Everyone needs someone looking after their data and digital systems. Companies today maintain huge reserves of information ― theirs and their customers’ ― which would cause serious financial harm if breached. Every organization from small and medium-sized businesses to corporations and federal agencies should have trained information systems security professionals available.
Becoming an information security analyst is one way to enter the growing and exciting field of cyber security, one with the potential for impressive employment and wage growth over the next few years. Implementing security measures and actively overseeing systems are high-priority duties. If you’re aiming for this career path, you should be sure you have an educational and work background that matches the demands of the position: Businesses won’t entrust the protection of their sensitive information to unproven professionals.
Due to the highly specific nature of information security analysts’ duties, it pays to take a close look at this role, including the various tasks these employees have to perform every day. If your interests align with the job, your next step is to determine the degrees and entry-level roles that can lead to opportunities in the information security field. Stepping onto this high-demand career path may improve your earning potential and job security in the years ahead, as data security remains a priority for every company.
What Is an Information Security Analyst?
Information security analysts have a specific role to play on an IT team. Besides these professionals, an IT team can include several other positions that interact with information security professionals, from network architects to database administrators and software developers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Each of these tech-focused positions has its own duties, with information security analysts taking responsibility for the security protocols that will protect all the others’ work.
The BLS adds that expectations of, and authority held by, information security analysts is increasing over time. The risk of cyber attacks is growing as criminals become more sophisticated in their methods and companies rely more on their digital infrastructure to support their everyday processes. In years past, an information security analyst would have been primarily responsible for protecting individual computer workstations. Today, these employees are called on to safeguard networked devices. Cloud computing and the internet of things have added further complications to security roles.
Information security analysts are tasked with two essential phases of security: First they create the plans and strategies that will keep their organizations safe from digital disruption. Next, they implement and oversee those efforts. The BLS specified that these comprehensive plans should not just include countermeasures against cyber attacks. Information security also includes the defense of data against all losses incurred by system failures. Whether such shutdowns are caused by natural disasters such as hurricanes or man-made incidents, cleaning up in their wake requires action from IT departments.
Being an effective information security analyst means staying knowledgeable about the ever-changing world of digital threats. Some of the most dangerous issues facing companies are recently developed attack types, because the countermeasures for these intrusions are not widely known or used. Keeping up with cyber criminals’ tactics and coordinating effective responses is the mark of a high-quality information security professional.
What Kinds of Companies Employ Information Security Analysts?
One of the most compelling reasons to seek a career in information technology security is that the principles underlying cyber security work are valuable across industries and regions. Every company and government agency should have people responsible for the continuity and safety of their digital resources. With that said, demand for computer security is always especially acute at companies with sensitive data resources and legal restrictions. Working for such an organization can have extra training and preparation requirements.
According to U.S. News & World Report, which ranked information security analyst as the No. 5 tech job, there is rising demand for these professionals in government, health care, and finance. Federal and state agencies are tasked with keeping constituents’ private data safe, while medical and banking organizations must defend records that could be exploited for monetary gain. These companies would be high-value targets if breached by hackers and therefore need comprehensive security.
U.S. News gave examples of high-profile security breaches which demonstrated the widespread need for information security analysts. For instance, entertainment conglomerate Sony suffered a massive leak, as did the retail chain Target. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. also had its systems compromised in 2014, the same year Sony was attacked. While these large companies make the headlines, smaller businesses in their industries and beyond are also in danger.
A Day In the Life: What Does an Information Security Analyst Do?
Information security analysts work long and hard hours, with U.S. News calling the position’s flexibility “below average.” This is one of the trade-offs with the position’s high potential salary and excellent demand for professionals. The publication also pointed to manageable stress levels and the potential for promotion as counterbalances to the long and rigid schedule. But what does the average information security analyst do during the work day? The answer depends on the situation within the company.
The exact duties an information security analyst will be called on to perform each day are highly variable. If the business is in the midst of an upgrade to organization computer systems or dealing with a potential intrusion, all information security personnel will likely be hard at work resolving the situation. On average days, security employees have plenty of other tasks. According to PayScale, these responsibilities include:
- Performing analysis on security data. The amount of information available today is greater than at any time in the past. Real-time and historical data can reveal evidence of weaknesses in systems. Detecting these gaps before cyberattackers do is key to keeping companies safe.
- Keeping the company’s security technology current and operating at peak efficiency. Configuration problems with IT programs could limit the effectiveness of those key solutions. It’s up to information security analysts to pick ideal software, keep it up to date, and tune it for maximum protection.
- Staying aware of the security threat situation. Every company and government organization has a unique security risk profile due to its size, technology layout, and industry. Furthermore, new dangers always emerge over time. An information security analyst will therefore put plenty of time into cataloging and prioritizing emerging threats.
- Working with the rest of the company’s team. IT security is an element of business that touches every other department. This means information security analysts have to coordinate with others to ensure their defensive measures are serving their purpose. While communicating with IT stakeholders in functions such as software development is clearly important, security professionals also have to check in with the end users who make up the bulk of the workforce.
How Much Do Information Security Analysts Earn?
Annual salaries for information security analysts start high, with the potential to increase even further. Indeed, the possible earnings associated with this job will likely attract many skilled candidates to the role in the years ahead. Department of Labor data presented by the BLS shows a median income of $98,350, higher than the average for all computer-related roles and more than twice the median across all occupations.
In total, 90% of information security analysts make more than $56,750 annually. The top 10% of earners in this field earn approximately one and a half times the median salary at $156,580 and over. In all, the long hours and vital nature of the work pay off with this impressive level of compensation. When combining this earning potential with strong year-over-year demand for information security expertise, professionals who become information security analysts can lock in a strong salary for a long time.
PayScale noted some of the variables that help security professionals rise to the top of their industry in terms of personal earnings. For example, location plays a role in salary distribution. Washington, D.C. is the top city for security experts. The proximity of the federal government opens up opportunities, and pay in the area is 18% over the national number. In New York, earnings are 8% above the countrywide rate. Dallas and Phoenix follow, offering 8% higher compensation.
While many people in the information security field are young, individuals who stay around for the long haul can command very high earnings. According to PayScale, late career information security analysts make 39% more than the average for people across all age ranges. “Experienced” individuals with 10-19 years of professional experience make 31% more than the median.
How Do You Become an Information Security Analyst?
Taking on a job as an information security analyst means completing at least a bachelor’s degree level of education, potentially more, and likely employment in a related field. The BLS indicates professionals from other parts of the IT department can move into security after a few years, in search of salary opportunities, and increased responsibility.
If you want to make a similar move, you can begin by thinking about the parts of your background and skill set that hiring managers will want to see. According to the BLS, this includes analytical ability, a detail-oriented nature, the ingenuity to tackle risks in new ways, and problem-solving skills. In both your professional experience and your studies, you can hone these proficiencies.
What Type of Work Experience Should an Information Security Analyst Have?
Previous work experience may point the way to your new career as an information security analyst. The BLS notes that within the security field, companies often seek specialized professionals rather than general team members. This means previous experience in network administration, for example, can be helpful in proving suitability for a network security job. This transfer between functions works in both directions ― work as an information security analyst can prepare you to seek roles in other parts of the IT department.
Professional information security certification may also help you build an information security resume. The BLS noted there is not a single certificate used throughout the industry ― some of these are issued by professional associations for specific IT functions. Others, such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional certificate, are wider in their scope.
What Kind of Education Does It Take to Become an Information Security Analyst?
Studying for a degree in information technology is a way to build essential knowledge and experience for an information security analyst role. The BLS notes some employers seek candidates who have master’s degrees, but in most cases, there is a need for a bachelor’s degree in a subject related to computer science, information systems, or security. If your educational background is not in technology, you can work toward a bachelor’s degree in this field through an online program which allows you to study on your own schedule.
The online Bachelor of Science in Information Systems from the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business can build the skills needed to take on an information security analyst role. This is a four-year full bachelor’s degree program you take alongside your present full-time job, allowing you to keep building your professional experience while also learning up-to-date insights from a well-connected, industry-leading faculty and earning a diploma relevant to your field.
A bachelor’s degree in information science can point your way to further education such as a master’s in information systems, or lead directly to increased professional opportunities. With hiring managers seeking experts to protect their organization’s computer systems, they will be on the lookout for candidates with an educational background directly related to IT.
Applying for the Collat School of Business online BSIS program is a simple and student-friendly experience. This is a regionally accredited program, and transfer credits from other institutions are accepted. There are also scholarships available for candidates who qualify. When it is time to change your career and seek out a new beginning in the booming information security field, an online bachelor’s degree program can represent a promising new start, even as you continue in your present job.
Visit the program page to learn if this degree is the ideal path for you.