In a global workplace climate dominated by technology, every company needs trusted, experienced professionals to keep its data, computer networks, and systems secure.
The demand for information security personnel raises an important question: What’s the best way to take on one of these jobs and become an information security analyst? The answer involves a combination of personal skill-building, professional development, and education.
Stepping into an information security analyst’s shoes isn’t easy: New threats are appearing all the time, and defending businesses’ complex technology resources demands constant attention and adaptation. However, these roles’ earning potential, job security, and chances for advancement can all serve as great rewards for those who make the leap.
What is an information security analyst?
An information security analyst is the go-to person for a company’s cybersecurity strategy. These professionals are responsible for planning and designing new security approaches, as well as putting those plans into action.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics explained that the information security analyst role is always increasing in scope and importance, due to the fact that cyberattacks are increasing in volume. A good information security analyst will keep learning on the job, staying abreast of emerging tools and tactics used by cybercriminals, and devising ways to cope with those risks.
While it’s true that information security professionals are the people most responsible for protecting a business against hackers, reducing the job description to “someone who copes with cyber attacks” is too limiting. The BLS added that information security analysts work on their employers’ disaster recovery strategies, too.
Disaster recovery procedures are invoked whenever a company’s technology systems fail, whether due to a cyberattack, a natural disaster affecting a data center, or any other kind of intervention. To work on these plans, information security analysts have to be intensely familiar with their employer’s technology capabilities and needs.
Information security analyst role and responsibilities
Once someone lands an information security analyst role, what does that professional do all day? According to PayScale, the common duties of an information security analyst include the following tasks:
- Performing research and collecting data on security threats: There are a few approaches employees can take when it comes to counteracting security risks. First, they can stay up to date on the latest reports to make sure they’re aware of — and ready to protect against — all relevant threats. Second, these professionals can take a closer look at their own systems, probing for vulnerabilities and implementing countermeasures.
- Developing strategies and boosting departmental efficiency: Creating a business with an effective approach to security isn’t easy. These strategies have to encompass a variety of departments, with potentially different approaches to work styles, device usage, and more. Information security analysts have to craft these policies and spearhead their implementation, while keeping security operations productive and efficient.
- Averting and responding to security breaches: Information security analysts’ work on enhancing their companies’ data protection is meant to lessen the chances of data breaches. Even a well-protected business can still fall victim to a hack, however. In these cases, it’s up to the information security team to document the issue in a compliant way and develop a response.
- Managing the business’s tech stack: Sometimes, companies’ own software and hardware deployments become centers of risk. When systems go too long without updates and upgrades, security holes open up. Therefore, it’s important for information security analysts to keep a close eye on all the organization’s technology tools, distributing important updates as they’re released.
By completing these tasks and more, information security analysts make themselves indispensable parts of any organization’s technology department. PayScale added that analysts should have strong interpersonal skills, as they will have to work with others often, especially the managers and departmental directors they report to.
Why become an information security analyst?
Becoming an information security analyst means taking on an impressive set of responsibilities and duties. To dedicated and ambitious professionals with an interest in cybersecurity, this is just par for the course.
With that said, it wouldn’t be feasible to take on an information security analyst’s high-pressure job without adequate compensation. In terms of salary, job demand, and potential for advancement, these roles tend to deliver. After all, how can a company thrive without well-managed information security? There’s no substitute for a skilled information security analyst.
Information security analyst salaries
According to the most recent BLS survey, conducted in May 2020, the median salary for an information security analyst is $103,590. The lowest-earning 10% of these professionals make $60,060 a year or less, while the top 10% make more than $163,000.
The information sector is the highest-paying industry when it comes to median annual salary, followed by finance and insurance and then computer systems design. Each of these professions has a median salary higher than the figure for the average of all industries, all in the six-figure range.
The BLS did note that information security analysts have to provide a high level of service and availability to earn their impressive salaries. Some of these security professionals do work more than the conventional 40-hour workweek, and it’s considered normal for analysts to be on call at all hours in case a security problem strikes at night or on the weekend.
Hiring and job security in information security
The fact that businesses across industries and regions have become tech-driven has greatly increased demand for information security analysts in recent years. In an era when many professionals are testing out the open job market and finding strong interest in their services, information security analyst is an especially in-demand profession.
According to the BLS, the number of information security analyst openings will increase 33% between 2020 and 2030. Considering the growth among all roles is projected to be 8% in that same period, it’s clear that companies are scaling up their information security departments.
The BLS added that many people currently holding roles in IT security are expected to retire or transfer to new positions during the decade ahead. This is very promising for aspiring information security analysts, from both hiring opportunity and job security perspectives.
Potential for advancement
There are plenty of pathways for ambitious and successful information security analysts to take on more responsibilities. PayScale specified that after proving themselves as analysts, employees may move on to become information security engineers or information security managers. While these roles will bring more responsibilities, the chance of advancing from a lucrative role to an even more influential position is surely enticing.
Considering the increasing importance of information security in companies’ long-term prospects, it’s not surprising that information security managers can, in turn, be promoted to take on C-suite duties. The chief information security officer is a highly specialized member of a leadership team, one dedicated to bringing data protection to the board room.
The BLS suggested another path for information security analysts: general computer and information systems managers. It’s important to note that while security is an important part of a company’s overall IT posture, it doesn’t have to be an employee’s final career destination. Information security analysts who find their skills, interests, or opportunities are pointing to a different kind of IT work can change course.
How do professionals become information security analysts?
Businesses won’t entrust their security strategies to just anyone. To earn hiring managers’ trust and become their pick for an information security analyst role, professionals should build their skills in a variety of ways.
The abilities it takes to become an effective information security analyst candidate — and then thrive on the job — span tech knowledge, interpersonal competency, and more. By developing these skills in both the professional realm and higher education, aspiring security experts can help their own case as they apply for analyst roles.
The information security analyst skill set
According to PayScale, an ideal information security analyst will combine specific technology knowledge with a healthy dose of soft skills, such as communication and problem solving. Useful abilities in the information security realm include:
- Multitasking and problem solving: Protecting a company against IT threats is rarely straightforward. An information security analyst may be coordinating a software upgrade one moment, then working on a breach response the next. Taking a calm, analytical approach to resolving issues, even when there are many things happening at once, is a fundamental IT security ability.
- Advanced technology knowledge: One of the most challenging parts of working in information technology is the fast pace of the sector. Yesterday’s cutting-edge system will be obsolete tomorrow. As an information technology analyst, a professional will have to build a working knowledge of the latest IT tools, then continue to learn as new versions roll out.
- Personability and service mindset: An information security analyst is in the business of helping other employees and departments with their technology issues. This means these security professionals need to be skilled at working with others. From guiding colleagues through technology upgrades to making reports on security status, there are plenty of scenarios where communication becomes a core information security value.
An information security analyst can’t be 100% dedicated to either their soft skills or technical knowledge. The best of these professionals can effortlessly synthesize ever-expanding tech expertise with the ability to communicate clearly with their coworkers.
Professional experience and job history
An applicant coming into an information security analyst position can take a few different paths. Numerous employers prefer it when their new security team members already have work experience in IT in some capacity, according to the BLS.
To build knowledge and familiarity around IT and the systems they’ll be dealing with, information security analysts can serve as network and computer systems administrators. Working an entry-level job in an IT department but not dealing directly with security is a good way to put in years of service and impress hiring managers.
When it comes to a specific kind of security, it may pay to work with the relevant kind of technology. The BLS gave the example of a company looking for database security administrators. In this case, the hiring organization may favor candidates with database administration expertise.
Industry certification and specific skill recognition
While there is no widely acknowledged certification program for information security analysts — such as Certified Public Accountant status in accountancy — there are several ways for candidates to demonstrate their IT security knowledge. The BLS noted that multiple industry bodies offer accreditation courses for different aspects of an information security analyst skill set.
Certified Information Systems Security Professional status is one of the more wide-ranging certificate programs for employees seeking to prove their security bona fides. The BLS added that other aspects such as penetration testing and systems auditing also have credentials associated with them.
As with building IT knowledge in non-security fields, professionals can specialize when thinking about the types of certificates they want to pursue. Hiring managers who see certifications on applicants’ resumes can tell these are people who have proven their knowledge in a specific area of IT security.
Higher education for information security analysts
Learning about IT concepts in college courses — whether at the bachelor’s or master’s level — is one of the most direct ways to build useful knowledge for an information security analyst career. Today’s online programs enable working professionals to study while still working full-time jobs.
When applicants are hoping to be hired for a first information security analyst position, they don’t need to have a master’s degree. A bachelor’s degree will suffice for many roles, provided it is in a computer-related field. Hiring managers will want to verify that candidates have picked up technical knowledge while completing college programs. PayScale did note that professional IT certifications and years of work experience are useful complements for bachelor’s degrees.
Of course, studying information technology at a college level is about more than the diploma students earn at the end of their programs. It’s important to select a university that combines a relevant curriculum with top-quality, dedicated faculty. By studying at the best institutions, professionals can build practical knowledge and experience that will serve them well in the real-world information security situations they’ll face.
How does an information systems degree prepare students for information security jobs?
When it’s time to select a degree program in the IT field, there are a few different pathways professionals can take. One of these is information systems, a field specifically designed to deal with the intersections between technology and business.
Studying for a bachelor’s degree in information systems is one way to build the tech knowledge associated with information security analyst roles. Because the information systems curriculum incorporates a heavy focus on business outcomes, graduates are equipped to take on strategic and leadership roles in organizations.
To be capable of managing, securing, and upgrading any and all systems within their organizations, information security analysts should be familiar with a wide variety of technologies. A bachelor’s degree program in information systems offers a chance to build this expertise, instructing students in everything from database management and systems analysis to data communications and algorithm development.
Information systems degrees are unique among IT diploma programs because of their focus on soft skills and management concepts. Graduates will be familiar with project management, communications, operations management, and more. This can be helpful when information security professionals are asked to take a more involved, strategic role in their departments.
Electives and specialization
By taking dedicated security courses, information systems students can deepen their knowledge of specific concepts related to defending against today’s IT threats. The online Bachelor of Science in Information Systems program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business provides a good example of such a course: the Information Security Management elective.
Whether students are interested in going on to a master’s degree program with a concentration in security or hoping to test the job market right away, Information Security Management can serve as a helpful primer on modern IT security. The course covers security policy development, risk management, breach recovery, and more.
By taking a course directly focused on information security’s role in business, students get a close-up view of the modern threat landscape, as well as the systems they’ll be tasked with defending.
Studying information systems online
Because information security analysts are often tasked with developing and implementing security policies for their employers, they need a combination of nuts-and-bolts IT understanding and strategic leadership skills. An information systems degree program is designed to impart both kinds of knowledge.
Entering a 100% online program is a way to pick up this understanding on a schedule that makes sense for the individual student, even as they deal with the demands of a full-time IT role. When it’s time to build a resume and pursue a desirable position, such as information security analyst, online programs are there for students.
To learn more about the online BSIS from the Collat School of Business, visit the program page.