A security engineer is someone who tests and screens security software and systems, with the intention of finding security breaches or intrusions. The job of a security engineer also involves fixing possible causes of security breaches and recommending how the level of security could be improved.
Security engineers can find employment in a range of commercial, governmental, and non-governmental organizations. Usually, a security engineer will need to have a Bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject. Additional qualifications, such as related certificates or a Master’s degree, can then help security engineers obtain the top positions.
To find out more about what a career as a security engineer might involve, be sure to read on. We outline the different aspects of this role, which will give you a better sense of whether this is the right career path for you. We’ve gathered all the necessary information about security engineering, including job responsibilities and any skills and qualifications that are either required or helpful for obtaining work.
We also reveal the most up-to-date information about the average salaries of security engineers and where you can find the highest quality jobs in the profession.
What is security engineering?
Every organization wants its computer network to be as secure as possible. This is where security engineers come in. A security engineer’s role is to design computer systems that can deal with major disruptions like natural disasters and malicious hacks.
If a company has faulty software or other system weaknesses, this can leave networks vulnerable to malware (such as spyware and adware), phishing, and other security threats. A security engineer will analyze computer networks and take the necessary steps to ensure that they are running securely. Their analysis also allows them to foresee any of the security issues just mentioned. With these insights in mind, a security engineer can then devise clear recommendations on how to prevent these problems.
Organizations need security engineers to block unauthorized access from outside sources. Their job is highly critical. Without them, an entire company’s computer network could be compromised and knowledge on how to recover from the situation would be lacking. A security engineer essentially acts as a comprehensive security team by:
- Putting in place – and testing – security strategies
- Reporting on any incidents
- Keeping track of the status of network security
- Talking and writing to other employees to raise awareness about computer security
What does a cyber security engineer do?
Your specific duties as a security engineer will vary depending on the kind of organization you work for, as well as your level of seniority. However, there are some basic or essential tasks that most security engineers can expect to carry out.
Here’s what a security engineer does:
- Helping with the installation or processing of new security products and procedures
- Installing and implementing software – this includes items like firewalls and data protection programs
- Developing security standards and practices for the organization
- Creating novel solutions to existing security issues
- Scanning networks to identify any security vulnerabilities
- Supervising changes in hardware, software, and user needs
- Educating fellow employees on information security through education and awareness-raising
- Recommending changes in legal, technical, and regulatory aspects of security
- Carrying out investigations into how security breaches happen
- Communicating findings to management
- Recommending security improvements to management
- Helping plan an organization’s information security strategy
- Carrying out penetration testing
- Developing automation scripts that can handle and track security incidents
- Testing security solutions with industry standards in mind
- Looking out for any irregular system behavior
There are various tools that security engineers will use to carry out these duties, including Wireshark, Nmap, Ncat, Metasploit, and Nikto. All of these tools can help a security engineer detect weaknesses in computer software and networks.
What skills are required to become a security engineer?
As with other subsets of cyber security, security engineering requires a certain skillset and level of knowledge. With the above responsibilities of security engineering in mind, you will need the following expertise and attributes as a security engineer:
- In-depth knowledge of IT security software
- A passion for technology
- Keeping up to date with the latest countermeasures to security threats
- Excellent problem-solving skills
- A high level of ethical integrity (as you are looking after people’s sensitive information)
- Strong attention to detail
- Eagerness to dig into technical questions
- A high degree of adaptability
- Strong analytical and diagnostic skills
- Maintaining and developing awareness of current standards, practices, procedures, and methods
- Excellent presentation and communication skills, so you can effectively communicate with management, other employees, and customers
- Ability to clearly articulate complex concepts, both verbally and in written form
- Understanding common programming languages, including Java, C/C++, and scripting languages (for example, PHP, Python, and Perl)
How to become a security engineer
If you’ve decided that the job description of a security engineer appeals to you, the next step is to understand how to enter the field. Below are five crucial actions you should take to make this career path a successful one.
Here’s how to become a security engineer:
- Come up with an easy-to-follow plan
- Think about obtaining a relevant degree
- Consider other certifications
- Begin your job hunt
- Work on expanding your knowledge and skillset
Let’s examine each of these steps in greater detail:
1. Devise a plan
You may feel quite confident that security engineering is the ideal career path for you. But you will still need a step-by-step strategy that will land you the job you want. This plan should begin with gaining the skills needed for a role, usually achieved through formal education.
The next step of your plan should involve a decision about whether to work for a private firm, a governmental organization, or a non-governmental group. Then, you will want to narrow down your choices further. After all, whether or not you’d prefer to work for a commercial company or for an NGO, you should figure out what area you want to focus on. For example, your sphere of activity could relate to finance, energy, transport, environment, health, education, or media.
Following this, consider what area of security engineering you would like to specialize in. There are different types and subsets. Once you’ve landed on a career path that matches your interests, values, personality, and goals, it’s time to find out what the requirements are for the position you have in mind. To get the answers you need, you can contact recruiters directly, as they will be able to tell you about any required qualifications or certifications.
2. Think about obtaining a relevant degree
While you can become qualified in some aspects of cyber security (for example, penetration testing) without a degree, the situation is a bit different when it comes to security engineering jobs. Most people following this career path will have to obtain at least a Bachelor’s degree to secure an entry-level position.
Aside from being a prerequisite for many positions, a degree will provide you with vital knowledge and skills that will allow you to feel comfortable in your first job. Relevant degrees include computer science, IT, engineering, and cyber security.
3. Consider other certifications
Other qualifications can be useful – or even required – to gain employment in particular positions. This is especially the case for senior and high-paying jobs. If you have a certain security engineering position in mind, be sure to find out if you need to attain any certifications for it. After all, you don’t want to study for a certificate only to find out it was unnecessary all along. The most reputable certifications that will benefit you in the security engineering field include:
- GIAC’s (Global Information Assurance Certification) GPEN certification
- IACRB’s CPT – Certified Penetration Tester
- ESCA – EC Council Certified Security Analyst
- CISM – Certified Information Security Manager
- CompTIA Security+
- CISSP – Certified Information Systems Security Professional
- CISA – Certified Information Security Auditor
4. Begin your job hunt
So, you have the education you need to be qualified for an entry-level job or a position with a higher level of seniority. If you have little or no experience in security engineering, then you will most likely need to aim for entry-level vacancies. On the other hand, if you already have experience in a related job, you could realistically apply for some mid-level security engineering positions.
Here are some useful resources to refer to if you want to find governmental positions:
You may have decided you’d rather work in the private sector, however. In that case, here are some of the top companies hiring security engineers:
- Amazon.com Inc.
- Google, Inc.
- Cisco Systems Inc.
- The Kroger Company
Another way to search for security engineering jobs is to use the major job sites, including Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Monster, ZipRecruiter, and Glassdoor, as well as niche sites like CyberSecJobs and CyberSecurityJobsite.
It’s also worth referring to the salary section below, so you can get an idea of how much the top companies pay security engineers.
5. Work on expanding your knowledge and skillset
After landing a job, you may be interested in enhancing your career development. This may be because you want to have more influence in the company or you want a senior position that comes with better pay and job security. Whatever the reason, you will likely have to deepen your learning before being considered for these more advanced jobs. To expand your technical knowledge and overall skillset, you might want to pursue a relevant Master’s degree or some of the certifications previously mentioned.
One of the advantages of choosing to complete a Master’s is that there will often be an option to complete the degree online, on a part-time basis, or in a flexible way (such as through evening or weekend classes). This will allow you to study while working or carrying out other responsibilities. Your employer may even assist in funding your studies if it will be beneficial for your career development.
A few highly-regarded online Master’s degrees to consider are:
- UC Berkeley School of Information’s Master of Information and Cybersecurity (MICS)
- A. James Clark School of Engineering’s Masters of Engineering in Cybersecurity
- University of Delaware’s Master of Science in Cybersecurity
Another possible route to take is to delve into a more specific area of security engineering. If you’re interested in the legal side of things, then a degree in cyber security law could offer a more fulfilling experience. Or you may be passionate about privacy issues, in which case studying a privacy engineering course would make sense.
Cyber security engineer salary
An important aspect of security engineering that you will no doubt want to learn about is salary. You’ll be glad to know that both starting and average salaries are relatively high. Moreover, greater experience is strongly correlated with much higher pay. This means you can expect a mid-level position to pay significantly more than an entry-level one. A useful site for researching the average salary of a computer engineer is PayScale, which aggregates salaries from other sites. According to PayScale:
- The average salary for a security engineer is $92,091
- The range of pay for security engineers is $62,000–$135,000
There is also data illustrating how much you can expect to see your salary increase over time:
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In addition, if you want to aim for the top jobs, PayScale points out the best employers of security engineering roles and what they pay:
- Amazon.com Inc: $120,033
- Google, Inc.: $135,842
- Cisco Systems Inc: $78,164
- The Kroger Company: $66,077