How to Become an Information Security Analyst – A Complete Career Guide
In our current technological moment, data is increasingly becoming one of the most valuable commodities on the market. And as bad actors continue to pose a threat to protected, delicate information, companies and organizations across industries are looking to trained professionals as their first line of defense.
At the intersection of data analysis and data protection is a position that is growing both in significance and demand: the information security analyst. As organizations in practically every sector and industry continue to realize the importance of data security measures, the need for trained, qualified, and motivated information security professionals will only continue to grow.
- What Is an Information Security Analyst?
- What Does an Information Security Analyst Do?
- How to Become an Information Security Analyst
- Information Security Analyst Job Description
- Information Security Analyst Skills
- Information Security Analyst Salary
- Information Security Analyst Career Path
- Join the Frontlines of Information Security
What Is an Information Security Analyst?
Information security analysts are responsible for protecting vulnerable data in a variety of ways. Through proactive software solutions that they implement or create, analysts must work with other cybersecurity and data protection professionals to ensure that computer systems, servers, and networks stay safe. An information security analyst typically works on a team of engineers, programmers, and/or data science professionals to create important security protocols in the event of a hack, breach, or leak.
What Does an Information Security Analyst Do?
To provide the safety and protection that organizations, governmental agencies, and private companies need, analysts take on many responsibilities. While some of their tasks involve high-level, long-term projects, many day-to-day activities carry just as much importance in the context of data and information security. These responsibilities include:
Create and Contribute to Overarching Security Frameworks
One of the hallmark responsibilities for an information security analyst is the creation and / or implementation of security software. This kind of expectation will vary depending on the position, level of experience, size of the team, and organization. In other words, while some analysts will be required to work with teams to write entirely new programs that work to safeguard sensitive data, others will be required to find innovative software that provides security services.
Maintain Network Security
Information security analysts are also responsible for ensuring that networks and servers remain up-to-date as far as protection goes. To this end, analysts across industries and organizations must observe how incoming data or information is safely received. Breaches and hacks often occur in the transmission of information, which is why it’s so important for networks to remain secure in these capacities. In addition to monitoring incoming and outgoing activity, analysts must also identify malicious or otherwise destabilizing schemes in order to both report them and respond to them appropriately.
Build Proactive Security Protocols
When malicious activity is suspected or in the event of a data breach, hack, or leak, it’s necessary for organizations to be ready with effective security protocols. Information security analysts are instrumental in forming these plans, as they will have a direct impact on how an organization focuses its security measures and, in worst case scenarios, conducts reactive damage control. By preparing for attacks of all sizes and kinds, analysts can successfully intervene and ultimately keep organizational data safeguarded.
Monitor New Trends in the Field
Bad actors and hackers are constantly developing new penetration methods. As the first line of defense, analysts must continually learn how new programs and methods are used in the field to protect sensitive data, networks, and systems. As new technologies are introduced to the field of cybersecurity and data science, information security analysts must learn to adapt to the different practices that attackers adopt to infect servers and frameworks and steal delicate information.
Report Security Activity to Non-Technical Audiences
One of the most important responsibilities that analysts must navigate is detailing the specifics of an attack or breach to non-technical audiences. While analysts must work from a highly technical knowledge base to create security systems that protect proprietary data and information, they must also be able to report their findings to team members and managers who may lack that same technical experience. In this capacity, information security analysts are able to be solution-oriented and carefully direct in the ways that they deliver their security reporting.
How to Become an Information Security Analyst
There are several ways to enter the field of information security, and there isn’t a singular, individual path that interested candidates must take to get into the industry. At the same time that there are different avenues to become an information security analyst, there is a more straightforward and conventional way to enter the business that we have outlined below.
Step 1: Start and Complete a Bachelor’s Degree
At the moment, there is some debate on the necessary analyst education needed to get into the field. Still, probably the most effective entry point into the field can be found in getting a bachelor’s degree in a relevant STEM field. These kinds of programs can include a bachelor’s degree in data science, computer science, information technology, cybersecurity, computer engineering, or mathematics. The best way to prepare to become an information security analyst in an undergraduate program is to grapple with different programming languages that you will encounter in the field. Additionally, these STEM fields will equip students with the problem-solving skills that will be required in the day-to-day activities seen in the position.
One of the most important aspects of gaining a bachelor’s degree is gaining the critical thinking and solution-oriented skills that will come along with taking courses both in and outside of the core curriculum. General education classes prepare students to think about issues from different perspectives, and an interdisciplinary approach can be greatly valuable to any prospective analyst’s toolkit. Non-traditional or returning students, who may be considering a transition from a different career and may have more responsibilities, should consider getting an online bachelor’s degree in an appropriate STEM discipline.
Fully online cybersecurity or data science undergraduate degrees are often structured to help students with work and life obligations go back to school and get their degree. In these capacities, students can work typically at a pace they find comfortable while they complete their coursework. In the online classroom, students are usually able to progress through the program of their choosing in an asynchronous, part-, or full-time position.
As a disclaimer, undergraduate study simply isn’t designed to support everyone. Some may wish to get into the field more quickly with a more focused training opportunity. While bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields can be excellent entry points into the field and into new modes of thinking, others who may have relevant work experience may opt out of getting a full-fledged degree. In these instances, it’s best recommended that interested candidates pursue a data science bootcamp, which can be a perfect way to sharpen data security, programming, and problem-solving skills necessary for the field. Importantly, it should be noted that most employers will require at least a bachelor’s degree in the field to move forward in the hiring process.
While this isn’t true across the board necessarily, those who are interested in attending a bootcamp should understand that more training or more experience in the field may be necessary. Lastly, bootcamps, particularly in data science, are perfect for information security analysts who have completed a degree in a discipline outside of STEM. For example, a person who completed a degree in library science, has worked as a librarian, but wants to change careers to become an analyst should absolutely learn the relevant skills in a concentrated bootcamp environment.
Step 2: Gain Entry-Level Experience in the Field
Entry-level experience as an information security analyst may at first be difficult to land without completing an undergraduate degree or relevant bootcamp program. At the same time that landing a job out the gates may appear difficult, there are ways that candidates can prepare appropriately. As students in an undergraduate program or as recent graduates, one of the best exercises is to work briefly in an internship, externship, or co-op capacity. As an intern in the field of information security, you will be able to gain hands-on training from professionals in the field.
Bachelor’s degree programs in STEM will typically offer some kind of course credit for students pursuing an internship opportunity. As many internships do not offer substantial pay, if they offer monetary compensation at all, it’s advised that students use their available course credits toward internship openings. Some programs, particularly in engineering, will require that students locate a co-op of their choosing to develop real-world skills in the field of their choosing. In these situations, students can have greater flexibility in choosing a position as a burgeoning information security analyst, since so many organizations across industries are continuing to value these roles more and more.
For those who graduate from a bachelor’s degree or bootcamp program, there’s still time to secure a part-time internship or externship in the field. By gaining this credential, future applicants will be able to prove their knowledge of the day-to-day responsibilities that information security analysts must navigate. Employers of jobs in data science will be impressed and more likely to hire candidates who are able to demonstrate an overall familiarity with the expectations that go into what constitutes an information security analyst.
Step 3: Consider Adding a Certification to Your Professional Profile
With both academic / educational and entry-level work experience, burgeoning analysts should have an easier time getting a foot in the door. Still, one way to professionalize even further is to try to add a certification to your professional profile. Several universities and private companies like Coursera and IBM offer an information security / cybersecurity analyst professional certificate. In this course, learners are able to grapple with new threats that the field currently faces, develop a stronger understanding of information security analyst technical skills, and gain direct experience in the world of cyber forensics.
Certificates can also be completed in other relevant disciplines. For example, data science certification programs are proactive opportunities for those interested in the field to sharpen technical tools that will have a direct benefit on the job. Most professional certificates are offered at both undergraduate and graduate levels. At this stage, since most aspiring analysts will not have completed a graduate degree, an undergraduate certificate would be an appropriate way to demonstrate a willingness to adapt to new trends in the field.
Most certificate programs are concentrated in such a way that only four or five total courses are covered. Because of the focused nature of most certificate programs and because of the low courseload, most of these degree tracks can be completed in one or two semesters. For those balancing their career freshly, it’s best recommended that the certificate program in question be completed in a part-time capacity. Separately, for those who have just completed their degree and may be working in an internship position, it may be a better idea to expedite the process to finish the program in one semester.
Importantly, this step should be viewed as optional, since most of the courses will be supplemental to the knowledge base that students and bootcamp attendees will have acquired in their respective programs. Still, a certification in a subject that is related to information security could be the difference maker when it comes to getting hired, landing a promotion, and advancing a career.
Step 4: Work as an Information Security Analyst
After completing all of the necessary academic and pre-professional training, candidates can confidently progress into working in a full-time capacity. Analysts work across sectors and industries to develop proactive data security protocols. As full-fledged security analysts, those who work in the role are able to locate potential vulnerabilities in security networks in order to identify potentially problematic and threatened areas.
By working in the field, information security analysts will be able to refine their technical skills at the same time that they sharpen their interpersonal, more team-based tools. As professionals in this position gain more hands-on, long-term experience, they will be able to transfer the skills they gain into more managerial responsibilities that have greater impact on the way they carry out overall security protocols.
Step 5: Become a Leader and Get an Advanced Degree
After information security analysts get more comfortable in the role and in the field, it may be time to consider other kinds of advancement opportunities. Importantly, many of the higher end cybersecurity and information security positions will require that applicants and candidates have a Master’s degree to be considered. To that end, it’s recommended for those driven to advance their careers into leadership positions and at larger private and public organizations to pursue graduate-level study.
Fortunately, there are several Master’s level data science and cybersecurity degrees to help motivated candidates reach the next level of their careers. In these kinds of programs, which can be completed part- or full-time and can be taken in increasingly online formats, students will have the opportunity to dive deeper into the foundational and mechanical tenets of data security. By grappling with greater nuances of programming languages and problem-solving scenarios, graduates will be able to showcase an advanced level of cybersecurity and data science skills that will speak directly to prospective employers.
Information Security Analyst Job Description
As an information security analyst, you would be ultimately responsible for helping to safeguard an organization’s vulnerable data. Analysts will have different expectations and different daily activities depending on the size and scope of the organization they work for. For example, an analyst working for Google will be a part of a much larger department with teams dedicated to specific aspects of their overall cybersecurity strategy, while an analyst working for a smaller startup company will likely be one of only a few committed to the organization’s security efforts.
Specifically, information security analysts carry out the following responsibilities:
- Install cutting edge security software
- Update firewall and network security frameworks
- Identify vulnerabilities in data caches
- Respond to threats and attacks
- Perform penetration testing simulations to locate problem areas
- Build proactive security protocols
Information Security Analyst Skills
Information security analysts must hone a variety of skills and technical tools to thrive in the field. While a lot of these skills can be picked up in a degree program or through a bootcamp, many of them will have the opportunity to be mastered through hands-on work experience. Some of the most important skills for an analyst in the field include:
- Attention to detail: Hackers are continually becoming more dangerous as they find new vulnerabilities in security frameworks across the board. It’s vital that analysts pay close attention to the ways that security models are created, maintained, and updated.
- Technical prowess: Because this career is based in information technology (IT), it’s necessary that analysts have a strong background in programming and popular security software.
- Communication with non-technical audiences: Analysts must at times create risk assessments or audits that paint what’s working well and what needs to be improved regarding an organization’s cybersecurity policies. In this role, analysts must typically create reports that can be accessed by team members who lack a technical background.
- Critical thinking: Because analysis is the principal duty of an information security analyst, it’s necessary that those who work in the role are able to offer a problem-solving lens based on critically thinking about the issue at hand.
Some of the most popular programming languages that are used to design cybersecurity software created and used by information security analysts include:
Information Security Analyst Salary
Analyst positions are typically regarded as both lucrative and high-demand. Across the board and across the country, even entry-level analyst roles can sometimes have a six-figure compensation bundle. It’s important to note, though, that different organizations in different parts of the country will expectedly offer different amounts based on the cost of living in the area. For example, a startup company in San Francisco will be much more likely to pay substantially more than a company of a similar size based in a more rural area.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, analyst positions earn an average yearly salary of $103,590. With approximately 141,200 analyst positions in the country as of 2020, the number of positions is expected to grow by 33% through 2030. This figure underscores how in-demand analyst positions are expected to be throughout the next decade.
Information Security Analyst Career Path
Again, the way to enter into the field is to first receive the training necessary to complete the position’s daily tasks. By getting an undergraduate and/or Master’s degree in a relevant STEM field, by getting an information security certificate, or by completing an intensive cybersecurity bootcamp, candidates can enter the field and begin working to safeguard an organization’s data. As an important disclaimer, candidates who hold a bachelor’s degree will likely be considered before those who only can show bootcamp credentials. And those who hold a Master’s degree in a related cybersecurity field will likely be chosen for a position over those who have only bachelor’s degrees. Work experience can offset these deficiencies in some cases, but it’s important to note that academic experience means a lot to recruiters.
There is a lot of room for growth for information security analysts across organizations and corporate models. As analysts aim to grow in their careers and advance into more easily defined leadership roles, they can rise the ranks to achieve their professional goals. After gaining a senior-level status, some analysts go onto managerial roles in cybersecurity. And some from that pool go onto C-suite positions, like chief technology officer, chief cybersecurity officer, or chief executive officer, depending on the scope and focus of the company.
Join the Frontlines of Information Security
Information security analysts can also be viewed as great entry points into other data science-related positions. The tools that information security analysts pick up on as they grow in experience in the field are translatable to other positions. For example, the predictive modeling that arises in a lot of the cybersecurity training can also be applicable to those aiming to work as business intelligence analysts. In the same way that information security analysts work to shore up any vulnerabilities in an organization’s security frameworks, business intelligence analysts scour through data sets to identify opportunity areas that enable a company to maximize their profits. For more information on available careers in data science, be sure to check out our other career guides and begin learning about your future job today.
Gain the skills and necessary degree to pursue your career as an information security analyst. Explore our guide to choosing an Online Master’s in Information Systems, Bachelor Degree Program in Data Science or Cyber Security Degree Program and take the next step in your journey. Your future as an information security analyst awaits you!