A cybersecurity analyst is a skilled professional with expertise in protecting network and IT infrastructures. This role involves a deep understanding of cyberattacks, malware, and cybercriminal behavior, enabling the analyst to proactively predict and thwart such threats. Typically, these analysts hold a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity or a similar discipline.
In the dynamic field of cybersecurity, professionals must constantly adapt to counteract sophisticated and evolving threats. Maintaining a strategic edge over cybercriminals is crucial, offering a career defined by authoritative decision-making and diverse daily challenges.
What is Cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity is the blanket term for all the work it takes to protect data, digital assets, and networks. If you have a machine that connects to the internet, it's vulnerable to hackers, spammers, and data skimmers. All your efforts to stop these people fall under the general cybersecurity umbrella.
Why is a Cybersecurity Analyst Important?
The cybersecurity analyst is a key player in this effort. People doing this job work to protect the software, hardware, systems, and computer networks from attackers.
Your cybersecurity analysts will do different things depending on how much work there is and what you need protected, but the job generally revolves around a few core duties:
- Monitoring traffic across the network and logging incidents
- Investigating potential breaches and attempts to access the network
- Initiating real-time responses to stop attacks as they unfold
- Installing security software, including firewalls, industry-standard encryption programs, and whatever custom stuff you're using
- Spotting and fixing vulnerabilities before they can be exploited
- Researching current threats and leading internal risk assessments
- Sending memos to nontechnical staff asking them to please stop using "P4ssword" as their password
What's at Stake?
Attacks on private networks can be made at any level, from lone wolves in dark basements to government-organized assaults on critical infrastructure as a weapon of war.
In 2021 alone, this kind of thing cost the global economy over $6 trillion. If there were a country called Cybercrime, it would have the world's third-largest economy, more than Japan, more than Germany, and about twice as big as the GDP of India, just from data breaches and fraud.
The information security specialist is one of the few sentries capable of fighting this global war. But they can't fight it alone, so every organization big enough to have its own email address needs a working understanding of cybersecurity, the current threat environment, and the critical role a cybersecurity analyst plays in protecting legitimate data networks.
Key Responsibilities of a Cybersecurity Analyst
A cybersecurity analyst might be called on for the following.
Monitoring Security Systems and Event Logs
As a rule, data security breaches generate a paper trail you can document for later analysis and lessons learned. These logs are also sometimes needed for regulatory compliance. This can be done in several ways, but all the cool data analysts use a customizable tool like SIEM. Security information and event management (SIEM) allows cybersecurity teams to spot ongoing efforts to compromise security and log events for future reference.
Conducting Regular Security Assessments
Conducting security assessments is a regular part of what cybersecurity analysts do. There are various levels to this, but one of the most common is what's done by ethical hackers. This can be as simple as reviewing a network's security profile to identify vulnerabilities and potential exploits.
However, this process can get pretty elaborate, with some of the more high-value networks investing in full-on red team attacks by contractors and even freelance bounty hunters looking for weaknesses. The purpose is to generate a risk profile that can be used to fine-tune future security patches.
Developing and Implementing Security Protocols
You wouldn't go into battle without a plan, and the analogy holds for defending your network security. If you're going to keep your systems secure, you need to have a plan for all of the most likely scenarios. No matter which part of the network you're planning for or the details of the threat you're anticipating, putting together a security plan is the same process. Your cybersecurity team will probably do some version of this:
- Create a policy: Using their background in cybersecurity certifications and threat detection, your lead analyst can draft a provisional plan for the most likely attack vectors. You could, for example, wargame a DDoS attack on your company website. Then, look into a brute-force attack on sensitive databases, a social engineering attempt to compromise key personnel, etc.
- Assemble a response team: Each threat vector requires a different response plan. A DDoS attack, for instance, can be overcome with reserve bandwidth. A simple cutout and two-factor authentication could defeat a brute-force attempt. Social attempts might be guarded against with staff training and increased awareness.
- Write up a detailed playbook: Each approach will be made up of details, which must be planned in advance. Draft these details before they're needed, and make sure the right people have a copy of them.
- Lay out communication channels: Speaking of the right people, everybody involved in your threat response needs to be properly briefed and know who's in contact with whom. Establish clear communication channels and develop a phone, SMS, or email hotline that can be activated in an emergency.
- Test the plan for potential vulnerabilities: While you might have all the corners nailed down, no plan is foolproof until tested. Devise your own penetration testing on the network, and try to find weaknesses or gaps where the plan might allow an enterprising hacker to get through.
- Debrief lessons learned from the exercise and refine the plan: If you've done enough testing, it's virtually certain you'll have found at least one weakness. This is a success because you found the problem before an unauthorized party did. Write up your findings, then go back to step one and adjust the plan to correct the weakness you found.
- Ongoing testing and upgrades: Tech moves pretty fast, and your information security analysts will be in perpetual motion if they're going to stay ahead of the curve. Set up a rotating testing schedule and updates to each aspect of your defense and incident response plans.
How to Become a Cybersecurity Analyst
Reaching this level takes a certain set of skills. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, even entry-level positions in information technology can require a bachelor's degree in computer science. Higher-level positions may require significant work experience, professional certifications, or even a master's degree with years of experience in a related field.
There are a ton of top-notch cybersecurity books you can read to level-up your skills.
A lot of cybersecurity analysts need some professional certification. These are the three big ones:
- CompTIA A+: This is the basic cybersecurity certificate. It's good for landing an entry-level position in cybersecurity, and to get it, you have to learn the basics of hardware, network architecture, and current software. Many people who start with this certificate will also have some experience working with Linux and other operating systems, coding, and scripting in common programming languages such as Python and so on.
- Certified information systems security professional (CISM): The International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium offers this certification as a standard for intermediate-level cybersecurity analysts. It's mostly for analysts who handle sensitive information and must certify they have the fundamentals of a standard cybersecurity program, including basic network security measures and encryption.
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP): This certification is more advanced, and it’s usually a later step in the accreditation process for cybersecurity managers. Cybersecurity analyst roles that require CISSP certificates typically involve enterprise-level management work and experience identifying potential threats, developing security standards to a high level, and attending a cybersecurity boot camp for cyber-threat awareness and interdiction.
Analytical and Problem-Solving Skills
On top of formal and continuing education, most cybersecurity analyst job descriptions include specific soft skills, such as critical thinking and problem-solving. Since most of the jobs in the cybersecurity field are at least somewhat technical, it's crucial to think in linear, logical ways about how potential threats will work their way through a complex system with known vulnerabilities.
Good Communication and Reporting
Many tech-heavy industries are also regulation-heavy, and much of what gets regulated is your data security. A good candidate for a cybersecurity career will come to you partly as an engineer/technician but also as a concise writer. Much of what your tech security people do is report on current precautions and proposals for change, so they have to be easy to understand in everything that they write.
Tools and Technologies Used by Cybersecurity Analysts
A good analyst needs to be comfortable using a lot of modern packages, including:
- Security information and event management (SIEM) systems, such as Splunk
- Network defense tools, such as Wireshark
- Cryptography and encryption software, such as AxCrypt or CryptoForge
Cybersecurity analysts are key links in the chain for keeping data, hardware, and systems safe from unwelcome intruders. The difference between hiring a good job candidate for this role and hiring a less-good analyst could be the difference between keeping your data secure and failing to spot a serious security breach. It's essential to know how to identify a good prospect for this crucial role and ensure you're getting someone with current qualifications.
To deepen your understanding of hiring the proper cybersecurity support, explore the numerous cybersecurity books that can provide foundational knowledge and advanced strategies essential for any tech leader's arsenal.
Staying ahead of threats requires not only up-to-date knowledge but also a community of informed leaders sharing insights and strategies. There are many noteworthy cybersecurity resources available for you to learn more. For CTOs and tech leaders at the forefront of cyber defense, join our newsletter for expert advice and cutting-edge solutions in cybersecurity.