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A Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a Cyber Security Expert

In an online world, cyber security is crucial to protect businesses and individuals. Those working in cyber security can enjoy high wages and experience a unique, varied career. But how do you become a cyber security expert? What skills and qualifications do you need to succeed in the cyber security field?
15.07.22 Charles Griffiths

Despite a growing awareness of potential cyber issues, as well as increased spending on cyber security solutions, over 80% of organisations in the UK were the victim of at least one successful cyber-attack in the year to April 2022.

With this and the rising threat of ransomware attacks, there is still one main concern that tops the list for business owners and senior management – the lack of personnel skilled in cyber security. The (ISC)2 Cybersecurity Workforce Study 2021 revealed that 2.72 million cyber security experts were needed by organisations worldwide to protect their data and assets. That means the number of cyber security professionals needs to increase by 65%.

 

What is a cyber security expert?

A cyber security expert’s role is to protect an organisation’s IT infrastructure from cyber criminal activity. This includes a wide variety of responsibilities including:

  • Assessing and analysing cyber security threats and how to manage them.
  • Planning and creating a reliable cyber security strategy including disaster recovery and business continuity plans to activate should a security breach occur.
  •  Monitoring systems and networks for any potential attacks, illegal or unauthorised activity and intrusions.
  • Testing and evaluating existing and potential security solutions, including the design and implementation of security upgrades or new products.
  • Analysing emerging threat patterns and business vulnerabilities using advanced analytical tools, including identifying any weaknesses and implementing protective measures, such as data encryption and firewalls.
  • Monitoring identity and access management, like unauthorised access, abuse of existing permissions and malicious attacks.
  • Investigating and reporting on security alerts for non-technical and technical staff and stakeholders.
  • Maintaining the information security risk register, which forms part of a business’s internal and external audits regarding information security. This includes liaising with stakeholders in respect of any cyber security issues and making recommendations.
  • Working with HR to create, maintain and deliver cyber security awareness training for all employees, whether office-based or working from home.

One of the biggest challenges for cyber security experts is keeping up-to-date with the ever-changing threat landscape as well as the latest cyber security trends and technological innovations.

The types of roles in the cyber security landscape include:

  • Ethical hacker
  • Cyber security engineer or consultant
  • Cloud security consultant
  • SOC analyst
  • Digital security analyst
  • Systems analyst
  • Cyber threat hunter
  • Cryptanalyst
  • Security administrator
  • Software security officer
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How to get into cyber security

A question that regularly comes up when people are considering a career in cyber security is, “Do I need a degree for cyber security?”  Whilst it is possible to succeed in cyber security without a degree, having a degree in a field that is related to IT and cyber security does help.

For many employers, having a Bachelor’s Degree or a Master’s Degree in an IT-related subject is a requirement, particularly if the position involves leading a team, decision making or a managerial position. Computer science, web development and software engineering are all related degrees that will give you a good foundation for building a cyber security career. Alternatively, some universities offer specific cyber security degrees:

BSc (Hons) in Cyber Security Networks

This is a two to four year course that covers a wide range of cyber security topics including cyber security engineering, digital forensics, unauthorised access, data protection, programming, cyber security operations, ethical hacking, web and internet security, as well as communication networks. Universities such as

MSc in Cyber Security

A shorter one year course, this is more for graduates that are focusing on an advanced career in cyber and network security. The programme will provide graduates with analytical skills and specialist knowledge, including cyber defence and penetration testing, information security management, network security, cyber forensics and incident response, as well as secure connectivity.

How hard is cyber security and what skills do I need?

Although not impossible, it is better to have qualifications in cyber security – but you don’t necessarily need to have a technical background. Most people who want to work in a cyber security role have a degree in a field that is related to IT, network engineering, programming, coding and computer science. They often go on to achieve a cyber security certification, such as a BSc or MSc in cyber security.

However, there are also a range of soft skills that are advantageous for those wanting a career in cyber security, including:

  • Having an analytical, problem-solving mind.
  • Attention to detail.
  • An understanding of computer forensics and cyber-crime.
  • Great communication and presentation skills.
  • Technological knowledge across different systems and platforms (a basic working knowledge is sufficient).
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How to get into cyber security without a degree?

If you don’t have a degree, there are alternative ways to achieve a successful career in cyber security. One of the best ways to increase your knowledge and understanding is by studying a cyber security programme and gaining certification.

For example, if you’re interested in cyber security administration or operations, knowing how to configure network systems, secure applications and devices is a good start. Add a qualification that is focused on this area of cyber security, like the CompTIA Security+ Training Course, and the door will open to plenty of jobs.

What certifications do I need for cyber security?

There are a variety of industry-recognised cyber security certifications that are ideal for anyone looking to start a career in cyber security, particularly if you want to get into cyber security without a degree in the UK.

Here are three of the best entry-level qualifications for a career in cyber security.

Certified Cyber Security Foundation Training Course

This is a great cyber security course for beginners that provides a good introduction to cyber security, incident response, legal implications and requirements as well as the cyber threat landscape. It is a fully accredited IBITGQ and Chartered Institute of Information Security (CIISec) course, with an exam to achieve the Foundation Certification.

ISACA CSX Cybersecurity Fundamentals Certificate

ISACA is a leading security industry organisation that has been providing its Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) and Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) certification programmes for many years. A new addition to their courses is the CSX Cybersecurity Fundamentals Certificate which is designed for post-graduates, those who are changing careers or starting out in cyber security. The programme covers five key cyber security-related areas:

  • Architecture principles.
  • Concepts.
  • Network, system, application and data security.
  • Incident response.
  • Security of evolving technology.

There is an exam at the end of the programme which needs to be passed to achieve certification.

(ISC)2 Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP)

Another highly regarded and respected qualification is the (ISC)2 Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification which is the next step up from an entry-level programme. Again, there is an exam at the end of the programme that you will need to pass to attain certification. There are seven cyber security-related areas covered:

  • Access controls.
  • Security operations and administration.
  • Risk identification, monitoring and analysis.
  • Incident response and recovery.
  • Cryptography.
  • Network and communications security.
  • Systems and application security.
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The best programming language for cyber security

The best programming languages for cyber security, which will give you a good understanding and base knowledge for a variety of cyber security roles are:

 C and C++

This programming language is not only the oldest but it also forms a key part of coding. It is a general-purpose, low-level but fast software for writing programmes, and is extensively used in the cyber security landscape. It is favoured by cyber security professionals to run simulations into library and database attack scenarios. Ethical hackers use C and C++ software to reverse engineer an organisation’s software as part of penetration testing exercises.

Python

Although Python is a general-purpose programming language, it is highly versatile for coding because it is object-oriented. Using Python, which can be adapted into different languages, is easy to learn and use, and has benefited machine learning operations.

This programming language is mainly used for building databases and data mining, but is also adopted for high-level script, or learning, languages. Within Python’s library, there is a range of cyber security tools that help create potential cyber threat scenarios quickly and easily, making it an essential programme language for cyber security professionals.

JavaScript

Despite being widely used, it is not the most well-known programming language. That said, it is popular with ethical hackers for preparing Jquery, Angular and React Js. It is favoured by website developers because the software incorporates frameworks for back-end and front-end development.

Ethical hackers and cyber security professionals use Javascript to mimic server and client-side cyber attacks. It also integrates well with adware hacking programmes and cross-site script attempts, with a low level of risk.

PHP

A server-side programming language, it is the most popular among website developers. PHP software is behind 10 million websites worldwide, and 80% of the dominant server languages on the internet. This is the reason why cyber security professionals and ethical hackers use PHP. On the downside, it is also one of the most common languages used by hackers for DoS attacks.

That said, combining PHP with cyber security applications and techniques can improve web application security, thereby reducing the potential of cyber attacks on websites.

SQL

SQL (Structured Query Language) is a domain-specific programming language that is used by cyber security professionals to store and manage an organisation’s databases. It helps improve data-driven applications but a big drawback is that black hat hackers favour SQL to gain unauthorised access to web applications and databases.

That said, the software does incorporate a wide range of cyber security features which will help an organisation to develop effective cyber defences.

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Free online courses for cyber security

There are a variety of comprehensive free online courses for cyber security that provide good foundational skills for anyone wanting to develop a cyber security career. Many of the online courses are aligned with ISACA and (ISC)2 cyber security programmes.

Introduction to Information Security

This course provides an introduction to cyber security and covers security and risk management, asset security architecture and design, IP addresses, network security, identity and access management, as well as cryptography.

Introduction to Cyber Security

A good entry-level course that provides a basic knowledge of today’s security landscape, learn about cyber security tools for managing security protocols and information processing systems.

Ethical Hacking for Beginners

Ideal for those wanting a career in ethical hacking, this course provides a good understanding of the fundamental concepts based around ethical hacking. It also includes training on ethical tools, network access and vulnerabilities as well as the skills needed to beat cyber-criminals.

Introduction to Cloud Security

The course provides a good introduction to cloud security including the risks and weaknesses, cloud storage infrastructure and the skills to identify as well as counter any threats.

Introduction to Cybercrime

Learn the basics of cybercrime and understand the different types of cyber security threats and attacks, as well as the threat landscape for organisations and cyber security awareness.

A career in cyber security is extremely rewarding and can take you around the world. As the demand for cyber security professionals increases, it can lead to good long-term career prospects.

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Frequently asked questions

Do you need a degree for cyber security?

No, not necessarily. If you have a good understanding of programming, coding, IT or computer science, an entry-level cyber security certification will provide you with the knowledge and skills to get into cyber security.

Do you need computer science for cyber security?

Whilst you don’t need a computer science qualification, you do need to have a good understanding and basic knowledge of IT.

Do you need to know coding for cyber security?

You don’t need to know how to code, but having some knowledge of coding languages and the processes can help.

How long does it take to get a cyber security certificate?

It depends on the cyber security course you select. There are some courses that last just a year and others that last up to four years. If you are considering self-study, although you have the flexibility to study at your own convenience, it may take longer to achieve certification.

How much are cyber security courses?

There are a variety of cyber security courses that a free to study and provide you with the basic knowledge and understanding to get started in a cyber security career. Alternatively, industry recognised cyber security courses start from around £250 plus VAT.