Every business wants to protect itself. In physical security, that means having guards, locks, or security cameras to keep property safe. The same is true for digital and online assets.
Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting and defending an organization from malicious actors looking to steal valuable data or information, or gain access to critical operational systems.
Often these entry points aren’t as obvious as a physical door or window; hackers may find a way in through an old server, an unsecured Wi-Fi connection accessed from a remote worker’s laptop, or a misconfiguration in a cloud application.
In fact, as more organizations move to the cloud and their employees go remote, the risk of cyberattacks increase — making the need for cybersecurity even more crucial.
Recent large-scale attacks on companies like SolarWinds or MGM in Las Vegas show how easy it’s become for malicious actors to infiltrate an organization, and inflict widespread damage. One data breach can cost an organization an average of $4.45 million, resulting not only in financial loss but in damage to reputation as well. Seventy-six percent of businesses have experienced at least one cyberattack, and cyberattack frequency increased by 38 percent from 2021 to 2022.
With more organizations building knowledgeable cybersecurity teams and investing in best-in-class cybersecurity tools and technologies, now is an ideal time to advance a career in cybersecurity.
Top Reasons to Get Into Cybersecurity
Cybersecurity is an in-demand profession that attracts problem-solvers, technology lovers, and those who want to protect organizations from hackers. Here are just some of the reasons why a career in cybersecurity may be a next great step for you.
High Demand for Cybersecurity Professionals
Organizations across every industry have an urgent need for cybersecurity expertise as they build security teams in-house or turn to knowledgeable service providers for threat hunting or detection monitoring.
There is currently so much demand for cybersecurity professionals today that there’s an estimated 660,000 open positions in cybersecurity waiting to be filled. And opportunities are anticipated to grow 32 percent over the next 10 years.
The high demand for cybersecurity professionals means there’s also plenty of job security. Cybersecurity is so diverse that individuals can focus on general or specialist areas. And they can find work inside organizations, at small service providers, or can even freelance as consultants.
Since every industry can be impacted by cyberattacks, they will all be looking for cybersecurity professionals — it’s not a profession limited to one sector. As technology evolves, new cybersecurity jobs will be created as well, such as new roles centered around AI.
Cybersecurity is a relatively lucrative industry; it’s a high-demand job that requires a significant level of technical expertise, and effective cybersecurity can save organizations millions or billions of dollars. Entry-level positions can see an average salary of $61,345 per year.
Additionally, a cybersecurity analyst makes an average of $81,355 per year, a cybersecurity risk manager makes an average of $125,698 per year, and a chief information security officer (CISO) makes an average of $208,571 per year.
New Challenges and Continuous Learning
The field of cybersecurity must evolve at the speed of technology, meaning there’s always something new to learn and determine how to protect. Cybersecurity professionals must also keep pace with hacker sophistication and learn their tactics and approaches to ensure security strategies stay relevant.
If you love continuous learning and problem solving for new challenges, cybersecurity provides countless opportunities for intellectual growth.
Key Skills Needed to Thrive in Cybersecurity
There are a number of key qualities that help cybersecurity professionals excel in their roles. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in the field, here are some of the top skills you will need to succeed:
- Curiosity: Many cybersecurity professionals have a natural curiosity to explore incidents and issues, seek out threats that may be lurking in the network, or uncover new approaches to better protection.
- Critical thinking and problem solving: Cybersecurity professionals need strong critical thinking and problem solving skills to make sense of the data collected across their organization, determine if any threats are imminent or if there are places that are vulnerable to attack, and create action plans to fix system weaknesses before an incident occurs.
- Technical knowledge: Every cybersecurity professional needs to know the technical aspects of the jobs, like network and systems administration, how operating systems and virtual machines work, coding, how to secure cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) environments, and more.
Cybersecurity Career Paths
There are a wide range of specializations and job roles that cybersecurity professionals can pursue, depending on their interests and skills.
Architecture and Policy
Cybersecurity architects create secure architectures, making sure that the systems upon which the organization is built are protected. They also create security policy, frameworks, and processes — like who has access to networks or how data is stored — to make sure that everyone is safely using their technology.
Data Loss Prevention
Data breaches can result in massive damage to organizations who aren’t protected. Data loss prevention managers, analysts, or specialists focus on protecting that data — like personally identifying data, intellectual property, or data guarded by HIPAA — by monitoring how data is accessed and shared, and by using detection and response to prevent breaches.
Governance, Risk, and Compliance
Cybersecurity governance, risk, and compliance analysts build strategies that manage cybersecurity policies and procedures across their organization. They also manage how much risk their networks, hardware, or cloud environments create, and as well as ensure that their organization is compliant to today’s cybersecurity frameworks like NIST and ISO 27001.
Identity and Access Management
Cybersecurity practitioners also focus on who has access to various networks, assets, and data, and how that access is managed. As network perimeters change with the rise in cloud adoption, it’s crucial that everyone who is supposed to have access does, and those who don’t have access can’t get in.
Incident Response and Forensic Analysis
Incident responders identify, respond to, and remediate cyberattacks when they happen and analyze an attack after the fact in order to improve security in the future. Cybersecurity practitioners in this area need to know how to lead teams through incident response playbooks and how to piece together the clues of an attack.
Penetration testing, or pen testing, is a skill used to assess how strong an organization’s security infrastructure is and where its vulnerabilities are. Professional pen testers essentially hack into a system to find weaknesses that need to be shored up and to test an organization’s detection and response efforts.
Cybersecurity professionals can also work with DevOps teams, or software development and IT operations teams. Instead of waiting for a piece of software or product to be deployed and then making sure it’s secure, DevOps security — or DevSecOps practitioners — ensure that security practices are being employed in the software development pipeline before a product is deployed.
Secure Software Development
Considering that attacks on software supply chains have increased 742 percent since 2019, cybersecurity practitioners focusing on secure software development ensure that the components that go into that software — often from third-parties or open source libraries — are free from vulnerabilities, bugs, or malicious code.
7 Steps to Getting Started in Cybersecurity
If you’re drawn to the problem-solving, investigative, and technical nature of protecting organizations, here’s how to get started in cybersecurity as your next career.
1. Identify Your Interests and Career Goals
Have you always been fascinated by computer systems? Has technical know-how always come easy to you? Do you have a compulsion to protect organizations from criminal activity? Maybe you’ve already started a career in IT and want to evolve your skills and talents beyond the help desk. Assess your interests, career goals, and dedication to the field to see if cybersecurity is right for you.
2. Learn the Fundamentals
There’s a lot of technical knowledge that cybersecurity practitioners must have in order to be successful. Start learning those fundamentals by reading books about cybersecurity, frequenting online magazines or blogs hosted by security companies, listening to podcasts, reading case studies on incident response, or taking a class that can teach you a programming language.
3. Earn a Degree in Cybersecurity
To accelerate your learning, career placement, and earning potential, consider getting a degree in cybersecurity. Harvard Extension School’s Cybersecurity Master’s Degree Program can fully prepare you for a career in cybersecurity by building your understanding of network and cloud infrastructure, security policies and compliance, and risk mitigation strategies, as well as giving you hands-on experience through a capstone project. Started in 2021 and offered predominately online, this 12-course degree program was created to meet the rising demands for skilled, knowledgeable cybersecurity practitioners.
4. Earn a Certificate in Cybersecurity
If a full degree isn’t in your scope, consider starting with a certificate program that can introduce you to the knowledge and skills needed to start your career in cybersecurity. Harvard Extension School’s Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate will teach you the basics of cybersecurity across four courses that could include “Foundations of Technology Risk Management and Assessment,” “Networks and Cloud Security,” “Cybersecurity: Intrusion, Hacking, and Detection,” “Ethics of Cybersecurity,” or “Cryptography and Identity Management for Cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) Applications.”
5. Gain Practical Experience
Cybersecurity is a varied and applied discipline, so consider gaining practical experience to see what being a cybersecurity professional is like on a daily basis through an internship to gain real-world experience. Taking a course — or enrolling in a certificate or degree program — will help you build a portfolio of cybersecurity projects as well.
6. Build Connections in the Cybersecurity Field
Cultivating connections is a great way to find open doors to new professional opportunities. Cybersecurity conferences are ideal settings to meet practitioners, learn about new technologies, and hear talks about problems cybersecurity professionals solve every day. As you read articles and listen to podcasts, consider reaching out to those individuals via LinkedIn to ask questions or learn more.
7. Continually Learn and Build Your Skills
Cybersecurity is an always-evolving field and practitioners need to stay informed on industry trends and continuously build upon their skills. Continue expanding your knowledge through industry magazines, blogs, podcasts, case studies, classes, and conferences.
Take The Next Step Toward Becoming a Cybersecurity Professional
Cybersecurity attacks are on the rise, but the attacks yet to come could be stopped before they happen by skilled and knowledgeable cybersecurity professionals like you. If you want to be part of an exciting, always changing, and incredibly impactful industry, start your journey into cybersecurity today by enrolling in Harvard Extension School’s Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate or Cybersecurity Master’s Degree Program.