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7 Skills You Need to Succeed
as an Information Security Professional
Cybercrime is a costly phenomenon adversely affecting businesses, governments, organisations and individuals around the world. Preventative protection against these crimes requires a well-planned and carefully executed information security strategy. Developing such a strategy is now critically important for any person, business or organisation conducting business via the internet.
As a result, cybersecurity professionals are in demand all over the world.
Information security is a vast and complex topic with many facets. There is much to learn - and the more you know, the better. However, the good news is that you don’t have to learn everything there is to know as it is possible to specialise in one aspect of information security. If this is your chosen career path, you can choose whether you want to develop depth or breadth of expertise.
In either case, the following skills are all worth acquiring if this is how you want to earn your living:
1. Broad Knowledge of IT and Network Architecture
You must understand how network infrastructure works before you can have any hope of learning how to keep it secure. It’s therefore useful for the cybersecurity professional to have a thorough understanding of system architecture and networking.
2. Coding and Scripting Skills
Coding skills are essential for some information security specialisations but not as central to others. Coding isn’t necessarily the most important skill that an information security professional needs; however, it is important for the information security professional to have an understanding of viable, secure code: what it looks like, how it performs and what it accomplishes. Learning to code is the most straightforward way to obtain this understanding.
The highest priority coding languages to learn include Python, C / C++, Assembly (ASM) and SQL. The vast majority of Malware is coded in C or C++; so if your future job description will include malware analysis or reverse engineering, an in-depth understanding of C / C++ will be useful to you.
Most information security professionals need solid scripting skills for a variety of purposes including querying databases and collecting useful data. It can be beneficial to master the use of tools like PowerShell and BASH to facilitate various types of information security tasks.
3. Access Control Management Skills
It is possible for a company’s own employees to either commit cybercrimes or enable others outside the company to commit them. For this reason, employees should only be trusted with the bare minimum levels of access to the company’s data that is necessary for them to do their job.
Mapping out a system for access control management requires careful thought, planning and implementation. Someone within the company needs to make the decisions about who gets access to what data – and then the information security team must implement the decisions by only allowing employees access to the data they truly need. The system also needs some flexibility to allow for changes as individuals get promoted or reassigned to other jobs within the organisation.
4. Hardening and Analysis
System hardening is a process designed to decrease vulnerabilities to data breaches or other cyber attacks. Hardening a system involves identifying unnecessary or vulnerable features of the system and either removing them or fixing the vulnerabilities.
For example, perhaps an analysis might reveal that employees have installed software they aren’t regularly using. In that case, the information security professional may recommend uninstalling the software. This would eliminate the possibility that hackers could exploit vulnerabilities in the unused software and gain access to the company’s data via the vulnerabilities.
To undertake a thorough system hardening, the information security professional must have the ability to understand how to implement the most secure settings. This may involve reading config files, analysing code, working with routers, studying network traffic patterns and many other such details. There’s also a significant amount of mundane work in this category that includes conducting software updates, deploying patches and endlessly testing, testing, testing.
5. Penetration Testing
To conduct a penetration test, the information security professional simulates a cyber-attack against the organisation’s computer systems, application systems or firewall in an attempt to discover any exploitable vulnerabilities that may be present.
To excel at this aspect of the job, an information security professional must have a working knowledge of hacking techniques including backdoor attacks and SQL injection attacks.
6. Malware Analysis and Reverse Engineering
Malware reverse engineering is one of the highest demand specialisations in information security. It’s challenging work.
There could be many reasons you might want to reverse engineer a piece of malware. Typically, you won’t have access to its source code. That means reverse engineering it may be the most efficient way to figure out precisely what the malware does and what sort of damage might result from it. Sometimes you might want to use it to discover exploitable vulnerabilities in your organisation’s operating systems or applications. Sometimes you might be interested in discovering the origin of the malware.
To be successful at reverse engineering, you’ll likely have to be well versed in whichever assembly language code is being used by your chosen platform. The process also requires a working knowledge of many available tools that could include Wireshark, IDA Pro, SysInternals Suite, Tripwire, SoftIce, Ollydbg or others.
There are a variety of different techniques an information security professional can use for reverse engineering malware.These include static analysis, dynamic analysis, automated analysis and manual analysis.
7. Ability to Work with the System Administrators and Other Stakeholders to Coordinate Information Security Activities
An information security professional must be an adept communicator and a team player. This is because working with others is an integral part of the job description.
Security is a shared duty, and the entire team must take responsibility for protecting the company’s assets. The information security professional will need to be especially proactive about communicating security essentials to those on the team who may be less knowledgeable about best practices. The security professional must also take care to work with others rather than at odds with them.
How to Obtain These Skills
There are many ways to obtain the knowledge you’ll need for becoming an information security professional – but to actually master the relevant skills, you will need to spend some time practicing and experimenting with what you’ve learned. There is no substitute for hands-on experience. The following are some of the varying ways cybersecurity professionals learn the skills they need:
VET Training or a Bachelor’s Degree in IT
Before you have the knowledge or capability necessary to assume responsibility for information security, you must have a solid background in IT. Therefore, to get started, one of the most straightforward first steps could be to obtain formal training in IT.
Cybersecurity certifications are credentials that are issued by organisations rather than academic institutions. Some certification programs are created by trade associations, industry organisations or technology companies.
Otherwise, certifications are much like degree programs; most require the certification candidate to successfully pass one or more exams before the certification will be issued. However, unlike academic degree programs, many certifying organisations require that certificate holders must keep their certifications up to date by earning continuing education credits.
If you already hold a degree or similar qualification in ICT, cybersecurity certifications would most likely be useful to you. If you do not have any ICT knowledge or work experience at all, you will probably need to work on acquiring this foundational knowledge before cybersecurity certifications will be of any use to you.
Cybersecurity Degree Programs
Cybersecurity analysis is a relatively new career path. In response to the growing demand for information security professionals, increasing numbers of universities have been offering information security degree programs, both at the undergraduate and postgraduate level.
These can either be extremely worthwhile, or they can be a waste of time, depending on the instructors and the included coursework. Some degree programs consist of material that is mostly rehashed from a university’s other course offerings, whereas some programs are more carefully considered.
Another possible pitfall is that individuals who are qualified to teach information security can typically earn more by working as an information security analyst than they would earn as a university instructor. Therefore, it can be challenging for universities to find qualified instructors for this type of course.
Before enrolling in a degree program, it’s beneficial for prospective students to ask questions pertaining to how the instructors acquired their expertise in the field. If the instructors from a given course are truly information security experts, that course is likely to be well worth the time and investment required for successful completion.
Information security is a career path where it’s vital to learn by doing. Reading, listening to podcasts and taking classes can all be helpful learning methods – but these activities will only provide the foundational knowledge. To actually acquire the necessary expertise, one has to take the knowledge learned and apply it.
This is one reason why it is extremely beneficial to look for a cybersecurity degree program that provides students with the opportunity to undertake a capstone project. The capstone project ensures that knowledge from the course material must be successfully applied to arrive at a viable solution to a real-world information security problem. This can help to ensure that the graduate has an actual ability to provide information security, rather than just a theoretical knowledge of the topic.
Bug Bounty Programs
Bug bounty programs offer aspiring cybersecurity professionals a hands-on way to gain experience and to possibly also get paid for the work they do. In western countries, the pay is not typically considered good,so the opportunity is best viewed as a way to prove you have the ability to work in this field.
There are usually numerous bug bounty programs on offer at any given time. One of the most famous is the one offered by the United States Department of Defense. There are many others.
Cybersecurity Apprenticeships and Traineeships
It is sometimes possible to secure cybersecurity apprenticeships in the UK or traineeships in Australia. Each apprenticeship or traineeship is different, but many of them involve paid training for the apprentice or trainee. In England, the apprenticeship might also result in the acquisition of a diploma or similar qualification. In Australia, the traineeship may also result in acquisition of a VET qualification or other certificate in cybersecurity.
ICT and Cybersecurity Books
ICT and cybersecurity books can help you understand many aspects of network architecture and information security. Books are useful for learning about the history, processes and technologies behind information security.
There are numerous cybersecurity podcasts that can provide interesting insights about the latest technology, legal developments and trends in information security. These could potentially be a useful supplement to other methods of learning and upskilling – especially in cases where one has acquired university credentials, but they are long out-of-date.
The above seven skills are amongst the most important data skills a worker could possess. There are many ways to acquire these skills. Making the effort and investment in doing so is likely to result in many positive benefits including greater employability, high earning potential, job security and an abundance of satisfying and rewarding job opportunities.
About the Author
Andrej is an entrepreneur, a digital marketer and an avid internet technologist. Throughout his career, Andrej has combined his passion for cutting-edge technology with a keen eye for emerging industry trends to deliver customised marketing solutions to businesses and clients around the globe.
He believes that the key to modern marketing excellence is a constant willingness to learn and adapt to the ever-changing digital world.