Cybersecurity is a flourishing field. You can thank cybercriminals for that – just not out loud. Cybersecurity is a very serious issue indeed. As humankind relies more and more upon secure and safe networks of computers to communicate, do business, store data, and so much more, nefarious actors have gained exponentially more power to manipulate these systems. Studying for a cybersecurity masters is a great way to prepare you for a career dedicated to combating cybercriminals, hackers, and spies. You’ll have a chance to make a difference, cultivate a healthy career and work in an ever-changing and ever-challenging environment. It is not hyperbolic to say that cybersecurity has a huge impact on the world. Whether we like it or not, the digital age has utterly transformed almost every society on earth.
Of course, it isn’t as simple as just signing up and launching yourself into a new career. You need to know what kind of field you’d like to specialize in. It is a good idea to have at least some vision of where you would like to end up before you start a course. Cybersecurity is a very broad field – as varied as the kinds of compromise that can befall a network. Cybersecurity experts are not all hired in the same way. You could work as a consultant, at a company, or as part of a government organization. Here are some of the specializations you could take on as a cybersecurity master’s graduate.
When things go wrong, cybersecurity incident responders are the operators that swoop in and contain the problem. Whether there has been a data breach, a malware attack, a spear-phishing campaign, or some good old-fashioned thievery, incident responders are the people called in to help out. Incident response teams often work as part of consultancies. A company hires a consultancy when things go pear-shaped. In governmental organizations, incident responders are usually contracted staff – on call for when the time comes. During times of cyber peace, staff incident responders may help other cybersecurity experts to mitigate possible risks and conduct security audits.
A cybersecurity masters will help foster the ability to think systematically during a crisis situation. This is essential if you want to find work as an incident responder. No matter what pressures an organization is putting on you and your team to control a breach, you need to maintain a scientific outlook to plug gaps in defenses and find solutions to problems.
Cybersecurity engineers are at the cutting edge of any network security operation. They take into account the issues presented to them by penetration testers, malware analysts, cryptographers, auditors, and forensics experts and work to improve the strength and agility of a security setup. They work in conjunction with executives to help deliver strategic aims through the re-enforcement of cybersecurity. Cybersecurity engineers are involved in a constant process of troubleshooting. They are the security personnel that deals with the daily testing and altering of encryption, training materials, and communications between the security team and the wider organization.
A cybersecurity masters is a great way of setting yourself up for a job as a security engineer working in the cyber realm. Security engineering is really a term that refers to several distinct fields. Postgraduate study courses offer the opportunity to focus on the sub-field that you are passionate about. Studying for a masters also gives you the opportunity to focus on real-life instances where security engineering was crucial. You’ll be able to grill your experienced professors on the challenges they faced in the industry.
Cybersecurity engineers are very well compensated for the essential work that they do. On average, a cybersecurity engineer receives a base salary of around 96,000 dollars a year. It certainly isn’t easy money: in order to be successful, you need to constantly evolve your skillset.
Penetration testers are ethical hackers working to try and expose vulnerabilities in an organization’s cybersecurity setup. They often do their work covertly – breaking into networks without the knowledge of most of the user’s knowledge. Penetration testers are not just hackers. They design simulated attacks that replicate real-world conditions. In order to do this, they must conduct a great deal of research – checking out the evolving nature of cybercrime and espionage.
Penetration testers are often also responsible for briefing security teams and wider organizations on how they managed to attack their networks. Studying for a cybersecurity master’s can help you develop the skills necessary for briefing people outside of your field on complex topics.
‘Malware’ – short for ‘malicious software’ is a catch-all term for any virus, worm, trojan, or keylogger that is used to disrupt, damage, and infiltrate computers and computer networks. There are many different kinds of malware, and malicious actors are constantly innovating: creating more stealthy and destructive software. Some famous examples of malware are:
A worm-type malware that did huge amounts of damage to Iran’s nuclear program in 2010. It infected over 200,000 computers. It is thought to have originated in either Israel, the United States, or as a collaborative effort by both countries. Computer worm malware replicates itself in order to spread to new networks.
Zeus was a highly effective trojan horse type malware that was used to steal sensitive information from users of the Windows operating system. It is known to have been created in 2006 and has infected millions of computers. Trojan horse malware – as the name suggests – is often concealed within a helpful-looking link. Once the link is clicked, and any password data is entered, all sorts of operations can be completed by a hacker remotely – from logging a person’s keystrokes to downloading more malware.
WannaCry was a devastating ransomware attack that successfully extorted millions of dollars from organizations and individuals. When an operating system was infected with WannaCry, all of the user’s data was encrypted. The user then received a ransom message, asking for Bitcoin to be sent to an account if they wanted to see their data again. It is suspected that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was behind the attack. The DPRK has been very actively pursuing cryptocurrency scams in order to fund its heavily sanctioned regime.
The continuous evolution of malware is something you are bound to learn about during your cybersecurity masters study.
A malware analyst is a part reverse engineer, part detective, and part programmer. They are experts in taking threatening malware apart, figuring out how it works, and then advising programmers as to how they might counter similar threats. The work of a malware analyst is never complete. They are waging an endless war with sophisticated hackers using ever more nefarious methods. While this may sound unbelievably frustrating, it does mean that the work will never dry up for a talented, creative, and driven analyst. Freelance analysts can become highly sought-after agents for hire – helping to protect stricken organizations from being victimized by malware in the future.
If during the course of your cybersecurity masters you learn that you have a penchant for complex coding tasks, you might want to consider working towards becoming a cryptographer. As a cryptographer, you will be in charge of making data less vulnerable to attack. As the name might suggest, the codes that cryptographers write are aimed at encrypting information so that it is only accessible to authorized persons. This is incredibly important. Companies that have lost encrypted data very quickly lose the trust of their customers. When Yahoo lost all of its customer data in 2013, it severely impacted the company’s standing. Because internet privacy (or a lack of it) affects nearly all people, threats to the integrity of end-to-end encryption codes used by messaging services should seriously concern you.
The same rule applies to government organizations. Leaked information from government databases can reveal state secrets and give sensitive information to adversaries.
Cryptographers also need to have honed cryptanalytical skills. Cryptoanalysis is essential if a cybersecurity specialist is going to be able to identify ways of writing better encryption codes and ciphers. Cryptography experts need to have a very firm understanding of code writing, code analysis, and digital identity authentication techniques. As well as writing and analyzing an organization’s data encryption codes, they may also be required to provide training on data safety to staff members.
Cybersecurity auditors are the professionals tasked with stepping back and taking a look at their organization’s security system as a whole. They work with penetration testers and engineers to pour through a security strategy – exposing its strengths and faults. Auditing is absolutely crucial in any security operation. As new threats develop and hackers become more and more tricky to deal with, continual audits have to take place so that the network is not compromised.
Conducting a thorough audit takes incredible diligence and the ability to make clear and concise reports to strategists and engineers. It is a collaborative role: auditors will be responsible for contracting and communicating with penetration testers. A cybersecurity masters will prepare you well for auditing security setups. The diligent and methodical approach towards the examination of a network will be stressed very highly. Auditors need to have a good spread of skills. They need to be able to recognize problems that fall out of their specific field of interest. A good instinct for mistakes in code, a degree of knowledge about hacking trends, and the ability to learn new engineering principles fast are all necessary traits. These are all traits that can be cultivated during a cybersecurity masters.
As well as being employed directly by organizations, cybersecurity auditors are often hired as 3rd party consultants. The best auditing consultants – those who can successfully identify flaws in a system – earn very generous payment packages.
Cyber Forensics Expert
Cyber forensics is an emerging field of work that is very quickly gaining traction. Cyber forensics experts typically work for law enforcement agencies, security firms, and intelligence organizations. In the same way, as a pathological forensics specialist might piece together evidence found on a body, a cyber forensics specialist looks for evidence of a crime within networks of computers or online communities.
Cyber forensics experts are in high demand. Organizations have struggled to cope with the highly fractured world of cybercrime during the opening two decades of the 21st Century. Cybercriminals and state actors have simply been too nimble for security and law enforcement agencies to keep up with. For this reason, a huge amount of investment is being made in cyber forensics around the world. If you choose to specialize in this field, you’ll need to tailor your studies around it during your cybersecurity masters. There are a great many specialist skills and a fair amount of unique subjects that need to be covered in order to be successful. As well as all of the regular engineering and computer science skills needed for cybersecurity, you’ll also have to learn about the legislation surrounding the investigation and the ownership of communications. You’ll need to develop a working knowledge of security threats and be willing to constantly and discreetly follow developments in the world of cybercrime.
Cyber forensics experts are often paid handsomely, but they are regularly expected to work in very high clearance environments and to keep their work private. In the court system, cyber forensics specialists are extremely valuable to prosecutors. Because of how complex following a digital paper trail is, specialists will often be called into the court itself to explain how evidence has been collected. Without the expert being present in court, prosecutors would struggle to make clear how evidence was collected – which would necessarily invalidate it. Digital evidence is increasingly crucial to criminal investigations. Extracted and decrypted files are often the most tangible kind of evidence that a prosecutor can bring against sexual abusers and high-level organized criminals. Cyber forensics was critical in the capture and conviction of ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’, the geeky webmaster that made millions running the ‘Silk Road’ drugs eCommerce site.
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