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What is Cyber Security?

Cyber SecurityCyber security is a field of information security that focuses on protecting computer networks from data breaches, theft and malicious access. Companies that need to protect data on networks employ cyber security analysts, and the U.S. government hires these specialists to detect cyber crimes and trace criminals who often live in other countries. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security prosecute hackers who operate botnets, or networks of computers overtaken by viruses. Criminals use botnets to hack into banks or corporate networks and steal thousands of credit card or bank account numbers.

Information security specialists usually have bachelor’s degrees in computer science or a related subject, and most companies hire analysts with a certificate in a particular field of cyber security, such as CompTIA Security+ or the Certified Information Systems Security Professional certificate. The CISSP is the most well-known and respected certificate in the industry.

How to Start a Career in Cyber Security

Cyber security requires expert knowledge of computers as well as an understanding of criminal psychology, so companies hiring cyber security analysts prefer candidates with a military or law enforcement background, according to Network World. Not only do most companies prefer this kind of experience, but receiving cyber security training from the military or a government agency gives candidates inside knowledge that isn’t available in college or civilian training programs. The FBI, DHS and US military take a counter-terrorism or military intelligence approach to cyber security, rather than an IT or computer science approach. Analysts with this type of background typically have an acute sense of how to catch criminals.

Cyber security specialists working for private companies don’t have the authority to arrest criminals, but they must know how to respond when a security breach happens and how to manage a crime scene. Certificates such as Global Information Assurance Certification and CISSP provide comprehensive training for civilians to learn how to react decisively without hesitation in a high-stress situation. As more and more companies reduce costs by allowing employees to use their own mobile devices, cyber security analysts must know how to contain a network of thousands of personal devices with access to sensitive data.

Salary and Job Outlook for Cyber Security Analysts

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cyber security is one of the fastest growing occupations in the country, with growth over the next 10 years expected to be 37 percent. In comparison, the average growth for all occupations is about 15 percent. The median annual salary for cyber security positions was $86,170 in 2012, with the highest earning 10 percent making $135,600 a year or more.

The DHS has an ongoing cyber security hiring program, and the FBI recently ramped up its cyber security efforts under a new Executive Assistant Director, Robert Anderson, according to Reuters. Specialists with certifications, law enforcement or military experience, mobile data security knowledge and data analysis skills have the best opportunities. Another way to stand out in this field is to learn SAML, or Security Assertion Markup Language, an industry standard that helps secure cloud application services.

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The training and education necessary to become a cyber security specialist are extremely challenging and rewarding, and they require a high level of commitment. If you have the calm nerves and mental stamina needed to stay focused in a tense situation, you may be a good fit for a career in cyber security.