Cyber security is one of the hottest topics in high technology these days. Given controversies over our election systems and alleged foreign hacking operations, it's even spilled over into the mainstream news. This field is one that combines the dramatic thrills of thwarting cyber-attacks with the analytical rigor of writing computer code, auditing network logs, and designing entire security networks. This field is highly demanding and equally as rewarding. Not only will your paychecks gratify, but so will your personal satisfaction.
What is a Cyber Security Architect?
A cyber security architect is an information security (InfoSec) professional who is responsible for designing, building, and applying an organization's high tech security systems. They are not unlike a typical architect who creates plans for a building and then sees the project through to completion. InfoSec architects may also remain on the job to perform upgrades when needed.
Steps to Become a Cyber Security Architect:
The cyber security job market is on fire but, before you dive in, the first step to becoming a cyber security architect is to determine if this is the field for you. Cyber security is a highly technical field that involves a multitude of hard, technical skills on top of softer skills like communication and general savvy. You'll first want to make sure you have the technical skills, which are the most difficult to cultivate.
Many cyber security professionals start out with an inherent love of puzzles, math, and computers. If you are self-teaching yourself how to program and you have strong grades in your math and science courses, then you may be on your way to success as a cyber security architect. You will also need to have a passion for solving problems and an intense attention to detail that leaves no byte of code unexamined.
Once you've determined that cyber security is the path for you, you'll need to dive into the subject. The next step is to become more knowledgeable about the subject. You can start by picking up books on ethical hacking, computer programming, or other subjects related to cyber security. There are also loads of blogs and other informal online resources that you may find informative.
You should also consider formal training that results in a degree or a professional security certification. A degree is probably preferred since academic credentials are always held in high esteem. If you are in a hurry, you can seek out a two-year associate degree in cyber security. If you are staying local but your community college doesn't offer degrees in InfoSec, see if they offer a degrees in information technology or computer science.
You can also look for certifications online and elsewhere. There are schools and institutes that are dedicated to teaching high tech courses and many of them are geared towards a certification. When you choose this route, you can achieve a laser-like focus on the subjects that most interest you. More than completing a college course, you can end up with verifiable credentials that attest to your knowledge of, say, penetration testing or malware extrusion.
Before you pursue a bachelor’s degree in cyber security or computer science, you should seek out a program that is fully accredited. While a regional accreditation from a CHEA-approved organization is sufficient, you should look for a program with either ABET or CAE credentials. ABET is an organization that accredits STEM programs, especially engineering schools. However, they also evaluate and accredit computer science, cyber security, and information technology departments.
CAE, on the other hand, is a credential that is solely focused on cyber security. The CAE was founded by a joint effort between the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. Their goal is to develop high-quality cyber security professionals who can help protect our nation's interests in light of increasing cyber-attacks. CAE approves cyber security degree programs including associate's degrees, bachelor’s degree programs, and master’s degree programs.
As you pursue certifications or a college degree in cyber security, you should consider an internship or other professional experience. For full-time students, an internship probably makes more sense. There are cyber security internships available through many large corporations, but you may also find a cyber security internship with a consulting firm or smaller business. Perhaps best of all are the internship programs and fellowships available with federal law enforcement agencies.
If you are engaged with a less-formal, non-academic education, you may also be able to land an internship, but they may be less available to you. However, you can start working in an IT department alongside security analysts and other IT professionals who may soon serve as mentors. In fact, if you can verify your abilities, you might be able to work as a temporary worker and then spend short stints with a variety of IT environments. If you contain your expenses you may be able to take time off between each assignment and earn new credentials.
What Does a Cyber Security Architect Do?
A cyber security architect oversees the design, construction, and implementation of a firm's cyber security solutions. They typically work in an office along with their firm's other information technology (IT) professionals. When a cyber security architect first begins their project, they make a security assessment of the firm's databases, networks, hardware solutions, and more. They then determine what intellectual and other digital assets are the top priority for the firm. They also need to know what people should and should not have access to those data files.
InfoSec architects use their knowledge of the firm's hierarchy to assign levels of security. They also are in charge of deciding what hardware and software solutions are required for the security system. These products are then customized to suit the firm's best interests.
Architects must also stay in close communication with the principal players in their firm. They need to create reports to detail how their activities relate to overall risk management issues. They also need to work with the staff to help them create and protect secure passwords. Cyber security architects may also need to design training sessions for employees so that they understand and implement the security protocols.
Cyber Security Architect Skills to Acquire
This is a vital part of any cyber security system and all security architects should understand how to implement cryptography into their systems. This skill involves encoding messages and databases so that they cannot be deciphered even if they are intercepted.
- Operating Systems:
In order to make yourself as marketable as possible, you should have demonstrated competency with Linux, Windows, and even UNIX. These operating systems are the standard for most organizations. You may also need to know MacOS since Apple's products are increasingly seen in corporate America.
- Project Management:
Any architect, regardless of their medium, must be a good project manager. As a cyber security architect, you'll need to coordinate a cyber security team who will be charged with rolling out and implementing your InfoSec design. Your role as project manager may even be more important than your technical skill.
- Vulnerability Assessment:
This is a valuable skill that you will probably rely on regularly. Before you begin your InfoSec design, you will need to perform a security assessment to determine your system's vulnerability. This can be done with penetration testing and may require that you hire a security consultant to act as a white hat hacker. Once your system is in place you will need to continually test its vulnerability. After all, black hat hackers will certainly be looking for vulnerabilities in your network.
There are many ways to forge a career path that are available to aspiring cyber security professionals. While the traditional route of a bachelor's degree, internships, and the eventual master’s degree in cyber security is valid and highly esteemed, you can pave your own way to success.
Since there is such a high demand for skilled cyber security professionals, you can start by teaching yourself from a book. If you are diligent and determined you can learn a lot from books, websites, and videos. There are also learning opportunities from online education outlets such as A Cloud Guru, Linux Academy, EdX, and Coursera, to name a few. The classes there are sure to be low cost, sometimes free, and often are designed to help you pass a professional certification exam. Other classes will confer a certificate of completion once you meet their requirements.
These non-academic credentials will bolster your resume and are sure to impress hiring managers. Once you use your new knowledge and skills to land an entry-level job, you are sure to be able to work your way up. Along the way, you should be sure to continue learning. In fact, certain certifications will require you to take continuing education courses to maintain your credentials. Those courses will keep your knowledge of malware, viruses, and other cyber-threats that are current and vital. Before long, you'll be designing entire information security systems as the leading cyber security architect or in another senior-level position.
Cyber Security Architect Career & Salary
Where Might You Work?
Cyber security architects are found employed by a variety of organizations. Your career path might include a role with a government agency including federal law enforcement, local government, or a state government agency. There are also loads of opportunities available in the private sector. Large Silicon Valley companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Cisco Systems, Apple Computer, and Google are sure to be looking to expand their cyber security efforts. There are also innumerable smaller tech companies who are looking for candidates with your skill set. Beyond that, you may find a full-time job with any sort of company including restaurateurs, drug makers, financial institutions, and insurance companies.
There are also cyber security consulting firms that need professionals to fill their clients' cyber security needs. In fact, if you have enough experience and solid credentials, you can start your own consulting business. To start, you might begin designing cyber security systems for small companies. Make sure that every new client offers a new challenge so that your list of accomplishments continues to grow.
If you work as a security consultant, you may be asked to do a great deal of travel. Some consultants spend all week in foreign countries or several time zones from their families. Each client is unique, however, and you may be able to work remotely for much of the project.
When it comes to a career outlook, few occupations rival that of information security analysts. The near ubiquity of computer networks and databases has proved to be tempting to cyber-criminals, who are constantly designing new cyber-attacks. With so much on the line, employers are eager to pay top dollar for top cyber security skills. In fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the median salary for information security analysts is over $99,000. Other sources show that the range goes up to $156,000, before bonuses and other non-salary compensation.
Not only do cyber security analysts and architects earn healthy salaries, the field is growing by leaps and bounds. In fact, the BLS projects a lot of growth in this sector. The years between 2019-29 are projected to show 31% growth in the field, which they characterize as much faster than average. When you compare this employment sector to others, you'll see that you can convert your skills into success far faster when you work in cyber security.
As the cyber security sector grows and matures, so do the number and type of jobs. The sector is becoming increasingly specialized. It's also becoming quite exciting and engaging. This means that if you are entering the cyber security world now, you can enter on the virtual ground floor of a bustling field. There are many long-time professionals who can serve as mentors, but you'll still be charged with building out this employment sector for future generations.
Associate Security Consultant:
The pay range for this position starts at $74,000 and caps at $154,000. You'll need to perform incident response, conduct forensic investigations, and conduct penetration testing. This position does not list formal education as a requirement, so those with proven skills are welcome to apply.
Network Technology Internship:
This is a paid internship that pays up to $32 per hour. You'll need to be enrolled in a bachelor's degree, master's degree, or MBA program that includes a concentration in computer science, statistics, information technology, or project management, among other relevant fields.
Cyber Security Risk Analyst:
If your long-term goal is to work as a cyber security architect, you'll need to master this position. The employer requires a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field. To excel and land the job, you should have a mastery of cryptography, application development, penetration testing, and solutions design, among other things.
Information Security Engineer:
Though a job description for this position may not use the specific term architect, the position does require that you be able to design security systems. You'll need to master cryptography and a swath of security technologies. Employers may also require one of the following certifications: CISSP, CCNP-Security, GIAC, CEH, or CPTS.
Find Cyber Security Architect Jobs Near You
Advancing from Here
From here, you can advance quite far indeed. Some take positions such as Security Administrator, Security Manager, Chief Information Security Officer, or Chief Security Officer. As your security career develops and you maintain your security certification, your job description will become all the more impressive.
At some point, you may wish to return to school for an MBA. Look for programs that not only offer a concentration in computer science or something related to the security field, but which include risk management in their curriculum. You can even seek a dual MBA and rocket into an upper management position in no time.
Computer Career Paths