Information security analysts use their ingenuity and strong analytical skills to protect one of a company’s most important assets: electronic data. For people who find that idea intriguing, learning how to become an information security analyst can send them on a path that is likely to be challenging, rewarding, and ever-evolving. Technology is constantly improving and changing, making the position among the most fascinating jobs in the information technology world. Ultimately, the work performed enables a company to conduct business in a safe, efficient manner.
What is an Information Security Analyst?
An information security analyst oversees an organization’s computer networks and systems. They use analytical skills to identify flaws in a company’s digital security system, which helps keep its sensitive and proprietary information secure. They also use this mined data to recommend various network security and efficiency strategies. In the event of a system breach, an information security analyst leads company efforts to counter such entry and prevent one from occurring again. These efforts can either thwart a breach or minimize the damage it causes.
It is a given that technology is constantly changing. This includes the hardware and software needed for data transmission, storage, analysis, encryption, and beyond. The effectiveness of an information security analyst depends largely on keeping up-to-date with both current and emerging security systems and cyber attack strategies. Although these methodologies fluctuate, the underlying mission of keeping a company’s vital information safe remains constant.
Steps to Becoming an Information Security Analyst
Pursuing a career as an information security analyst may be attractive to anyone who has always had an intense interest in learning how things work, to the point of taking gizmos and computers apart and putting them back together. While this could be the spark that eventually ignites an interest in a technology career, the typical journey to become an information security analyst is one that’s built on a combination of focused education and experience.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
Most positions for information security analysts require a bachelor’s degree in a computer- or technology-related field. These undergraduate degrees can stem from generalized programs such as computer science or programming, or they can be linked to programs pointed toward the security elements of the computer world, such as a Bachelor’s of Science in Cyber Security.
Those who wish to take a deeper dive into computer-based security on an undergraduate level may want to pursue a degree like a Bachelor’s of Science in Management Information Systems. This type of education can help students apply their developing computer security skills in a business management context — a role that goes beyond the realm of spotting a bug or virus or learning the latest computer security techniques.
A Bachelor’s of Science in Management Information Systems is intended to prepare students to properly design, develop, implement, and oversee a company’s computer security system, all within the confines of a typical modern business. The curriculum typically provides up-to-date knowledge about various IT-related systems and trends, exposing students to knowledge that is used by professionals who are already working in the industry.
The knowledge and skill set honed by attaining a Bachelor’s of Science in Management Information Systems degree can also prepare students to handle other critical computer-related issues. For instance, the degree program can help teach an information security analyst the basics of how to create, analyze, and execute a data disaster recovery plan. The tasks involved can include transferring data to an off-site venue, restarting an entire IT system, and restoring its integrity in the aftermath of a catastrophe.
Step 2: Gain On-the-Job Experience
While a degree may help students stand out in the job market, it is recommended that potential candidates add experience to their résumé. Typically, an intermediate-level security analyst position requires several years of experience in information security, although some employers may accept experience gained in a computer-related field. This type of on-the-job experience demonstrates to potential employers that candidates know how to apply their knowledge in real-world situations, which makes hiring the candidate more viable.
As is the case with most careers in the technology industry, a key element of on-the-job experience is focused on staying abreast of newly emerging technologies and methods in cyber security. These advances can range from state-of-the-art firewall systems, to new strategies built around incident responses. Being cognizant of these advances can enable information security analysts to gain practical experience in staying one step ahead of potential cyber breaches.
Step 3: Attain Certifications and Training (Optional)
In addition to keeping current with cyber safety issues, it’s equally important to keep abreast of the latest developments on the other side of the equation, i.e., the cyber attack side. Malevolent attempts to penetrate computer networks and systems, such as malware implementation and denial of service (DoS) attacks, are constantly taking on new appearances. It’s up to information security analysts to be up to the task for taking on these new versions and variants.
One of the best ways for information system analysts to keep up with the constantly changing face of cyber security is to pursue certifications. Some employers require that job candidates — and even current employees — possess specialized technology certifications, as these provide further validation of a candidate’s skill set and core competencies.
Some credentials, such as Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), reflect knowledge in general information security. However, there are other specialized certifications that indicate that a professional has deeper knowledge of a specific aspect of cyber security. For instance, a Certified Reverse Engineering Analyst certification emphasizes skills related to malware analysis, while a Certified Ethical Hacker credential demonstrates the capacity to lawfully hack into a network’s security system to expose flaws.
Some of the credentials graduates may be interested in pursuing feature prerequisites. To be eligible to apply for CISSP certification, candidates must have at least five years of experience in two or more of CISSP’s eight domains, such as asset security, identity and access management (IAM), or communication and network security. To apply for an initial Certified Ethical Hacker certification, candidates must either have at least two years experience in an information security domain or have attended an officially sanctioned training course.
Step 4: Pursue an MS in Cyber Security for Advancement (Optional)
Although it does take years of on-the-job experience to work up to becoming an information security analyst, it may be faster with an advanced degree like a Master’s in Cyber Security. A program such as this typically merges academic coursework with practical work experience in a business environment. This experience component not only helps refine skills associated with cyber security, but also helps to gain insight into the business side of the profession. Exposure may include real-world case studies and analysis of the legal ramifications of the profession.
An advanced curriculum in cyber security also usually helps strengthen skills relevant to adjacent subject areas, such as computer engineering and business. This can provide a more well-rounded and holistic approach to the information security analyst position, which, along with relevant work experience, may help graduates be considered for higher level positions or advancement.
Skills an Information Security Analyst Needs
An information security analyst must have several key qualities to be effective. As the job title suggests, strong analytical skills are key, as is in-depth knowledge of computer networks and digital systems. This is needed for assessing the effectiveness of security measures and spotting flaws that could lead to breaches. Information security analysts must also have excellent troubleshooting and problem-solving skills, as they may need to fix any issues they uncover.
Successful information security analysts are detail-oriented individuals who can spot slight changes in a system’s performance that may indicate a security breach, unauthorized software or malware. Having the skill to catch and correctly diagnose system “hiccups” could prevent something much larger and more severe down the road.
Finally, information security analysts should possess ingenuity that enables them to solve technical problems with creative methods and thinking. It’s important to be proactive, too, in anticipating information security risks and implementing new protection strategies before attacks occur. This vigilant approach can help catch a cyber attack before it has a chance to start.
Information Security Analyst Salary and Job Outlook
There is potential for an information security analyst to make a good income. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 2017 median salary for the position is roughly $95,500 per year. The precise salary graduates can achieve in this career path is dependent on a few factors, such as years of experience and job location. The BLS also projects it to be a rapidly expanding field, with job growth expected to be 28 percent by 2026 — much faster than the average for all other occupations. One of the primary reasons for this growth is the fact that cyber attacks are anticipated to be an increasing issue as we become a more automated business society and rely more on digital technologies.
Start Your Journey as an Information Security Analyst Today
Those who are interested in how to become an information security analyst and are willing to pursue the necessary steps to get there may find they are entering a robust field. This role has become much more crucial in recent years thanks to the growing importance of electronic business data and the need to keep it secure. Visit Maryville University’s online Bachelor’s of Science in Management Information Systems program to learn more about how this degree can lead to one of the most intriguing and vital careers in business.