How To Become a Cybersecurity Specialist

Learn what it takes to become a cybersecurity specialist including education, career path, skills required, job outlook and other details.

How To Become a Cybersecurity SpecialistThe need for cybersecurity talent is growing as organizations struggle to find balance in the post-COVID business landscape. Many organizations lost their equilibrium as they rapidly adopted new technologies during the height of the pandemic. Cybersecurity specialists can help organizations manage and improve information security.

What Does a Cybersecurity Specialist Do?

Cybersecurity specialists are also known as information technology specialists, operations specialists, information security specialists and security specialists. Keep in mind that “cybersecurity specialist” as a job title is undefined. The term applies to a skill set that a variety of cybersecurity professionals use to prevent cyberattacks and mitigate data breaches. Some of these roles include but are not limited to security administrator, systems administrator and security analyst.

Cybersecurity specialists are IT professionals that are responsible for protecting the data and complete IT infrastructure of organizations. They are experts at detecting cyber threats and implementing data-saving security measures. These technicians also create and enforce security policies, carry out threat and risk analyses and perform vulnerability assessments.

A cybersecurity specialist is trained in spotting suspicious patterns in computer systems. They monitor all aspects of the computer infrastructure for threatening activities. These cybersecurity professionals also construct, install and operate firewalls and set and implement security standards.

Additionally, cybersecurity specialists promote network security by taking measures to block unauthorized access to the computer network. They also run diagnostics on any change that takes place in the IT infrastructure.

What Education and Qualifications Are Required?

In the past, most cybersecurity specialists needed a degree. The more senior the cybersecurity specialist job role is, the more stringent that qualification becomes. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but it’s common. According to an article by Cybersecurity Guide, 58% of cybersecurity specialists have a bachelor’s degree, 23% have an associate degree and 19% have a master’s degree.

These days, employers are increasingly seeing the benefits of a larger and more inclusive talent pipeline that include alternative pathways into technology jobs. Translation? A traditional four-year college degree may not be required.

Instead of (or in addition to) a degree, cybersecurity certifications help qualify an IT professional for a cybersecurity specialist role. Certifications offer a competitive advantage over their peers. So does membership in professional organizations for cybersecurity professionals.

What Skills and Experience Are Required?

The skills a cybersecurity specialist needs can vary based on the role an IT professional is applying for. Most cybersecurity specialists need skill sets with competencies related to:

Having soft skills like problem-solving, leadership, teamwork and adaptability are also important. Professional skills like these help cybersecurity specialists prevent and mitigate security breaches by effectively leading cybersecurity teams and protecting IT infrastructures. Also, good communication skills are essential for cybersecurity specialists.

Most cybersecurity specialist job descriptions require a candidate to have several years of experience in a data security role. These IT professionals often gain and sharpen cybersecurity skills as they get hands-on experience in the workplace over a period of time.

Job Outlook and Salaries for Cybersecurity Specialists

Pursuing a career as a cybersecurity specialist is a big decision. Thankfully, the job outlook for this profession is good. The need for cybersecurity specialists will continue to grow, reaching about 234,000 by 2033. The 10-year projected growth for cybersecurity specialists is 242% above the national rate per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), CompTIA State of the Tech Workforce 2023 and Lightcast.

According to Cyberseek, the average advertised salary for a cybersecurity specialist is $106,265.

The Steps To Become a Cybersecurity Specialist

Wondering how to become a cybersecurity specialist? Follow these steps to achieve your career goals:

1. Get a Computer-Related Degree (If Necessary)

If the particular position you want requires a degree – go get it! Most cybersecurity specialist job descriptions that call for a bachelor’s degree are looking for a specialization in a computer-related field. Some entry-level cybersecurity specialist roles only require an associate degree. Senior cybersecurity specialist jobs, such as chief information security officer (CISO), can require a master’s degree.

It's never too late to get a degree that will support you in your pursuit of a cybersecurity specialist career. Majors that would benefit a cybersecurity specialist include computer science, information technology, cybersecurity, database management and network administration.

2. Make Earning Industry Certifications a Top Priority

If you want to become a cybersecurity specialist, you need industry-recognized certifications. Two of the best cybersecurity certifications you can get are CompTIA Security+ and CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+).

CompTIA Security+ is a foundational cybersecurity certification that can help an IT professional begin a cybersecurity career. It covers attacks, threats and vulnerabilities, operations and incident response and architecture and design. Other topics that are covered include implementation and governance, risk and compliance.

Earning CompTIA Network+ in combination with two years of experience in IT administration with a security focus ensures candidates are prepared to earn CompTIA Security+.

CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+) is another great option for cybersecurity specialists. It covers security operations, reporting and communication, vulnerability management and incident response and management.

Before pursuing CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+), IT professionals should have CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+, plus at least 4 years of hands-on experience working in an information security role. Examples include incident response analyst or security operations center (SOC) analyst

Other industry certifications that can help you stand out in the cybersecurity field include:

  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
  • ISACA Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
  • EC-Counsil Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
  • ISACA Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
  • (ISC)² Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

Bootcamps, official training materials, cybersecurity degrees, internships and related work experience can help candidates learn the topics covered by their certification exams.

3. Seek Cybersecurity Work Experience

Hiring managers expect cybersecurity specialists to have work experience. The amount varies based on what job role they are applying for. Most of their experience should come from working a cybersecurity-related job. Sometimes, IT professionals work in IT networking, systems engineering, security intelligence and financial and risk analysis prior to moving into a cybersecurity specialist role.

In general, cybersecurity specialists are often required to have several years of experience in a cybersecurity-focused job. More experience is required for advanced roles and less is needed for early-career roles. Having industry credentials and higher-level degrees could shorten the experience requirements some potential employers have.

Your Career Path in Cybersecurity

There are many cybersecurity career options. That’s why the CompTIA Cybersecurity Career Path Roadmap is helpful. It clarifies exactly what certifications you’ll need to land specific jobs that fall under the cybersecurity specialist umbrella. For example:

  • CompTIA Security+ and CompTIA Network+ can qualify you for a role as a system/s administrator, network engineer or system/s engineer.
  • CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+), CompTIA Project+ and CompTIA PenTest+ can help you get a job as a penetration tester, security engineer or security analyst. 
  • The CompTIA certifications mentioned above plus partner certifications (ISACA, GIAC and Cisco) can help you land a role as a senior security engineer, senior security analyst or chief information security officer (CISO).

With CompTIA, the sky’s the limit when it comes to your cybersecurity career. Whether you want to be a network engineer, security analyst or CISO, CompTIA can help you get there.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Cybersecurity Specialist?

Becoming a cybersecurity specialist could be a short, long or somewhere-in-the-middle journey. It all depends on what you currently bring to the table in terms of cybersecurity education, skills, work experience and certifications. It is also dependent on if you want an entry-level or senior role.

IT professionals who have the following can become a cybersecurity specialist relatively quickly:

  • A bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field
  • At least a couple years of work experience in a cybersecurity role
  • Foundational cybersecurity certifications

Those who don’t have a degree, experience or certifications may need to put several years into becoming a cybersecurity specialist. This includes the time it takes to get a degree, earn certifications and get work experience. Getting their start in cybersecurity may seem overwhelming to a career changer but it is achievable.   

Many IT professionals have an IT degree of some sort and experience working at the help desk. Getting their foot in the door to an entry-level cybersecurity specialist job role can be as easy as earning CompTIA Security+. The more cybersecurity certifications they earn, the more job opportunities will open to them.

Cybersecurity specialists are problem-solvers, analytical thinkers, leaders and cybersecurity experts. They help organizations successfully fight cybercrime. Ready to get your start in cybersecurity? Check out the CompTIA Cybersecurity Career Path Roadmap. 

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