What Is a Cybersecurity Specialist?

Find out what a cybersecurity specialist is and what they do. Learn about the skills, qualifications and job responsibilities needed for this in-demand career.

What Is a Cybersecurity Specialist MainOver the past year, the cost of cybercrime has increased 10%, and it will continue to escalate, rising to $10.5 trillion per year by 2025, according to CompTIA’s Top 50 Cybersecurity Statistics, Figures and Facts. To lessen the devastation cybercrime causes, organizations employ cybersecurity specialists.

But what is a cybersecurity specialist? It’s important to understand that cybersecurity specialist is not a defined job title. Instead, it refers to a specific skill set that a variety of cybersecurity professionals that practice cybercrime prevention and mitigation use.

A few IT security roles that are considered cybersecurity specialists include, but are not limited to:

Chief information security officers (CISOs), network engineers, systems engineers and systems administrators, plus other roles, are also considered cybersecurity specialists. 

The Role and Responsibilities of a Cybersecurity Specialist

Cybersecurity specialists are IT professionals who are trained to detect threats and protect an organization’s sensitive information by implementing security measures. Cybersecurity specialists work to oversee organizations’ data security operations and keep the entire IT infrastructure, including software systems, networks and data centers, secure. At the same time, they ensure other cybersecurity team members and internal employees adhere to current security policies.

What else does a cybersecurity specialist do? Some of their other responsibilities include:

  • Performing threat and risk analysis
  • Designing, installing and operating firewalls
  • Analyzing the impact of both existing and new technologies and systems
  • Carrying out vulnerability assessments
  • Configuring audits of operating systems, databases and web servers
  • Detecting patterns and insecure features in computer systems
  • Monitoring for malicious activities in the organization’s computer network infrastructure
  • Researching, testing, evaluating and deploying security measures
  • Promoting network security by creating and enforcing security standards
  • Running diagnostics on all changes within the infrastructure and computer networks
  • Performing counteractive protocols
  • Managing user access and blocking unauthorized access
  • Configuring anti-virus systems

Additional terms that can be used interchangeably with cybersecurity specialist are information security specialist, security specialist, information technology specialist and operations specialist.  

Key Skills of a Cybersecurity Specialist

Here are some skills every cybersecurity specialist needs:

These are common skills listed on cybersecurity specialist job descriptions. They can be attained through industry certifications, degree programs, internships and work experience.

Cybersecurity Specialist Qualifications and Certifications Requirements

Some cybersecurity specialist job descriptions require a college degree in computer science, cybersecurity or database management. Systems administration, telecommunications and network design are other degree specializations that would be useful to a cybersecurity specialist.

An article by Cybersecurity Guide reports that 23% of cybersecurity specialists possess an associate degree, 58% have a bachelor’s degree and 19% have a master’s degree. While an associate or bachelor’s degree can be sufficient for some cybersecurity specialists, a master’s degree will likely open advanced job opportunities within the field.

There are no specific certifications that all employers require cybersecurity specialists to have. However, it is beneficial to those seeking a career as a cybersecurity specialist to have cybersecurity-focused certifications such as CompTIA Security+ and CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+).

How to Become a Cybersecurity Specialist

Becoming a cybersecurity specialist can be a lengthy process. It often begins with seeking a degree in a computer-related field if you don’t already have one – but that’s not always the case.

1. Get a Degree (If Needed)

If you need (or want) a degree, you could choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, computer science or a similar topic. A less time-consuming option is to seek a computer-related associate degree. Keep in mind that your job opportunities may correlate with the type of degree you obtain.

Where you choose to get your degree is totally up to you and based on your needs. If you are a career changer and already working a full-time job that’s not in the tech sphere, an online degree could work best as it will be the most flexible option. For full-time students or those who haven’t started establishing their work history, a residential degree program could be a better fit.

2. Get In-Demand Certifications

It’s important for current and prospective cybersecurity specialists to earn cybersecurity certifications that will get the attention of hiring managers. They can do this while getting a degree, after they’ve earned a degree or while they are working. A couple of the most in-demand industry certifications are CompTIA Security+ and CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+).

Not sure which cybersecurity certification to earn first? CompTIA Security+ is the right choice. CompTIA Security+ is chosen by more corporations and defense organizations than any other certification on the market to validate baseline security skills. It’s also the only foundational certification that emphasizes hands-on skills.

With CompTIA Security+, you’ll gain knowledge and skills related to cyberattacks, threats and vulnerabilities, as well as operations and incident response. Additionally, you’ll learn about architecture and design, implementation and governance, risk and compliance.

If you’ve already earned CompTIA Network+ and have at least two years of experience in IT administration with a cybersecurity focus, you are a good candidate for CompTIA Security+.

CompTIA Security+ is the first security-focused certification cybersecurity professionals should earn, but it shouldn’t be the last. Hiring managers will also be looking for advanced certifications such as CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+).

If you want to stand out in the cybersecurity field, CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+) is for you. It is designed for cybersecurity professionals who monitor security and deal with incident detection, prevention and response. The skills you’ll learn with CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+) include security operations, incident response and management, vulnerability management and reporting and communication. The best candidate for this certification has at least four years of experience in information security plus CompTIA Security+ and CompTIA Network+.

Other cybersecurity certifications to consider include Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).

3. Get Experience

Cybersecurity specialists need work experience. But how much is enough? It’s not uncommon for cybersecurity specialist job descriptions to call for several years of experience[MOU4] . Interested candidates shouldn’t let this discourage them if they have less experience. Employers may be willing to lower their experience requirements for job candidates with cybersecurity-focused degrees and/or in-demand cybersecurity certifications.

Once you’ve completed these steps, you’re ready to start your job search. If you consistently network on LinkedIn, you may find that job opportunities will present themselves to you as you complete a degree program, earn industry certifications and get experience.

Salaries and Job Outlook for Cybersecurity Specialists

The job outlook for cybersecurity specialists is outstanding. 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. Cybersecurity specialists earn a median annual salary of $112,000 - this is 142% higher than the median national wage for all occupations.

FAQs About Cybersecurity Specialists

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about IT security and cybersecurity specialists.

1. What Is Cybersecurity?

Have you ever wondered, “What is cybersecurity?” If so, you’re not alone. Cybersecurity is a complex discipline and concept. Essentially, it is the practice of being protected against the unauthorized use of electronic data.

Cybersecurity specialists are cybersecurity experts. They use an array of tools and techniques to strengthen an organization’s information security and safeguard its IT infrastructure and data.

2. Why Are Cybersecurity Specialists in High Demand, and Will They Stay That Way? 

Since 2021, 4,800 websites have been compromised, ransomware demands have increased by 518%, 33 billion records have been stolen and 200,000 cyberattacks have taken place weekly, per CompTIA’s 25 Alarming Cyberattacks and Stats. Cybercrime is trending, and security breaches are on the rise. This is the reason why cybersecurity specialists are and will remain in demand.   

The demand for these IT pros is unlikely to change due to the fast growth of the IoT (Internet of Things) and because the rate of digital transformation is increasing. Those in or entering the IT security field can expect job stability.

3. Do Cybersecurity Specialists Have Room for Career Advancement?

There is plenty of room for advancement for cybersecurity specialists. Many early-career cybersecurity specialist roles can advance to senior roles in a matter of years, as IT professionals gain more experience and certifications. For example, network administrators are often promoted to a network engineer role once they have sufficient experience. Cybersecurity specialists of various types could also choose to become cybersecurity managers. This role requires technicians to ensure security compliance and manage entire security teams.

4. Is a Cybersecurity Specialist Career Right for Me?

One way to make an informed decision about whether you’d thrive in a cybersecurity specialist role is to ask yourself some clarifying questions:

  • Am I willing to stay up-to-date with the latest IT trends and threats?
  • Do I possess soft skills like communication, leadership and problem-solving?
  • Do I work well under pressure?
  • Am I detail oriented and analytical?

The best cybersecurity specialists are constantly tracking IT trends and threats and possess strong professional skills. They are also detail oriented and don’t buckle under pressure. If you have these attributes, a cybersecurity specialist career could be right for you.  

Is a Certification or a Degree Required to Become a Cybersecurity Specialist?

Sometimes both a degree and cybersecurity certifications are required for cybersecurity specialists – but that’s not always the case. Cybersecurity jobs are in high demand right now and employers are realizing that they need to be open to alternative paths to knowledge and experience in order to fill these positions. Relevant certifications can give job seekers a competitive advantage and help them prove to employers that they have in-demand information security skills.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Cybersecurity Specialist?

It can take several years to become a cybersecurity specialist. If you already have a computer-related degree, the process will be quicker. All you’ll need to do is earn relevant cybersecurity certifications and get work experience in data security to land a job as a cybersecurity specialist.

If you are starting from scratch, becoming a cybersecurity specialist will take longer. Shorten the journey by completing a cybersecurity internship during school and working an entry-level cybersecurity or help-desk job if time allows. If you stay focused on your career goals, you can’t lose.

A successful cybersecurity career starts with earning CompTIA Security+. Download the exam objectives to learn more.


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