The job of a security architect is to maintain the security of an organization’s computer system. Security architects need to adopt the mindset of a cyber criminal, anticipating how they might act, so they can better protect the organization’s sensitive data.
This role can be found within a range of commercial, governmental, and non-governmental organizations. A security architect is a senior member of the IT team, so you will need a degree to attain this position. A relevant Bachelor’s degree is a minimum. However, some companies will require that you have a Master’s degree.
If you would like to learn more about the role of a security architect, we have outlined all the information you need to know to get started on this career path. Read on to find out more about the job’s responsibilities, as well as the skills, education, and certificates you need to get hired. We also highlight the latest information about the salary you can expect from this role, how your salary will progress over time, and where you can find the best jobs.
Looking for a graduate-level job rather than a senior position? Take a look at our dedicated article on entry-level cyber security jobs.
What is security architecture?
Security architecture refers to the practice of designing computer systems to achieve a set of security goals. This design leads to the overall system that you need to adequately protect an organization’s IT infrastructure and digital assets. This kind of system includes all of the specifications, processes, and standard operating procedures (SOPs) that help to prevent, mitigate, and analyze different threats.
A security architect is a senior-level cyber security position. The overarching goal of a security architect is to understand the moves and tactics of unethical hackers who are trying to gain unauthorized access to an organization’s computer system.
Many IT experts feel that former hackers make the best security architects because these people know best how to compromise a system. They could likewise know how to prevent these compromises from taking place. In this way, the role of a security architect is similar to that of a penetration tester, who simulates hacks in order to identify weaknesses in the system.
But while a security architect may carry out penetration testing, they have more responsibility than a penetration tester. Also, while many penetration testers are able to find work without a degree (since you can train yourself in ethical hacking), security architects need to have a broad and thorough understanding of a company’s computer system. There are many IT issues that a security architect has to deal with. This is why the knowledge and skills that come with a degree are often necessary.
A security architect must learn who has access to the computer system and where the weak points are. He or she should then be able to recommend effective ways to update and improve the level of security, through both hardware and software. A company will also expect a security architect to set user policies and protocols, as well as monitor and enforce them. Another part of the role involves setting up countermeasures that protect the system in the event of an unauthorized user gaining access to the system.
What does a security architect do?
Your exact responsibilities as a security architect will vary, depending on the type of organization you work for, the size of the IT team, the organization’s cyber security demands, your qualifications, and your level of experience. Nonetheless, there are some fundamental tasks you will be expected to carry out as a security architect, including:
- Reviewing the existing system security measures and recommending and implementing improvements
- Carrying out penetration testing (an authorized simulated cyberattack). This allows you to find vulnerabilities in a system and resolve them before a hacker discovers them
- Ensuring the continuous monitoring of network security
- Developing project timelines for ongoing upgrades to the IT system
- Making sure that all staff have access to the IT system in a limited way, defined by their needs and their role
- Establishing recovery procedures in the cases of disaster, such as a natural disaster or a widespread cyberattack
- Promptly responding to all security incidents and then providing analyses after the event
- Raising awareness of cyber security within the organization
- Arranging and continuing the education of staff to ensure that security policies are followed at all times
- Being aware of the latest developments in both security and hacking
There are various tools that security architects can use to identify weaknesses in a computer system, including nmap, Kali Linux, Wireshark, Metasploit, and John the Ripper.
What skills are required to become a security architect?
As with other subsets of cyber security, a security architect needs to have a specific set of knowledge and skills. Based on the job duties listed above, you will be expected to possess the following skills:
- Extensive experience in IT security and/or IT risk management
- A solid understanding of security protocols, cryptography, authentication, and authorization
- In-depth knowledge of current IT risks and ample experience implementing security solutions
- Extensive technical knowledge in core areas of IT infrastructure, including server and desktop hardware and operating systems, data networks, related monitoring and management systems, and storage and backups
- Experience applying security controls in areas such as Windows servers, LAN and WANs, WAF, wi-fi, firewalls, Unix/Linux servers, IDS/IPS, mobile security, and DLP
- An ability to interact with a broad cross-section of staff to explain and enforce security measures. This requires excellent leadership and interpersonal skills
- Excellent written and verbal communication skills
- A high level of personal integrity
- Analytical skills
- Problem-solving skills
- The ability to manage multiple activities under strict timelines
- The ability to work well in a demanding, dynamic environment
Alongside these essential hard and soft skills, you need to be motivated to learn about the latest principles, theories, practices, and techniques for improving computer security. You need to be aware of the latest technological developments related to your field. This will ensure that you always stay one step ahead of hackers and prevent any serious security issues from arising.
How to become a security architect
If this job description sounds appealing and you want to pursue this career path, you will need to follow some necessary steps. We have formulated a five-step process that will take you from where you are now to getting hired as a security architect.
Here’s how to become a security architect:
- Create a clear plan
- Look into relevant degrees
- Consider certificates
- Start your job search
- Keep learning
1. Create a clear plan
First, you will need a clear plan on how to become trained as a security architect. This plan should include information on:
- How you will gain the necessary skills, focusing on relevant degrees, certificates, years of IT experience, personal development, and other cyber security roles that can lead to a security architect position
- Whether you want to work for a private firm, government agency, or NGO
- The specific industry you want to work in, which should be based on your interests, values, and passions. Security architects are needed in all types of industry, including finance, environment, energy, education, media, and transport
- The specific requirements a company has for hiring a security architect (you can contact recruiters directly to find out what qualifications are necessary or desirable, for example)
2. Look into relevant degrees
As mentioned previously, you will need a degree to be considered for a security architect position. A Bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject like computer science, computer engineering, software development, cyber security, or IT will likely be the minimum. Here are some examples of Bachelor’s degrees to consider:
- Rice University’s BA in Computer Science
- Bellevue University’s Bachelor of Science Cybersecurity Degree
- Norwich University’s Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security
However, some employers will require or prefer that you have a Master’s degree in one of these subjects. Reputable Master’s degrees include:
- 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
Also, given the advanced nature of the security architect position, having a PhD may be beneficial. This degree can provide you with a more refined knowledge base and skillset, positioning you as an ideal candidate for the position. High-quality PhDs that will enhance your career include:
- Capitol Technology University’s Doctorate (DSc) in Cybsersecurity
- University of Fairfax’s Doctorate of Information Assurance
- Dakota State University’s Doctor of Philosophy in Cyber Operations
3. Consider certificates
Certificates are additional qualifications that can provide you with skills in particular areas of cyber security. Many employers will ask that prospective security architects have specific skills. If your current history working in IT has given you limited experience in these skill areas, it may be worth pursuing a certificate from a well-respected provider. The most useful certificates for security architects include:
- EC-Council’s Certified Network Defense Architect (CNDA)
- GIAC Defensible Security Architecture (GDSA)
- IACRB’s Certified SCADA Security Architect (CSSA)
- (ISC)²’s CISSP – ISSAP (Information Systems Security Architecture Professional)
- GIAC’s (Global Information Assurance Certification) GPEN certification
- CISM – Certified Information Security Manager
- CompTIA Security+
- CISSP – Certified Information Systems Security Professional
- CEH – Certified Ethical Hacker Certification
- IACRB’s CPT – Certified Penetration Tester
- IARCB’s CEPT – Certified Expert Penetration Tester
- CompTIA’s PenTest+
- EC-Council’s Certified Encryption Specialist (ECES)
4. Start your job search
Once you’ve gained the education, qualifications, and experience necessary to become a security architect, you can begin your job search. Many security architects enter the role within the organization they already work for. If you are currently in a mid-level or other senior cyber security role, always be aware of the internal recruitment process. If a vacancy opens up for a security architect position, put your name forward if you feel you are adequately trained for the role.
If you are interested in working for a governmental body, check out the following resources for job openings:
On the other hand, you might prefer to work in the private sector. If that’s the case, the top companies hiring for this position include:
- Cerner Corporation
- Booz, Allen, and Hamilton
- General Motors Corporation
- General Electric
- Cisco Systems, Inc.
You can also find security architect vacancies on the major job sites, such as ZipRecruiter, Monster, Indeed, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor, as well as niche job sites like CyberSecJobs.com and CyberSecurityJobsite.com.
See the salary section below for some examples of companies that pay particularly well for security architect roles.
See also: Cybersecurity jobs overview
5. Keep learning
Since a security architect is a senior position, you want to make sure that you are highly self-motivated when it comes to learning. Becoming experienced enough for the role means deepening your knowledge and insights throughout the course of your career path. A security architect is a trusted expert in IT security.
To reach this level of expertise, authority, and reliability, you should consider options for extended learning, such as a Master’s degree, a PhD program, and additional certificates. Other ways to educate yourself on different areas of cyber security include self-education (for example, reading widely in your own time) and attending lectures, workshops, and industry and networking events.
It is always possible to go in a different direction in your career path, should you decide that becoming a security architect isn’t the ideal choice. Fortunately, by pursuing a career as a security architect, you will be well-equipped to venture into other areas of cyber security, such as cybercrime law.
Security architect salary
Now we turn to the salary expectations for a security architect role. You will be glad to know that remuneration, including starting salaries for security architects, is quite high. This is because of the seniority of the role, the level of responsibility involved, and how critical a security architect is for maintaining the overall IT security of an organization. The skills required for this role are extremely valuable and in high demand.
When researching the average salaries of security architects online, you will likely find different results. However, a reliable resource to check out is PayScale, as it aggregates the average salaries from other sites. According to PayScale:
- The average salary for a security architect is $124,455.
- The average range of pay for security architects is $85,000–$166,000.
The site also provides valuable information on how you can expect to see your salary change over time:
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Do you want to aim for the very best jobs in the field? Additional information from PayScale highlights the top employers of security architects and what these companies pay for the role:
- Cerner Corporation: $87,801
- Booz, Allen, and Hamilton: $100,000
- General Motors Corporation: $118,306
- American Airlines: $100,796
- Amazon.com, Inc.: $146,568
- Deloitte: $108,000
- General Electric: $101,111
- Cisco Systems Inc: $112,927