In early November 2018, a hacker using the net-handle FBSaler posted private information on 120 million Facebook user accounts for sale on an anonymous internet forum, according to Louise Matsakis’ Wired article, “Hack Brief: Someone Posted Private Facebook Messages From 81,000 Accounts.” The BBC, with the help of cyber security firm Digital Shadows, discovered that of these 120 million accounts, about 81,000 of them contained personal Messenger conversations.
The culprit, in this case, was discovered to be malicious browser extensions. Every time internet users install a browser extension (e.g., to change the visual appeal of their browser or to keep track of login and password information for internet accounts), they run the risk of installing malicious programs right into their browser without realizing the risks.
These extensions can capture and send sensitive information to hackers, who then sell it on internet marketplaces or darknet sites. Once sold, the purchaser can search all the data for anything they think they can exploit, such as 16-digit strings of numbers (credit card info), compromising photographs, or any number of other bits of data that can be used to steal a person’s identity or blackmail people by threatening to expose secrets.
To combat these threats, a number of exciting and lucrative careers in cyber security are available to those with the right education and skills who are interested in finding and exposing cyber criminals. People who already work in the tech field may want to pursue an online cyber security master’s degree to obtain the credentials to secure a position with more responsibilities and higher salaries.
The Value of Diversifying Experience
Cyber security positions range from penetration testers to security engineers and architects to Chief Information Security Officers (CISO) on a company’s board of directors. The best cyber security personnel, though, generally have tech experience outside of strict cyber security training.
“The thing that will make you good at security is that you are great at something else first,” Laurence Bradford writes in “How to Start a Lucrative Career in Cyber Security” in Forbes. “For example, become a master of the fundamentals of data networks, be an expert at administrating multiple operating systems or be proficient at multiple scripting languages (Python, Bash, etc.).”
Having a wide variety of technical skills related to security ultimately makes applicants more attractive. Also, the cyber security career path can lead to upper management, but the most attractive leadership candidates will have skill sets beyond security. They will understand how and why security interacts with other departments, such as mobile application development, software engineering and IT vendor management.
For this reason, cyber security professionals with an eclectic tech background are attractive to companies striving to pull away from siloed IT departments and follow a more cross-functional business model.
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Exciting Career Opportunities in Cyber Security
Within the cyber security field is a broad spectrum of career opportunities requiring a graduate-level cyber security skill set. According to Alison DeNisco Rayome’s TechRepublic article, “Want a Career in Cyber Security? Here Are 10 Jobs to Explore,” the top cyber security careers include:
- Security Consultant: In the field of cyber security, consultants are outsiders hired to look at a company with an unbiased eye and recommend a well-rounded cyber security strategy tailored to a company’s needs. Consultants advise their corporate clients on how to protect against attack, test for vulnerabilities, respond to incidents and keep their systems updated. Consultant teams often employ ethical hackers, or penetration testers.
- Security Engineer: Within the company, security engineers develop systems capable of handling any problems that arise. Among their many responsibilities, engineers install firewalls, detect intrusions, test for vulnerabilities, and develop and implement automated scripts to accomplish security solutions around the clock. A background in programming is a must for security engineers.
- Computer Forensics Expert: Almost every cyber security incident involves criminal activity. Forensics experts act as investigators after the fact, recovering lost data, examining affected systems and compiling credible evidence for legal purposes. More often than not, computer forensics experts work for consulting firms, law enforcement agencies and other government entities.
- Penetration Tester: Also known as ethical hackers, penetration testers are legally authorized to hack into secure networks, from corporate systems to government databases, to pinpoint vulnerabilities. Pen testers will also (especially in recent years) work in a sort of undercover capacity, using social engineering to trick employees and vendors into divulging passwords and other private information that can be used to gain access to a system.
- Security Software Developer: Most cyber security solutions require the development of software designed to automate and simplify the task of securing a company’s network for the sake of non-cyber security personnel. People who also have a strong background in software development and programming languages can specialize in developing security software, such as software to detect and prevent malware and viruses.
Hardly a day goes by without a headline about a major hack threatening to expose the private, sensitive information of millions of people. Social networks, health care companies, major retailers, insurance corporations and financial institutions are all vulnerable to attack. And all are constantly targeted by hackers. Cyber security is an absolutely essential function of IT in our connected, digital age. Students pursuing a master’s in cyber security will find that they are in high demand after graduation.
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University of North Dakota’s Master of Science in Cyber Security Program
In a connected world, where everything from smartphones to watches, vehicles, TVs, appliances and even warehouse inventory equipment is on a computer network, cyber security can be the first line of defense against our Internet of Things devices being used maliciously against us.
UND’s Higher Learning Commission-accredited online cyber security master’s degree program is ranked in US News & World Report’s Top 25 Most Innovative Schools (2018), alongside such prestigious institutions as Stanford, Harvard and MIT.
UND prepares students for careers in cyber security, with average annual salaries ranging from around $80,000 to more than $110,000. Concentrations in Autonomous Systems Cyber Security, Cyber Security and Behavior, Data Security, and General Cyber Security are available.