The severity and impact of cyber-attacks is intensifying. On the other hand, companies lack IT employees with the expertise to deal with cybercrime. For this reason, organizations are opting to place their IT security needs with third-party security providers, such as cyber security consultants.
A cyber security consultant is a professional in the IT industry who is tasked with keeping systems and networks safe from internal and external attacks. Cyber security consultants do this by:
- Regulating access to systems by, for instance, creating security clearance levels
- Implementing security programs to protect information
- Keeping up-to-date with approaches used by cyber criminals, such as phishing, viruses, hacking, ransomware, etcetera.
Cyber security consultants play the role of defenders. But to do so effectively, they must also understand how attackers work. As such cyber security consultants often explore systems for weaknesses that can be exploited by cyber criminals. They then use this information to develop security solutions to strengthen networks and systems. If you are a cyber security expert and have gained experience working in the field for years, then you can become a cyber security consultant. Some other roles in this field include:
- Security architect
- Penetration Tester/Ethical Hacker
- Chief Information Security Officer (CISO). This is the head of security in a company.
Why companies invest hugely in data security
There are various reasons why companies invest in data security for the following reasons:
Cyber-crime is costly to manage
The cost of cybercrime is increasing. In 2015, costs stood at $3 trillion; this figure is expected to rise to $6 trillion by 2021. The burden of these costs is borne by the companies whose systems are breached. A big part of this cost goes to litigation, as affected customers sue for damage caused.
Diminished investor confidence
Whereas there are many adverse effects of data breaches, perhaps the biggest one is that incidents of cybercrime dilute investor confidence. For instance, in 2016, a cyber-attack on yahoo was discovered in the middle of an acquisition deal with Verizon. Yahoo was forced to accept a closing price that was $300 million below its original asking price of $4.8 billion.
For investors and members of the public, cyber security is now a criterion for deciding which companies to invest in. As part of their due diligence, they seek to understand a company’s strategy for managing risk, and want assurance that their money and information will be safe.
Also, the attacks by hackers on fortune 500 companies have sent the message that everyone is vulnerable. As such, investors are cautious now more than ever. For companies, the impact on their stock valuation can have lasting effects from the ensuing customer loss, and loss of finances either directly due to the attack or indirectly as shareholders and investors pull out their funds.
To conform to business regulations
Cyber-attacks change business regulation rules, ultimately affecting how companies run their operations. A case in point is the attack on Equifax, a consumer reporting agency. The 2017 attack compromised information of 143 million consumers, causing an outcry among the public, security companies, and the government. After the Equifax attack, the Data Breach Prevention and Compensation Act was introduced. The bill seeks to give policing rights to the Federal Trade Commission and the power to fine credit reporting agencies and to ensure they compensate victims.
Greater demand for privacy
Data breaches have left the public asking for one thing: privacy. Governments have responded by putting strict privacy laws in place. In Europe, The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires companies to delete consumer data upon request. Companies that utilize customer data for targeted marketing will have to change how they market. The impact will be even greater if such privacy rights enter huge markets like the US.
Roles of a cyber security consultant
As mentioned, individuals and businesses both face cyber threats on their networks and online systems. The main role of a cyber security consultant is to identify such threats and prevent them from happening.
Though you can be employed directly by a company as a security consultant, as a beginner, you will most likely work for a cyber security company. Organizations pay such companies for their expertise. It will be the job of the security company you work for to decide whether your skills and experience level measure up to a contract.
You will be required to:
- Ensure the online security of any clients allocated to you. More so, depending on the structure and work model of your employer, you may work with accounts from different industries, or specialize in government contracts, banks, insurance, hospitals, among others.
- Assess your clients’ systems and identify security issues unique to each client. Based on your findings, create a business case recommending security architecture and strategies that should be deployed to prevent threats and address vulnerable areas.
- Explain the existing threat to your client, why you need to deploy architecture to protect them and how your deployments will protect their business.
- After getting buy-in from clients, test and deploy solutions.
- Provide user-training to your client’s employees. To ensure long-term security, you will need to maintain a relationship with teams and offer ongoing assistance as needed.
- Stay up to date with current cyber threats, trends, and technologies, to outdo cyber criminals. You need to constantly stay up to date with:
- Hardware Authentication. This will help you to control log-in procedures. To log in, a user needs a username, a password, a device, and a token. A token provides additional authentication, making it harder for unauthorized users from getting into a system even if they have a user name or password.
- Behavior analytics. Analyzing user behavior can tell you whether log in credentials have been compromised.
- Deep Learning. This will allow you to identify deviations in user behavior.
To succeed in these roles, you need the following skills:
- Knowledge of information security
- Understand security technology
- Be a great lister and communicator
- Ability to explain technical issues to users
- Great team player
- Problem-solving skills
- Attention to detail
- Able to work under pressure and meet project deadlines
- Project management skills
More so, to take advantage of job opportunities, you need to have relevant work experience. For instance, if you are a database administrator, you stand a better chance of landing a job managing database security than someone who has no prior experience with databases.
What’s next: Exploit countless career options for cyber security consultants
As cyber-attacks have grown, so has the demand for cyber security consultants among government agencies, banks, medical institutions, insurance companies, among others.
But reports from researchers, security bodies and governments maintain that the skills gap in cyber security is still glaring. An article from the US Bureau of labor statistics estimates a projected growth of 28% for information security analyst jobs from 2016 to 2026. The article also notes that the demand for managed security service providers will rise, as companies still lack the capacity to handle cyber threats.
Trends show there is and always has been a shortage of cyber security talent. For example:
- In 2014, the Cisco Annual Security Report stated that by 2014, there would be a shortage of 1 million cyber security professionals globally.
- In 2015, Symantec CEO, Michael Brown, said that by 2019, though the demand for cybersecurity professionals will have risen to 6 million jobs, there will still be a talent shortage of 1.5 million.
- In 2016 ISACA conducted a skills gap analysis that estimated a shortage of 2 million cybersecurity professionals by the year 2019.
- Current job forecasts still show that the industry is unable to cope with the increasing demand for cybersecurity jobs. Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that by 2021, 3.5 million cyber security jobs will be unfilled.
Robert Herjavec, CEO of Herjavec Group, points out that the shortage of security talent hampers efforts to deal with the ever-increasing incidents of cybercrime. This makes it highly likely that black hat hackers will continue to outpace us. Herjavec recommends that everyone who is employed in IT needs to take an active part in defending their company’s infrastructure and network.
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