What is an Information Security Analyst?
An information security analyst is tasked with the important responsibility of protecting computer systems, networks, and the information contained therein from cyber attacks. As more and more attacks are being made in the “virtual world,” information security analysts find themselves on the frontlines of fighting to protect and secure digital information.
Not only is this important to protect the proprietary information of businesses, but it’s also crucial to have strong digital security to protect consumers’ private information like bank account numbers and social security numbers.
What Does an Information Security Analyst Do?
From a macro level point of view, an information security analyst is responsible for ensuring the security of online systems and the data held within. This is a job that requires quick thinking, fast action, and an eye for detail, not to mention working well under pressure. Of course, to keep online data safe from hackers, information security analysts must perform a host of duties.
Monitor Critical Systems
A key part of this job is to monitor systems like databases, intranets, and other computer-based systems to ensure they are performing at their best. Furthermore, an information security analyst keeps an eye out for security breaches, and when one occurs, they are responsible not just for stopping it, but determining how and where the breach occurred in the first place.
Update Hardware and Software
Computer systems often change, with both hardware and software constantly being upgraded and updated with new technologies. Information security analysts are often asked to oversee the updating process to ensure that the updates are installed correctly and that data they’re intended to protect remains safe.
Coordinate Responses to Threats
Information security analysts often act as the point person when a security breach occurs. This means delegating duties to other workers to stop the breach, recover any lost information, and coordinating with superiors to keep them abreast of the problem.
Likewise, workers in this field are responsible for testing systems for vulnerabilities in what are called “penetration tests.” As a result of these mock threats, information security analysts evaluate the performance of their systems and plan the necessary procedures to address any issues that arise.
Research the Latest Information Security Updates
As noted earlier, since technology changes so rapidly and new threats are constantly being developed, a large part of this career is simply researching the latest trends and best practices for securing online systems and their data. Based on that research, information security analysts are expected to devise standards of operation for their organization.
For example, if a new database security tool is released, they would evaluate the product, test it, analyze its usefulness, and make recommendations to their superiors regarding whether or not that particular tool would be a wise investment.
Devise Disaster Recovery Plans
Should a data breach occur, information security analysts must have a disaster recovery plan. Typically, these plans are multi-step responses to various types of incidents that could put data at risk. What’s more, these plans ensure that data is safe should something catastrophic occur. For example, part of a disaster recovery plan would likely be to make copies of all data and storing them in an off-site location.
What is the Difference Between a Security Analyst and an Information Security Analyst?
Though there are many similarities between a security analyst and an information security analyst, there are also some significant differences, particularly with regard to their scope of duties.
Where a security analyst’s job is more broad-based and includes responsibilities for determining the efficacy of safety and security features in both the digital and real-world realms, an information security analyst’s job is much more focused on protecting digital data.
That is, a security analyst might be asked to evaluate the functioning of an organization’s computer systems and the current safety protocols that keep hackers at bay, but they might also be asked to evaluate the company’s larger security program, perhaps even including security of the physical premises.
Conversely, an information security analyst would be tasked with planning security protocols for an organization’s computer systems, testing those systems, and updating those systems. Again, their focus is on digital data and its safety.
In some settings, a security analyst might also oversee the work of an information security analyst. For example, if new security policies are drafted and implemented by an information security analyst, a security analyst might be tasked with evaluating the efficacy of the implemented policies.
What’s more, security analysts are often the go-between from information technology departments to members of management where they present reports and discuss their findings when evaluating the health of an organization’s information security protocols.
Where Does an Information Security Analyst Work?
According to a 2021 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than one-quarter of information security analysts work in the computer systems design field. That is, they construct software and hardware systems that are not only reliable and meet the needs of the business or organization that needs them, but are also secure environments in which to collect, store, and analyze information. In this work environment, an information security analyst might design systems for any number of applications, from medical to financial and everything in between.
The second largest field of work for information security analysts is in finance and insurance. This should be of no surprise given the sheer volume of information that’s gathered by insurance companies and banks (and the sensitive nature of the information collected by each).
In some cases, analysts work in-house for banks and insurance companies, though they might also be contracted from an outside source.
Information security analysts commonly work in information technology departments of businesses and organizations as well. These workers have perhaps a smaller scope of work than those discussed above, simply because they work for a specific entity rather than providing their services to a host of clients that need secure computer systems.
Though many information security analysts work for companies or organizations, some are self-employed. This allows workers to have a little more freedom regarding pay, hours worked, and the clients for whom they work.
Regardless of the work setting, most information security analysts enjoy a comfortable work environment and a typical 40-hour work schedule each week. However, many workers in this field are often on-call to respond to security breaches, meaning they might have to work nights, weekends, and even holidays if the need arises.
Can an Information Security Analyst Work From Home?
Independent information security analysts that are self-employed can most certainly work from home. Building computer systems, testing them, and monitoring them can all be done remotely. Likewise, communicating with clients and even seeking out new clients can be done remotely as well.
Naturally, the key to working from home is to strike a balance between home and work life. That often means developing a set work schedule, having a dedicated office space, and working with family members, friends, or roommates that live in the same house to help them understand that though you’re at home that during business hours you need peace and quiet to get your work done.
Though many information security analysts work from home, it is expected that more will choose to work from home in the coming years. This assumption is made based on the fact that the need for information security analysts is on the rise and that the popularity of working from home or “telecommuting” is on the rise as well.
What are the Requirements to Become an Information Security Analyst?
The formal education requirements for information security analysts begin with a bachelor’s degree in information technology, computer science, computer programming, or a closely related field. These programs usually take four years to complete, and focus on basic information technology topics that are needed for employment in an entry-level position.
Common courses include computer programming, information security, computer ethics, and information security systems.
Master’s Degree Programs
For improved job prospects, students might choose to pursue a master’s degree. These programs are more advanced and revolve around more specific knowledge, skills, and training in the information technology field. Degrees in information technology, computer security, or even business administration and information systems are typically preferred.
Master’s degree programs might require students to complete as few as 30 credit hours or as many as 60 or more credit hours. The number of credits and the length of time it takes to complete a master’s degree depend on a variety of factors, including the specific major.
For example, where a master’s degree in information technology might take just 30 credit hours and two years to complete, a master’s degree in business administration with a concentration in information systems might require completion of 45 credit hours, which could take two or more years to complete.
Work Experience Requirements
Gaining experience working in this field is an invaluable asset for information security analysts to have. That’s because most employers require at least a year or two of relevant work experience to qualify for many jobs.
Like many other professions, getting work experience usually entails working in an entry-level position after graduating from college where valuable on-the-job training can take place. Typically, entry-level workers fill positions in an organization’s information technology department where they might perform any number of tasks, such as installing hardware or software on employee computers, training employees on proper computer security practices, or assisting in more complex projects like building databases or developing asset recovery programs.
Once workers in this field have put in due time in these kind of entry-level positions, their educational background and work experience makes them much more attractive for upper-level positions. For example, a worker that spent two years working on a project to help a company secure its digital systems is far more likely to be considered for a position as an information security analyst than another applicant with no relevant work experience.
Information Security Analyst Certification
Certification as an information security analyst is typically not mandatory. However, it is strongly recommended that workers in this field become certified. This is because the majority of employers looking for qualified information security analysts prefer applicants to have some sort of certification. In other words, being certified makes finding a job more likely.
There are different kinds of certifications – some broad-based and others far more specific – but the common thread is that these certifications demonstrate a commitment to acquiring more knowledge, developing more skills, and being more familiar with best practices as it pertains to information security.
What Do You Learn in an Information Security Degree Program?
Because technology changes so rapidly and the threats to the security of digital information are continually evolving, the knowledge and skills needed to be an effective information security analyst are often changing.
Having said that, there are some core learning targets that are part of most degree programs, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Information Systems – Students learn about different types of computer information systems, including how they’re designed, implemented, and monitored.
- Information Security Systems – This course seeks to broaden students’ understanding of available tools to secure digital systems in order to protect the data stored therein from hackers.
- Computer Networking – In computer networking courses, students learn how networks are built, how they function, and how hardware and software is used to make networks more efficient and secure.
- Ethics – Students explore ethical issues as they pertain to the storage and protection of private information.
- Digital Law – Digital law courses introduce students to the foundations of laws, rules, policies, and regulations that govern work in the information technology sector.
- Data Communications – Courses in this field explore how digital information is encoded and transferred from one computer to another.
- IT Project Management – This course centers around teaching students how to oversee the development of online systems to meet required specifications and project timelines.
- Database Design – Database design courses focus student learning on how to design databases such that they are secure, yet easily accessed by authorized users.
- Digital Forensics – Students learn the essential principles of investigating digital crimes, particularly in the recovery of lost data and pursuing leads that help identify hackers.
What is an Online Information Security Degree?
One of the advantages of becoming an information security analyst is that there are many online degree programs in this field. Studying online has become a very popular means of earning a degree because it allows students to take the same type of classes as on-campus students (i.e., fundamentals of networking, client/server environments, and database systems), work with the same professors, and have the same learning opportunities, all from the comfort of home.
Additionally, online learning typically offers a much more flexible learning schedule for people that have work or family obligations that prevent them from studying on-campus. That flexibility also means that a student pursuing a degree in information security might be able to complete their studies in three years as opposed to the usual four years that these degrees take when taking on-campus courses.
These programs sometimes offer what’s known as “fast track” options that allow students to test out of certain coursework. Not only does this speed up the process of completing one’s degree, but it can also help make online learning less expensive. Since online learning is already usually less expensive than on-campus learning, this could represent significant savings for online learners.
What Software Tools are Used by Information Security Analysts?
To stay one step ahead of hackers, information security analysts must keep on the cutting-edge of technology. This includes using software tools that help them to plan for, prevent, and recover from attacks. These include, but are not limited to:
Security Information & Event Management
Programs like ArcSight allow information security analysts to keep tabs on their network and see attacks or potential attacks coming in real-time.
These programs (like IDA PRO) allow information security analysts to reverse engineer malware to determine how significant a threat it poses.
Being able to analyze the performance of security systems is a must. ThreatConnect helps identify, manage, and block threats using a suite of product integrations.
Web proxy tools like Burp allow analysts to test the security of web-based apps and websites.
Network Traffic Analysis
Programs like Bro help monitor network intrusions and are customizable so analysts have the specific information they need to determine the health and safety of the network.
What Skills are Required to Become an Information Security Analyst?
Information security analysts should have a broad set of skills, knowledge, traits, and qualities that help them perform their job duties to the best of their abilities.
Some of the most important of these skills and qualities include, but are not limited to:
- Understanding of intrusion prevention systems – A critical component of an information security analyst’s job is securing digital data from hackers. As a result, they must have intimate knowledge of systems that prevent outsiders from accessing sensitive information.
- Ability to encrypt data – Part of protecting digital data is encrypting it and protecting through other means, like creating firewalls.
- Security auditing skills – Workers in this field should be well versed in procedures for conducting both internal and external security testing of critical systems.
- Understanding of risk analysis – One of the most important hard skills for an information security analyst to have is the ability to conduct risk analyses, vulnerability testing, and security assessments.
- Ability to evaluate current threats – This job requires workers to be abreast of the latest threats to digital security, including malware.
- Knowledge of operating systems – Information security analysts should possess the ability to work with a variety of operating systems, including Macintosh, Windows, Linux, and UNIX.
- Network administration skills – This includes understanding how to setup and maintain a network, including using the latest technologies to protect that network from intrusion
- Detail-oriented – Information security analysts must be able to drill down to the fine details to find even the most minute errors or omissions that could reduce the security of digital information.
- Analytical skills – Analysts should be able to examine security breaches, identify their cause, and propose effective solutions based on their findings
- Communication skills – Workers in this field must be able to communicate effectively with coworkers in both written and verbal form. This is especially important when disseminating security protocols or writing risk assessments.
What are the Benefits of Being an Information Security Analyst?
Being an information security analyst certainly comes with its stressors and disadvantages. However, there are many benefits of pursuing a career in this field as well. These include:
- Excellent job growth – Workers in this field are in very high demand, and that appears as though it will continue for many years in the future.
- Good earnings potential – Highly-qualified information security analysts can expect to earn an excellent income that can exceed $100,000 per year.
- Variety of work location – From working at home to working for a large multi-national corporation, this career offers workers plenty of variety in terms of where they work.
- Low educational threshold – Many jobs in this field can be had with just a bachelor’s degree (though on-the-job training is additionally required by many employers).
- Flexible work schedule – To a degree, information security analysts have flexibility in the hours they work, most especially if one is self-employed.
- Satisfying work – Finding and fixing problems that could have resulted in the loss or breach of important data is both thrilling and satisfying.
- Benefits package – When employed full-time with a company, information security analysts often have a good benefits package that might include health insurance, sick leave, matching retirement, bonuses, and paid vacation, among other things.
What is the Job Outlook for Information Security Analysts?
In 2021, the BLS released a report that predicted that job growth in the information security analyst sector would be at 31 percent, a staggering figure that is far higher than average. In fact, it’s four times higher than the growth rate for all occupations combined.
The primary reason for the rapid growth of jobs in this field is the increasing incidence of cyber attacks. Not only that, but there has been an increase in data breaches in recent years that have resulted in the loss of vital information to would-be thieves that includes personal banking information, social security numbers, and passwords, as well as private information of companies and businesses.
What’s more, how hackers carry out their attacks is always evolving, so information security analysts must constantly learn new ways to repel such attacks. That leads to tremendous demand for skilled workers.
What Professions are Similar to Information Security?
There are a number of professions in the field of computer science that offer a similar work experience as being an information security analyst. These careers include:
Computer Information and Research Scientist
A computer information and research scientist focuses on developing new types of computing technology that can be used in various applications, including science, medicine, business, finance, and even transportation services. The focus tends to be on improving speed, computing power, accuracy, and reliability. Information security is also a primary concern of workers in this field.
Computer Information and Systems Manager
Usually referred to as IT managers, computer information and systems managers are responsible for the broad-based computer activities in an organization. From determining the technology needs of the organization to bringing new systems online to teaching people how to utilize technology, these workers have a very broad set of responsibilities as they relate to organizing technology activities in a way that helps people do their jobs and meet organizational goals.
Computer Network Architect
A computer network architect focuses on building digital networks for accessing and sharing information. This might include developing intranets, local area networks, and wide area networks within a small business or organization or focusing on large-scale development of networks like cloud-based infrastructure that’s accessed by millions of people.
Computer Systems Analyst
Computer systems analysts concentrate on analyzing the current computer systems of a business or organization and making recommendations that enhance the design of those systems. The goal of analyzing computer systems is to find ways for them to operate in a more effective and efficient manner that limits problems, boosts security, and makes the system more usable for the organization.