Cybersecurity Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) (2023)



Cybersecurity Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Answers to the most frequently asked questions about a career in cybersecurity

Cybersecurity Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) (1)

Cybersecurity refers to the practice of protecting computers from attacks or unauthorized access. This involves preventing hackers from accessing data or systems, detecting malicious activities, and responding appropriately. Here you'll find some common questions about careers in cybersecurity.

General questions

You've probably heard of cybersecurity analysts before. They're the ones who monitor cyber threats and report them to companies or government agencies. What exactly does a cybersecurity analyst do?

Your daily tasks in an entry-level role will depend on the company you’re working for. Generally, day-to-day tasks might include:

  • Monitoring a SIEM tool for anomalies
  • Responding to alerts and escalating where appropriate
  • Checking for proper firewall configuration
  • Basic penetration testing
  • Preparing security incident reports
  • Researching new threats and attack methods
  • Automating repetitive security tasks

Read more: How to Become an Information Security Analyst

Cybersecurity involves several technical skills, and the fast-paced work environment can be challenging. Having said that, it’s completely possible to gain the required knowledge and learn the right skills with some time and dedication.

Set aside a little time for your cybersecurity learning each day, and consider setting up your own virtual environment to practice those skills.

Read more: 15 Essential Skills for Cybersecurity Analysts

Cybersecurity as a field typically has more open jobs than there are qualified candidates to fill them. There are over half a million cybersecurity job openings in the US at the time of writing, according to Cyber Seek [2]. These jobs also tend to be well-paid. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median salary of $102,600 for information security analysts in the US [3].

Read more: 5 Cybersecurity Career Paths (and How to Get Started)

Most cybersecurity analysts work full time, but they don’t always work typical 9-to-5 hours. Since cyber attacks can happen at any time, come organizations and security companies keep security analysts on-call outside of typical business hours. If you’re looking for a job with the flexibility to work evenings or weekend hours, cybersecurity could be a good fit.

Read more: 10 Remote Work-From-Home Jobs that Pay Well

Cybersecurity skills FAQ

With the rise of new technologies such as IoT (Internet of Things), cloud computing, big data analytics, mobile devices, social media, and artificial intelligence, cybersecurity professionals are needed more than ever before. If you want to get into cybersecurity, you'll need to develop several skills.

The skills, practices, and technologies you’ll use as a cybersecurity professional will continue to evolve along with computer and network technology. The desire to learn, ability to problem solve, and attention to detail will serve you well in this field. Other, more technical skills and technologies to learn include:

  • SIEM tools (security information and event management)
  • Firewalls, Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS), and Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS)
  • Digital forensics
  • Mobile device management
  • Data management
  • Application security development
  • Audit and compliance knowledge‎

Effective cybersecurity professionals often leverage workplace skills like communication, collaboration, risk management, adaptability, and critical thinking on the job.‎

No, cybersecurity does not require a lot of math. But it is considered a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concentration, and familiarity with math will certainly get you farther as you move forward in your career.

Security professionals often calculate risk, which involves using math, statistics, and logic. Writing and understanding software code also requires some basic math. Finally, cryptography is the science of codes and encryption, and a part of cybersecurity, in which knowledge of math can help decipher and create algorithms for automated reasoning and data processing.

Read more: Is Cybersecurity Hard to Learn? 9 Tips for Success

Many entry-level cybersecurity roles do not require programming skills, but it is an important skill for mid- and senior-level cybersecurity jobs.

Read more: What Programming Language Should I Learn?

Cybersecurity degrees and certifications FAQ

Are you looking for cybersecurity training or certification? The demand for cybersecurity professionals has never been higher. If you want to get into the field, now is the time to start preparing with a cybersecurity degree or credential.

Expert tip on choosing a cybersecurity certification

Narrowing your certification options based on your current job can be helpful, but you might also consider thinking more broadly about your future and what certifications could support your long-term goals across a variety of industries.

"Stop limiting which certification you're going after because, in this industry, you have the ability to navigate it. The opportunity is everywhere, and it's with almost every type of organization and every industry," said Steve Graham, Senior Vice President Head of Product at EC-Council, during Coursera's virtual panel, "How can online learning accelerate cybersecurity careers and talent?"

Cybersecurity Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) (2)

As you begin a career in cybersecurity, you’ll find a variety of different roles and specializations to pursue. Earning a degree in cybersecurity could be a step toward career opportunities like:

  • Penetration tester or ethical hacker
  • Information security analyst
  • Security architect
  • Security engineer
  • Incident responder
  • IT auditor
  • Security software developer
  • Digital forensic analyst
  • Cryptographer
  • Cyber crime investigator
  • Network administrator

A bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity typically takes four years of full-time study to complete. A master’s degree involves another two years of full-time study, though some universities offer accelerated or part-time programs that may take shorter or longer to complete.‎

Cybersecurity degree programs tend to have fewer higher-level math and science requirements than computer science and other STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) degrees. This means that you might not have to take classes like calculus and chemistry, often considered among the most challenging for college students. While some courses require labs, these are generally not research-based.

On the other hand, you can expect courses to get increasingly challenging as you move through a cybersecurity program. The material can also be quite technical and challenging to read.‎

If you're just starting out in cybersecurity, consider the IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate to build foundational skills and get hands-on experience with cybersecurity analyst tools. Once you've established familiarity with cybersecurity technology and best practices, the CompTIA Security + is considered among the best entry-level, vendor-neutral credentials.‎

The length of time you’ll need to prepare for a certification exam will depend on what you already know and what you’ll need to learn. Preparing could take anywhere from a week to several months (assuming you meet the work prerequisites).‎

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Penetration testing and ethical hacking FAQ

Penetration testing is a method of evaluating the security posture of a system or network. This involves identifying vulnerabilities and weaknesses within a computer network. The goal is to identify potential threats and prevent them from being exploited. Ethical Hacking is the practice of using computer security tools to test network security systems and identify vulnerabilities. These professionals are trained to perform penetration tests or scan networks for weaknesses.

You don’t necessarily need a related degree to work in penetration testing. Earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer science, cybersecurity, or information security could make you a more competitive candidate.‎

While no two career paths are the same, it’s possible to transition into a pen testing role after gaining one to four years of work experience in IT and information security. ‎

The goal of ethical hacking is to test and protect the security and information systems of the organization an ethical hacker is working for. This type of hacking is also known as “penetration testing” because the white hat hacker, or ethical hacker, tests the system to see if there are any areas to breach or exploit. This allows the organization to ensure its systems are up to date and secure so that its weaknesses aren’t taken advantage of by illegal hackers.‎

Ethical hackers help organizations improve their security by breaching computer systems and networks to find vulnerabilities before cybercriminals exploit them.‎

Working as an ethical hacker can mean abundant job opportunities and high salaries with the right skill set. It’s also a role where you can constantly challenge yourself and develop new skills. Knowing that your work keeps people’s data secure can be rewarding in its own way.‎

As the cost and severity of cyber attacks continue to rise, so too does the demand for cybersecurity professionals with the skills to help defend organizations. This includes ethical hackers. In fact, both the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) certifications rank among the 10 cybersecurity certifications that appear most frequently on job descriptions.‎

Before aiming to become an ethical hacker, work towards proficiency in database handling, networking, and operating systems. Communication and a creative mind are also required in ethical hacking roles. Not only will you need to solve problems quickly and with confidence, but you’ll also be required to predict an illegal hacker’s next move.‎

Ethical hackers in the US make an average total salary of $105,298, according to October 2022 data from Glassdoor.‎

Ethical hacking jobs cover a broad range of roles including those in cybersecurity and information analysis. When you study as an ethical hacker, you could get hired as a security consultant at a networking, technology, or computing firm, work as a penetration tester, become an information security analyst or manager, or work as an independent certified ethical hacker contractor. Job duties may include tasks such as locating and anticipating various attacks to a network, guessing and cracking passwords, and exploiting vulnerabilities. Ethical hackers in the US make an average total salary of $105,298, according to October 2022 data from Glassdoor.‎

Security engineering FAQ

Security engineering is the practice of designing secure systems. This involves identifying risks and vulnerabilities, developing countermeasures, and testing them. The goal is to ensure that the system is safe from attack or misuse.

About 64 percent of online job listings for security engineers request a bachelor’s degree, according to Cyberseek. Another 22 percent of listings request a master’s degree [4]. While a bachelor’s degree is the most common entry-level qualification, it is possible to have a successful career as a security engineer without one, so long as you have the right skills. Common majors for cybersecurity professionals include computer science, cybersecurity, or information technology.‎

Security engineers in the US can make a median base salary of $91,796, according to Glassdoor. Additional pay such as cash bonuses, commission, tips, and profit sharing adds up on average to $37,395 for a total average annual pay in the US of $129,191.‎

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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