3 Highly Motivating Advantages of Becoming a Computer Security Specialist
News headlines are increasingly dominated by high-profile breaches of information security. Every sector of the economy has been impacted. But many of the most prominent computer and network attacks have taken place against organizations in the healthcare, retail, education, government, and financial sectors. And the privacy of individuals is under continuous threat due to everything from mobile app malware to sophisticated social media scams.
But you can become one of the professional defenders of our information. As an ethical hacker, network security specialist, or digital forensic investigator, you can help protect vulnerable computer systems and data from malicious hackers. In fact, depending on your specific role, you might get to be involved in actions such as:
- Developing effective IT security strategies
- Monitoring networks for intrusion attempts
- Investigating and reporting data breaches
- Simulating cyberattacks in order to detect potential system vulnerabilities
- Installing network firewalls and data-encryption software
- Recovering IT systems and data after cyberattacks
- Researching the latest computer security technologies, deterrents, and countermeasures
Of course, those actions represent only some of the responsibilities that you might get to carry out. One of the most appealing things about the field of IT security is that you never quite know what's around the next corner. So your role might evolve in surprising yet enjoyable ways as new security threats emerge and innovative solutions are created to thwart them.
With those things in mind, check out three of the best reasons for becoming a certified computer and network security professional:
1. Extensive and Growing Demand
Criminal hackers continue to find new ways to wreak havoc on information networks and steal critical and private data. Each year brings additional threats to organizations and individuals, whether from cyber-espionage, digital extortion, phishing, or other kinds of electronic attacks. And the Internet of Things (IoT) keeps growing, exposing us to the possibility of new types of cyberthreats that target the Web-connected smart devices in our homes, offices, cars, and wearable items. Just consider these stats:*
- In a single year (from 2013 to 2014), data breaches grew in number by 23 percent. And the number of digital extortion attacks using ransomware increased by 113 percent.
- Over 83 percent of large companies experienced spear-phishing attacks in 2014, which represented an increase of 40 percent over the prior year. And six out of every 10 targeted digital attacks were against small- or medium-sized organizations—an increase of at least 26 percent over 2013.
- In 2014, almost one million Android apps (about 17 percent of them) were, in reality, malware disguised as legitimate apps.
Those statistics paint only a fraction of the picture. That's why it's projected that, between 2014 and 2024, the employment of information security analysts could rise by 18 percent in America, which equates to about 14,800 job openings.** So being a computer security specialist can mean having outstanding career security.
2. The Potential to Earn a Six-Figure Salary
Because of the growing demand for robust computer and network security, as well as its critical importance, professionals in this field frequently earn excellent salaries. In fact, the average white hat hacker salary is close to six figures. And many ethical hackers find jobs that pay 100K or more per year.
For example, in 2015, the average salary for information security analysts in the U.S. was $93,250. However, those who worked in the financial securities and commodities industry earned $112,560, on average. And the highest earners in the field made over $143,000 a year.***
3. A Large Variety of Good Training and Certification Options
When it comes to attaining employer-valued credentials in this field, many different pathways exist. Even so, one of the most popular options at the college level is to earn a career-focused computer security degree or diploma.
Depending on how quickly you'd like to enter the job market or how in-depth you want your training to be, you have the opportunity to choose between multiple program possibilities. For example, a diploma program may only last about a year or less, an associate's degree program may last from 18 months to two years, and a bachelor's degree program might last closer to four years.
Plus, many courses of study in computer and network security are designed to help prepare you for various industry certification exams. Being certified is a way to back up your education with extra proof that you have the necessary skills that employers look for.
Several options exist for computer security certification. So choosing which ones to pursue really depends on your individual career goals. At first, you may want to attain vendor-neutral certifications that cover the technologies of multiple companies within the industry. You might also decide that earning a few vendor-specific certifications from companies like Microsoft or HP might be valuable before approaching potential employers who consistently use systems from those vendors.
Regardless, you'll likely acquire your own unique combination of IT security certifications throughout your career based on your interests and the specific opportunities that you want to pursue. But to give you an idea of the extensive range of possibilities, here are some of today's most popular certifications and the organizations that award them:
- CompTIA Security+—Computing Technology Industry Association
- CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker)—EC-Council (International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants)
- GSEC (GIAC Security Essentials)—GIAC (Global Information Assurance Certification)
- SSCP (Systems Security Certified Practitioner)—(ISC)2, the International Information System Security Certification Consortium
- CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional)—(ISC)2
- CCNA Security (Cisco Certified Network Associate Security)—Cisco
- CISM (Certified Information Security Manager)—ISACA (Information Systems Audit and Control Association)
- CSFA (CyberSecurity Forensic Analyst)—CyberSecurity Institute
Find Out Where to Begin
Many schools offer programs that can help you attain the knowledge necessary for earning popular computer security certifications. And you might even have the choice between training online or on campus. So enter your zip code into the following search tool to generate a customized list of nearby options!
* Symantec, 2015 Internet Security Threat Report, Volume 20, document last accessed on October 22, 2015.
** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, website last accessed on March 8, 2016.
*** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last accessed on April 7, 2016.