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It's Time to Consider a Career in Cybersecurity

There will be an estimated 3.5 million cybersecurity job openings by 2021


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Are you into computers and video games? Solving problems and puzzles? Programming computers or investigating hacks? Then a career in cybersecurity might be for you.

Cybersecurity professionals are needed in organizations of all sizes and industries to keep business networks safe and information protected from attackers. Cybersecurity skills are in short supply and sources report that there will be an estimated 3.5 million cybersecurity job openings by 2021.

To keep businesses operating safely and securely, new IT students, recent graduates and career changers should be encouraged to explore a cyber career and do so knowing there are plenty of pathways to build knowledge, skills and abilities in the field. Kickstarting a new career in cybersecurity may sound intimidating, but it’s more attainable (and exciting) than one might think.

First, a cybersecurity career is more than coding. Many types of skills can go into a variety of job roles from network analyst to penetration tester to digital forensic analyst to ethical hacker to policy maker. In addition to the job availability and rich skill variety, the average starting annual salary for a cybersecurity professional is between $65,000 and75,000.

So, you’re interested and think you have aptitude, but where do you start?  There are some great resources available, including online materials, gamified training environments and cyber competitions that can help kickstart a new cybersecurity career.

Build Knowledge with Online Resources

Digital libraries and virtual machines are great places to start on your cybersecurity learning journey. A digital library is an online repository that houses a diverse collection of cybersecurity learning material, along with a database of materials like videos and reports about all things cyber. A virtual machine (VM) is a software program or operating system that exhibits the behavior of a computer and is capable of performing tasks such as running applications and programs.

From entry-level positions to seasoned cybersecurity professional work, digital libraries help teach cyber concepts while virtual machines allow students to apply concepts to build specific cyber skills, like digital forensics, network analysis, and risk assessment, that are used on the job.

Many educational institutions use a selection of VMs and/or digital libraries to help educate about and teach cyber skills to students. Here are some getting started resources:

  • Clark Cybersecurity Library – a high-quality and readily-accessible digital library that hosts a diverse collection of cybersecurity learning objectives from Intro to Cyber to Adversarial Thinking.
  • Cybrary – this community-based digital library gives practitioners the ability to collaborate and create an ever-growing catalog of online courses and experiential tools to learn offensive, defensive and governance skills.
  • Oracle VM VirtualBox – this powerful virtualization product is for enterprise businesses as well as home personal use.
  • Kali Linux – this is an open source tool used in information security training and penetration testing services.
  • Security Onion – this free tool aids with intrusion detections, enterprise security monitoring and log management.
  • Flare  – a free and open sourced Windows-based program that offers a fully configured platform with a comprehensive collection of Windows security tools.

Practice Skills in Cyber Competitions

Participating in cybersecurity competitions is an effective way to practice cybersecurity skills. There are various competitions that take place all year-long, differentiated by individual versus team formats and the level of experience required.

In these kind of competitions participants work to detect and respond to cyber threats, solve specific challenges and/or come up with innovative cybersecurity strategies during a set amount of time. National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition and  Wicked6 are examples of collegiate competitions while CyberPatriot and National Cyber League include high school students. 

Develop Cyber Competencies with Gamified Training

In addition to digital resources and virtual machines, gamified cyber training is a new and up-and-coming way to prepare for a job in cybersecurity. It’s also suitable for seasoned cyber pros who want to brush up on offensive and defensive strategies.

The hands-on learning approach has been studied by researchers and shown to increase cognitive retention and enhance engagement in learners. The gamified elements of earning badges, ranking on leaderboards, solving challenges and collaborating with teammates to reach the shared objective are components of a program that attract learners to pursue professional development more intentionally and with a sense of enthusiasm.

Industry Standards

Aspiring pros should also ensure their skills are aligned to industry standards. Project Ares follows the NIST (The National Institute of Standards and Technology) NICE framework (The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education) role-based learning paths so training for specific job titles is grounded in credible structure. Many organizations use the framework as a basis for skill assessment and hiring. The NICE framework provides work role knowledge, skills and abilities guidelines through standards and best practices. The framework has been used to design cyber certifications that are value-added skill training notes on candidate’s resumes. 

Pairing engaging learning solutions like gamified training with digital libraries and virtual machines plus participating in cyber competitions will help holistically prepare you to take industry certifications and strengthen your ability to secure a job in the cybersecurity industry. Not only are these resources easily accessible but they provide a fun, approachable way to learn the skills needed for the profession and help prepare you for an exciting career in cybersecurity.

Leeann Ryder is the director of product marketing at Colorado-based Circadence, a cybersecurity readiness and learning company.  She has experience in the technology field supporting customers around the world to improve operational decision making based on patterns and insights in big data through solutions in video security, emergency management operations and cyber threat intelligence.

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