-paying jobs with added leadership responsibilities. The most notable cybersecurity industry certifications include the following:

  • EC-Council Network Security Administrator
  • Certified Information Security Manager
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional
  • CompTIA base-level security certification

Work Experience

Internships and entry-level jobs can help aspiring cybersecurity specialists hone their skills. Some of the most notable entry-level are network administrators and security administrators, though any role in IT can be helpful.

Advanced Education

While graduate-level degrees aren’t always required for cybersecurity jobs, they can provide great opportunities to cultivate high-level skills and ultimately command more competitive salaries. A master’s degree in cybersecurity can be especially apt.

Skill Formation

When thinking about how to become a cybersecurity specialist, focusing on developing the right set of skills is important. Essential skills for success in this field include the following:

  • Hard skills, including familiarity with a wide range of operating systems and cybersecurity programs
  • Written and oral communication skills
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Research skills

What Are the Cybersecurity Specialist Salary Range and Job Outlook?

Those who are drawn to this profession will understandably have some questions about the salary range and career prospects. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides information for the information security analyst role, which is very similar to the cybersecurity specialist role.

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for this role is $112,000. Many factors can affect this salary, including certification, level of education, and years of experience.

What about job prospects? Is the field of cybersecurity oversaturated? According to the BLS, this field has a projected growth rate of 32% between 2022 and 2032, a rate significantly faster than the average for all professions. In other words, this field has ample room for growth and success.

Explore Careers in Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity professionals can play a significant role in protecting organizations from online vandalism, extortion, and theft. If you’re considering how to become a cybersecurity specialist, the role of advanced education can’t be overstated. Explore options like the online Master of Science in Cyber Security from The University of Tulsa, which can provide the comprehensive skill set needed for maximum impact in this role.

Recommended Readings

What Is the Future of Fintech?

The Benefits of Earning Cybersecurity Certification

The Importance of Cybersecurity Leadership

Sources:

CompTIA, What Is a Cybersecurity Specialist?

Indeed, “How to Become a Cybersecurity Specialist (With Salary)”

Indeed, “What Does a Cybersecurity Specialist Do? (A Definitive Guide)”

TechTarget, “What Is Cybersecurity?” 

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

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