Defending Our Digital Borders: A Career in Cybersecurity

In honor of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, it’s time to learn about a career that can defend our data and is worth every digital penny.

Just a few days ago, news reports emerged that Russia, our enemy of past and present, planned on hacking the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games before the games themselves were pushed back to 2021 (due to the Pandemic). I can only speak for myself here (but I’d be willing to guess for you too) in saying that that would be a final straw. Finagle with our elections all you want, Kremlin (actually please stop doing that), but never mess with our right to watch captivating top tier athletes drape gold, silver, and bronze medals across their muscular necks and chiseled clavicles.

So how do we defend our digital borders? Where is the new Aunt/Uncle Sam, clad in hoodie, sneakers, piercings, and tattoos, asking for you and I to do our digital duty? And how do you start this journey? Is it worth it? I asked Professor Tobi West, who heads Coastline College’s Computer Networking, Cybersecurity, and Data Analytics programs, to find out the answer: cybersecurity. And not just what cybersecurity is, but why it matters too. So grab your stars and stripes hat, pinstripe tuxedo suit, and whatever tech-tool suits your fancy because we want you………to continue reading!

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What is Cybersecurity?

Professor West told me that “according to The Guardian, there are more than 76 billion connected devices.” The world is a smaller place. I can chat online with someone in almost any country in the world right at this very minute. And they can chat right back. Tap a few keys, click a few buttons, and I can flood a nation with bots (aka fake accounts), digital trolls, and misinformation. Even simpler, I can pay to falsely balloon my social media following courtesy of the same bot technique.

The tech company Cisco defines cybersecurity as “the practice of protecting systems, networks, and programs from digital attacks.” They note, and as Professor West mentioned above, that there are “more devices than people” now. For individuals, digital security is important on a smaller scale as well. Think about how many social media accounts you have, passwords for websites, credit cards, online services that may be floating around on the interwebs. The world is full of sensitive data and information, and that’s where cybersecurity professionals come into play.

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Why is it Important?

“Each connected device and webpage is a potential attack vector for a cybercriminal,” says West. “They are relentless, and they work at it like anyone else works at their 9-5 job.” Imagine all the devices in your house, including potentially your smart fridge, your home security cameras connected to a broader network, your new fancy car with its computerized dashboard in your driveway. Now scale that up into the billions and you have all of the opportunities available for criminals.

The next, and current, generation of criminals will forget about snatching purses on the street; they’ll be targeting your smartphone instead. We’re already seeing this play out in larger scale with nations acting against each other using hacking tools. Russia in 2016, China, Iran, even private intelligence corporations like Black Cube, all use these tools to destruct, delegitimize, and destabilize. Best to be protected and prepared.

There are many different kinds of cyber attacks, but one that has risen in prevalence in the private sector is ransomware, the rise of which “has led to some dire consequences in the healthcare industry,” per West. Furthermore, small cities and towns across the United States have found their government data literally held hostage by criminal networks operating in foreign locales. I never thought I’d be sad to see my tax data stolen, but 2020 is full of surprises.

Now, don’t tell anyone this *looks side to side* but I’m not known for my tech savvy, especially in something as seemingly technical as cybersecurity. But West assures me that “not every cybersecurity role is extremely technical. The workforce needs people with knowledge of cybersecurity in every field, including sales, journalism, legal, manufacturing, criminal justice, and the list goes on.” Let’s explore some of those opportunities further.

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Career Paths and Job Security

Because cybersecurity roles are now becoming omnipresent, “the demand for skilled cybersecurity workers is higher than the supply, and the demand keeps growing.” This is a great opportunity to begin studying. Just a few cybersecurity careers, from entry level and beyond, include:

  • Security Analyst: Handle the day-to-day security maintenance at a company or enterprise as well as takes care of securing data in case of a breach. Estimated salaries for this type of role range between $90,000 and $100,000. As Professor West explained this is the type of position that Coastline’s cyber program prepares students to take on.
  • Security Technician: Work with Information Technology teams to ensure network security as well as oversee network upgrades. Estimated salaries range from $70,000 to over $100,000 per year.
  • Penetration Tester: Probe and and identify liabilities in computer networks. Also known as “ethical hacking,” which sounds pretty cool if I may say so myself. Estimated salaries range from $80,000 to $130,000.
  • Security Architect: An advanced role that analyzes security threats and creates solutions to protect online data. Estimated salaries range between $120,000 and $190,000.

Nowadays, as Professor West mentioned, industries of all types need employees with knowledge and awareness of cybersecurity measures and tools. This is the new normal, and these jobs, and others, will only become more commonplace. As a result, there is little to no unemployment in the cybersecurity field and the job offers many opportunities to learn as you go; as new technologies are developed and implemented, you’ll be constantly honing your skills, like an Olympic athlete training everyday. For more detail on job possibilities and career paths, check out CyberSeek’s Career Portal!

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Final Thoughts

Cybersecurity doesn’t just make for a good career with steady work and pay; it’s worthwhile and incredibly important for a nation, for governments large and small, for companies, and even individuals to be aware of how to protect their computer networks and systems. Technology permeates our society and our lives more and more each day (including Elon Musk’s sci-fi-esque brain chip; again, Elon I’m waiting for your call!). It’s high time we were ready.

Cybersecurity is relatively modern as a possible career path. Because it’s so cutting-edge, the demand for skilled workers is so high, as Professor West noted, that some students are even getting hired before they graduate. New jobs don’t enter the workforce all the time. Learning the needed skills to become a cybersecurity professional will make you a pioneer and an innovator.

“The cybersecurity workforce needs a diverse group of people that can think like an adversary to setup the best defenses to prevent attacks,” Professor West says. “It needs people that want to be involved and give back to the community through research and knowledge sharing. It needs people that want to be problem-solvers and lifelong learners… people like you.” You heard it, folks. There’s a new digital battle looming on the horizon. Time to grab your lap-top and put on your digital armor.