As with any job interview, an applicant for a cybersecurity position needs to speak knowledgeably about the specific job’s responsibilities and the field in general. Information security job interview questions might revolve around one specific task—say, designing firewalls or safeguarding information in certain applications. However, depending on the role and how encompassing it is, cybersecurity analyst interview questions may require showing a breadth of knowledge regarding various technologies and programming languages. And given that cybersecurity positions involve protecting sensitive business data, you must prove that you are trustworthy, reliable, and possess problem-solving skills, ingenuity, and calm when facing a difficult situation.
These 25 sample cybersecurity interview questions should give you an idea of what to expect when interviewing with a well-respected organization like MITRE, Deloitte, Accenture, Cisco, Google, Lockheed, and others. Preparation is the key to making a good impression and landing a job in cybersecurity, so study these questions carefully.
Want to brush up your foundational knowledge before an interview? Check out our free Security Analyst Learning Path with over 9 hours of free resources.
Getting to Know You
Before delving into the more technical aspects of what the job will require, your interviewer may want to get a sense of who you are. They may be interested in where you are in your career and ask about your background and schooling. For these types of security analyst interview questions, you should have a brief, concise elevator pitch. Tell them who you are, what you’ve done, and what you’re looking to do next. Highlight your achievements and skills, what you’ve learned, and how you want to apply your knowledge to your next position.
1. Why are you looking for a new position?
An interviewer asking this wants to understand what has prompted a change in your career. Are you looking for more responsibility? A chance to expand your skill set? Do you feel that you outgrew your old position? Are you looking for more pay and less travel? Well then, why do you deserve more money and how are you more efficient working more from a central location? Explain your motivation for finding a new job in a way that shows that you view this new position as a positive change for both you and the organization.
2. What are your greatest strengths and accomplishments?
Take the opportunity to show how you helped your old company. Did you design its latest firewalls that prevented breaches? Did you re-route the routers? Help with information access security? Do you work well with people and show leadership skills? Talk about the types of technology you know well and how you made a positive impact in your last position. Explain how you built solid relationships with your coworkers and how you all worked together on successful projects—and how you intend to do the same at this new company.
3. What are your greatest weaknesses? (Related: How did you overcome a problem?)
Everyone makes mistakes, and no one is good at everything. You should honestly assess what you can improve and how you plan to show that improvement in your new role. Dig into your past: You might have overseen the response to a breach or some other serious problem. It might not have been your fault, but how you handled it shows your professionalism, problem-solving abilities. and perhaps even outside-of-the-box thinking. Show that you are willing to learn from mistakes, even if they’re not your own, and that you can handle a crisis. Explain how you took responsibility and stepped up to be a leader.
4. How do you envision your first 90 days on the job?
Your answer should encompass how you intend to meet with your team members to find out more about them and how you can work together. You should talk about how you will prioritize gaining an understanding of what your managers need from you and what all the stakeholders hope to achieve while also building strong rapport with your co-workers. You should ask what you can do to make an impact right away. Talk about how you intend to learn and get into the midst of business as soon as you can.
(Get some additional insight from a recruiter here.)
The Technical Questions
At some point, the interviewer will turn to more technical and cybersecurity-focused questions to determine how well you would do in the position. You need to display your cybersecurity knowledge and give examples from your work history of how you performed tasks and prevented or solved problems. Some of these are fundamental definitions, while others require more thoughtful responses, but all should be part of your interview arsenal.
5. What is on your home network?
Your home network is typically a test environment. How you work with it gives an indication of what you would do with someone else’s network.
6. What is the difference between a threat, a vulnerability, and a risk?
Answering this question calls for a deep understanding of cybersecurity and anyone working in the field should be able to give a strong response. You should expect a follow-up question asking which of the three to focus more on. A simple way to put it: a threat is from someone targeting a vulnerability (or weakness) in the organization that was not mitigated or taken care of since it was not properly identified as a risk.
7. How do you go about securing a server?
You might want to break this answer down into steps, especially if it refers to a specific type of server. Your answer will give a glimpse into your decision-making abilities and thought process. There are multiple ways to answer this question, just as there are multiple ways to secure a server. You might reference the concept of trust no one or the principle of least privilege. Let your expertise guide your response to this question and the others following it.
8. Why is DNS monitoring important?
Some argue that this is not necessary and that saying otherwise indicates that there are weaknesses in the domain name services. Others say DNS monitoring is prudent because DNS queries are a data-exfiltration vector from networks that allow any host to communicate to the Internet on Port 53.
9. What port does ping work over?
Watch out for this. Ping is a layer-3 protocol like IP; ports are an element of the layer-4 protocols TCP and UDP.
10. What is the difference between encoding, encrypting, and hashing?
This question should inspire a short conversation about encryption, which gives you the chance to explain your knowledge of it.
(There’s more on encryption here.)
11. What is SSL?
SSL is a standard security technology for creating an encrypted link between a server and a client (usually a web server and a web browser).
12. What are the differences between HTTPS, SSL, and TLS?
HTTPS is hypertext transfer protocol and secures communications over a network. TLS is transport layer security and is a successor protocol to SSL. You have to demonstrate that you know the differences between the three and how network-related protocols are used to understand the inherent risks involved.
13. What sorts of anomalies would you look for to identify a compromised system?
There are multiple ways to answer this, but again, you need to show your expertise and ingenuity. One possible answer is drawing out a basic network architecture with its IPS/IDS, firewalls, and other security technologies to describe the type of traffic and other signs of compromise.
14. If you had to both compress and encrypt data during a transmission, which would you do first?
Compress and then encrypt, since encrypting first might make it hard to show compression having much of an effect.
15. How would you strengthen user authentication?
Whatever way you answer, mention two-factor authentication or non-repudiation and how you would implement it.
16. How would you defend against a cross-site scripting (XSS) attack?
17. What are the differences between cybersecurity in the cloud and on premises?
Show that you understand the security risks inherent to both and which might be more appropriate for the company.
18. What does RDP stand for?
Remote desktop protocol, and its port number is 3389.
19. What is the difference between symmetric and asymmetric encryption?
Symmetric encryption uses the same key to encrypt and decrypt, while asymmetric encryption uses different keys for encryption and decryption. Asymmetric encryption is commonly used to secure an initial key-sharing conversation, but then the actual conversation is secured using symmetric crypto. Communication using symmetric crypto is usually faster due to the slightly simpler math involved in the encryption/decryption process and because the session setup doesn’t involve PKI certificate checking.”
(For more reading: What Is PKI and How Does It Bolster Your Cybersecurity Defenses?)
20. What is the difference between UDP and TCP?
Both are protocols for sending packets of information over the internet and are built on top of the internet protocol. TCP stands for transmission control protocol and is more commonly used. It numbers the packets it sends to guarantee that the recipient receives them. UDP stands for user datagram protocol. While it operates similarly to TCP, it does not use TCP’s error-checking abilities, which speeds up the process, but makes it less reliable.
21. What is a traceroute?
A traceroute, or tracert, can help you see where a breakdown of communications occurred. It shows what routers you touch as you move along to your final destination. If there is somewhere you cannot connect, you can see where it happened.
After going through his or her list of technical questions to gauge your knowledge and expertise, an interviewer will wrap up with a few final questions that give you a chance to make a lasting impression.
22. What tech blogs do you follow?
Show that you stay current by telling the interviewer how you get your cybersecurity news. These days, there are blogs for everything, but you might also have news sites, newsletters, and books that you can reference.
23. What do you do in your spare time outside of cybersecurity?
The interviewer is hoping to get a better sense of you as a person to determine whether you’re trustworthy, reliable, and of good character. He or she also wants to see if you would be a good culture fit and someone others would enjoy collaborating with. You don’t need to get too personal with the details, but you can talk about your hobbies, your family, the last vacation you took, or how often you like to work out, among other things. Show some personality here.
24. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Most people expect to advance in their cybersecurity careers in five years, which could mean a promotion or raise (or a few). Emphasize how you are looking to further your knowledge and skills—and how that will benefit the company. Tell the interviewer that you see yourself moving up to a more senior position and continuing to contribute to the organization in a significant way. Drive home the point that the investment made in you will be a good one.
25. Do you have any questions?
This is your chance to find out more about the company and position. Remember that an interview is a two-way street. You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you (even though it doesn’t always feel that way). Ask about the work environment and what the company expects of you. Find out more about the day-to-day responsibilities and whether there any special projects on the horizon. And see if you and the company are a good fit culture-wise.
Be sure to have done your research on what a typical cybersecurity position like this pays and what you should expect in compensation at this stage of your career. Also, finish the interview with a brief summation of your strengths and how you are a good fit for the position. Use the questions the interviewer asked and your answers to emphasize the skills you have that they are looking for. More than anything else, remain confident during the interview and be yourself. Companies invest in people, and you are not a robot giving out rote answers. You are a person with valuable experience that you can draw on to answer cybersecurity questions and make the case that you are the right person for the job.
This post was written by Michael McNichols. Michael has been a professional writer for more than eight years. A good bulk of his output has involved IT and SaaS concepts. He resides in Chicago, trains in karate, and enjoys chai lattes with soy milk.
Springboard’s Cybersecurity Career Track is a mentor-guided online bootcamp designed to get you certified and hired. Career coaching calls and mock interviews will help you navigate the cybersecurity job search with confidence. Find out more!