Careers in Information Assurance and Cybersecurity

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On the topic of cyberspace, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) doesn't mince words: "Our daily life, economic vitality, and national security depend on a stable, safe, and resilient cyberspace." Further, the department's website asserts, "cyber intrusions and attacks have increased dramatically over the last decade."

Such cyber attacks have already taken a toll, whether they involve the disruption of key military operations or the exposure of sensitive private-sector data and information. That is pushing demand for skilled professionals in the field of cybersecurity and information assurance, both in the public and private sectors.

According to data published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of information security analysts will grow by 22% from 2010 to 2020, primarily because of the urgency of protecting against cyber crime.

"We need analysts," said DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, as reported by CNN. "We need people who are engineers. We need people who are experienced in intelligence as it relates to the cyber universe."

In 2012, a DHS task force recommended establishing a "cyber reserve" of computer security experts who could be called into action to combat a massive cyber attack.

The proliferation of mobile devices, particularly smartphones and tablets, as well as "cloud" computing, geo-location applications, social media and other networking platforms compounds the dangers posed by Advanced Persistent Threat and other cyber security threats.

Not all threats come from sophisticated, or even malicious, sources. Insiders with inadequate security training can compromise their own company's networks, unwittingly opening the virtual door for cyber criminals.

Cyber Warriors Wanted

The good news is that companies across all industries are joining the public sector in recruiting top talent. Employment opportunities should be strong for veterans and service members making the transition to civilian life, particularly those who had higher levels of security clearance.

The skills, training and personal qualities that characterize service members mirror those required of information assurance and cybersecurity experts in the civilian world. Loyalty, dedication, and personal and professional integrity are crucial.

In the public and private sector, the typical duties of information assurance and cybersecurity professionals include:

  • Evaluating network and information security systems via ethical hacking
  • Developing and implementing asset and information assurance strategies, software and applications
  • Conducting forensic risk analytics
  • Applying data and information encryption protocols.

They may also lead internal security seminars and training sessions; review employee and network compliance; and ensure legal adherence to privacy rules and other relevant legislation.

The tangible rewards of a career in this growing profession can be attractive. In 2011, the annual median wage for information security analysts nationally was almost $78,000, with the top 10% earning more than $124,800, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau also referenced a survey by Robert Half Technology that listed the 2012 salary range for data security analysts at $89,000 to $121,500.

In other words, cybersecurity and information assurance experts are highly skilled and disciplined professionals who are dedicated to protecting their company and the community of internet users. To fulfill their mission, they must assess and defuse high-risk situations quickly and accurately, often under intense scrutiny.

Building a Bulwark against Attack

Most cybersecurity and information assurance professionals hold at least a bachelor's degree in a discipline such as information technology (IT) or computer science. A security clearance and some experience in IT or cybersecurity also are typical, particularly for public-sector positions.

Some of the top schools in the nation are responding to the demand for such professionals by offering degrees and certificates in IT, cybersecurity and information assurance, including 100% online programs.

For service members, veterans and their families, numerous options are available for education and other benefits, particularly at military-friendly schools that belong to the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) consortium or partner with the U.S. Department of Defense in its Tuition Assistance Program.

Military personnel should also consider universities that allow them to exit and reenter online degree programs without penalty during temporary duty assignments.

Protecting the nation's economic, social and administrative infrastructures against cyber attack is a vital undertaking and one that is in need of highly trained and dedicated professionals.

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