What is a Security Analyst? Skills, Salary, Certifications & More
Learn about the security analyst role in Data Protection 101, our series on the fundamentals of information security.
Definition of a Security Analyst
The security analyst plays a vital role in keeping an organization’s proprietary and sensitive information secure. He/she works inter-departmentally to identify and correct flaws in the company’s security systems, solutions, and programs while recommending specific measures that can improve the company’s overall security posture.
Responsibilities of a Security Analyst
Security analysts are ultimately responsible for ensuring that the company's digital assets are protected from unauthorized access. This includes securing both online and on-premise infrastructures, weeding through metrics and data to filter out suspicious activity, and finding and mitigating risks before breaches occur. If a breach does occur, security analysts are often on the front line, leading efforts to counter the attack.
Security analysts are also responsible for generating reports for IT administrators and business managers to evaluate the efficacy of the security policies in place. They will then help to make the necessary changes for a more secure network and may also create training programs and modules to educate employees and users on proper security protocols.
Furthermore, security analysts are responsible for keeping the company's security systems up to date and creating documentation and planning for all security-related information, including incident response and disaster recovery plans.
Other specific responsibilities include:
- Monitoring security access
- Conducting security assessments through vulnerability testing and risk analysis
- Performing both internal and external security audits
- Analyzing security breaches to identify the root cause
- Continuously updating the company’s incident response and disaster recovery plans
- Verifying the security of third-party vendors and collaborating with them to meet security requirements
Security Analyst Skills
Here are some important areas of expertise that today’s security analysts should possess and why:
- Ethical hacking aims to expose weak points and identify potential threats so that the organization can protect itself from malicious hackers. This includes penetration testing during which an analyst will test networks, computers, web-based applications, and other systems to detect exploitable vulnerabilities.
- Intrusion prevention involves monitoring network traffic to detect potential threats and then responding to these threats promptly.
- Incident response manages the negative effects of an attack or breach, from minimizing the impact to altering security controls for future prevention.
- Computer forensics aids in the prevention of crime through the collection, analysis, and reporting of data. It also enables an analyst to create evidence in the event of a breach.
- Reverse engineering allows an analyst to comprehend why a piece of software does what it does so that he/she can patch a bug or analyze malware.
In addition, security analysts are expected to have expertise in cyber security, firewalls, network security, information assurance, Linux, UNIX, security information and event management (SIEM), application security, security engineering, and security architecture. They must also keep up with the latest trends in cyber security.
The most successful analysts are detail-oriented and have an analytical mindset. For the most part, security analysts work with scenarios – and this could mean poring over thousands and thousands of pages of data to look for anomalies. Interpersonal skills are also crucial; analysts need to train company staff on better security protocols and regularly communicate with executive leadership.
Security Analyst Background Requirements, Salary, and Outlook
The security analyst role comes with an above-average stress level, according to data from U.S. News & World Report, but it also comes with above-average opportunities for advancement and salary. The information security analyst role is ranked 7th among Best Technology Jobs, lands at 19th among the Best STEM Jobs, and ranks 52nd among The 100 Best Jobs.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for security analysts in 2016 was $92,600 annually, or an hourly rate of about $44.52. The typical entry-level education for a security analyst is a Bachelor’s degree in computer science, programming, or other related program. Most companies seeking entry-level security analysts require one to five years of on-the-job experience in a related role, such as a systems administrator.
Employment outlook is positive, with an expected growth rate of 18% between 2014 and 2024. An estimated 14,800 additional security analysts will be needed by 2024. Security analysts who desire to advance in their careers may pursue opportunities and roles such as security consultant, security architect, security engineer, systems analyst specialist, senior analyst, eventually advancing to positions such as CISO or Director of Security.
Security Analyst Certifications
There are several certifications beneficial for existing analysts pursuing ongoing education as well as for other security professionals looking to become security analysts:
- The Certified Ethical Hacker credential recognizes your abilities to lawfully use the same knowledge and tools as a malicious hacker to improve an organization's security posture.
- CompTIA Network+ is a vendor-neutral certification that validates your skills and knowledge on designing, managing, troubleshooting, and configuring networks.
- CWAPT Certified Penetration Tester certifies that you possess the skills to perform web application penetration testing.
- Certified Reverse Engineering Analyst validates your skills and knowledge in malware analysis.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is security analyst a good career?
Yes, being a security analyst is a good career choice. While it requires a combination of education, experience, and the right temperament, there are multiple benefits of a career as a security analyst, such as:
- It pays well - The median income for security analysts is over $100,000.
- The work is interesting - You won’t be bored as a security analyst. With new viruses and cyberattacks being developed every day, there’s always something of interest to do in the role.
- Security analysts are in high demand - Demand for security analysts continues to increase as businesses put more emphasis on protecting their data resources.
What skills are required for a security analyst?
Security analysts need a detail-oriented approach and a variety of skills, many of which are the same skills used by the hackers trying to gain unauthorized access to their systems. They need to be well-versed in:
- Ethical hacking
- Intrusion prevention
- Incident response
- Computer forensics
- Reverse engineering
- Cybersecurity techniques
- Operating systems
They should also have good interpersonal skills and be prepared to keep current on new developments in the field with continuing education.
Is security analyst a hard job?
The security analyst role should not be considered any more challenging than other positions of responsibility in an IT environment. It requires an individual willing to maintain their skills and keep up with developments in the cybersecurity field. Security analysts may have to work extra hours unexpectedly to address issues that require immediate attention.
An aspect of the job that some people might consider difficult is the attention the security analyst attracts while remediating a cyberattack. There may be excessive pressure to get issues resolved so normal operations can resume. If you’re considering a job as a security analyst, you will need to be able to handle this type of pressure.
Is security analyst a stressful job?
Yes, being a security analyst can be a very stressful job. There is a tremendous amount of responsibility involved with protecting an organization’s valuable IT environment from hackers and malicious insiders. It is very stressful to be responsible for finding the solution to a cyberattack that has rendered production systems useless.
The realization that hackers are constantly trying to find ways to infiltrate the company network can weigh heavily on a conscientious analyst. This, in turn, can generate stress that overflows into the analyst’s home life. To be a successful security analyst, an individual needs the ability to compartmentalize and unwind to relieve the stress of the job.
How can you become a security analyst?
Getting the following education, training, and certifications are the first steps to becoming a security analyst.
- A Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science is recommended.
- A candidate should have experience as a system administrator.
- Certifications such as:
- Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)
- Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
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