The demand for talented cybersecurity professionals continues to grow at a breakneck pace, largely driven by the increased sophistication of new technologies. In fact, analysts from Cybersecurity Ventures predict that there will be close to 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity positions by 2021, an estimate that has some government agencies scrambling to recruit experienced and qualified candidates. This urgency has motivated the Department of Homeland Security to accelerate its hiring efforts, which opens up a variety of opportunities for those seeking a meaningful information systems career path. But before you start filling out an application, it’s important to get a firm grasp on what Homeland Security careers entail, as the agency has a massive operational scope.
What it takes to pursue a cybersecurity career with DHS
First, it’s worth noting that DHS is comprised of 22 distinct federal departments and agencies, each with its own unique purview. While many of these subdivisions regularly collaborate on open investigations and network analysis projects, the breadth of their responsibilities tends to vary between departments. That said, cybersecurity professionals (which differ from network security professionals) often utilize similar skill sets to complete their daily assignments and work toward a common goal — protecting U.S. networks and information systems from digital threats and malicious actors, both foreign and domestic in origin. According to the DHS website, ideal candidates must have expertise in one or more of the following areas:
- Cyber incident response: Assist government and private sector entities by securing their critical infrastructure, analyzing the impact of cyberattacks, and coordinating disaster response efforts following a security incident.
- Cyber risk and strategic analysis: Develop digital defense measures for present and future cyber threats by collecting relevant network data, analyzing past security breaches, and utilizing cutting-edge risk assessment applications.
- Vulnerability detection and assessment: Identify potential cyber threats by detecting application- and file-based vulnerabilities, using automated testing tools, and classifying weaknesses in computer systems and network infrastructures.
- Intelligence and investigation: Enhance network and system security by gathering technology-based intelligence, conducting complex digital inquiries, and improving existing investigative processes and workflows.
- Networks and systems engineering: Create and administer comprehensive security protocols by designing new digital infrastructure topologies, managing network clients and servers, and optimizing internet and intranet connectivity.
- Digital forensics and forensics analysis: Conduct in-depth cybercrime investigations by leveraging scientific tests and techniques, recovering and preserving digital evidence, and analyzing relevant data gathered from seized technologies.
- Software assurance: Ensure the integrity of mission critical software by raising the overall quality of key applications, minimizing the risk of digital exploitation, and creating new internal and external security provisions.
Working for the federal government is markedly different for cybersecurity professionals compared to other private-sector career paths, as the consequences of lackluster security have the potential to severely impact the general public. DHS personnel are constantly on the lookout for new threats and vulnerabilities that cybercriminals can capitalize on, from zero-day exploits to spear phishing opportunities. This accounts for why the agency is committed to assembling such a wide range of skill sets — preemptive analysis and risk mitigation have become an essential part of combating online theft, fraud, and abuse.
Specific Homeland Security careers
Pursuing a career with DHS can be a challenge because of the large number of departments under the agency’s jurisdiction, which is often quite overwhelming for would-be applicants. While every subdivision does have its own team of cybersecurity professionals, there is some variability in terms of operational requirements and responsibilities. Here are a few specific roles in the DHS:
Cyber defense analyst
This position requires an extensive knowledge of computer networking concepts and protocols, encryption algorithms, risk management processes, and vulnerability assessment tools. Cyber defense analysts perform a broad range of threat mitigation activities, including:
- Malware analysis
- Vulnerability scans
- Host and network-based intrusion detection
- Nslookup, Ping, and Traceroute interpretations
Digital forensics analyst
This investigative role is responsible for collecting, processing, preserving, and analyzing data and computer-based evidence to support law enforcement personnel with criminal, fraud, and counterintelligence efforts. Digital forensics analysts conduct hands-on cyber investigations, such as:
- Data decryption
- Digital media and OS examinations
- Security threat and vulnerability analysis
- SQL injection and return-oriented attack research
Information systems security manager
This administration-oriented career path manages cybersecurity programs for DHS systems and networks, facilitates information security processes, and oversees all infrastructure upgrades and emergency planning procedures. Information systems security managers leverage their extensive organizational knowledge to keep internal networks optimized, which involves:
- Software quality control
- Baseline delivery route integration
- System and network security acquisition
- Critical infrastructure and communication management
With new cyber threats popping up every day, DHS has been forced to recruit a greater number of technical experts than ever before, which is where graduates with an MSMIS come in.
How UAB’s online MSMIS can prepare you for a DHS cybersecurity career
Working for the federal government requires a truly robust technological background and a passion for solving complex problems. The master’s degree in management information systems online program from the University of Alabama at Birmingham provides students with the cybersecurity knowledge and expertise they need to pursue a meaningful Homeland Security career.
DHS and its partner agencies prioritize adaptable candidates who understand the complex threats in the modern digital landscape, which is why UAB’s online program is focused on the real-world skill sets that cybersecurity professionals rely on. The MSMIS program features two specialized concentrations in Cyber Security Management and Business Analytics that can help you build the competencies you need to stand out during the DHS application process.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career at the Department of Homeland Security, reach out to an enrollment advisor for more information.