A recent report from Mordor Intelligence projected a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.4% for the information security consulting market from 2021 to 2026. This is an incredible rate of expansion that surpasses the already impressive CAGR of 9.7% for the cybersecurity industry as a whole. The rapid adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) has increased the number of devices connected to the internet and opened more access points for data breaches. The rise in cyberattacks and security threats across virtually all industries has created a massive demand for cybersecurity professionals. A cybersecurity consultant is an especially valuable asset for any organization’s security posture.
A cybersecurity consultant is responsible for assessing and improving the overall cybersecurity systems of their client organization. They are generally tasked with conducting risk assessments, analyzing potential breaches, enhancing network security strategies, and supervising the implementation of solutions. Cybersecurity consultants typically serve as generalists in the field of information security, but may also act as specialists in one or more areas. As this role is heavily skills-based, there are many routes to becoming a security analyst or consultant. Here is a comprehensive guide with five steps to help you become a cybersecurity consultant—including key skills, job roles, and responsibilities.
What Do Cybersecurity Consultants Do?
The goal of a cybersecurity consultant is to protect their clients’ digital assets by developing customized security protocols and policies. They evaluate the organization’s existing security measures and look for vulnerabilities that may be exploited by malicious hackers. On the basis of this assessment, they propose or implement advanced security strategies to protect the client’s systems, networks, and applications. The role of a cybersecurity consultant may fall under different titles at different organizations, including:
- Computer security consultant
- Network security consultant
- Database security consultant
- Information security consultant
A cybersecurity consultant may advise their client on both physical and non-physical security risks. Physical security threats include poor accessibility controls, fire, flooding, and natural disasters. In this case, a security consultant may recommend plans for better server infrastructure and building maintenance. Non-physical threats can come from both inside and outside the organization in the form of malware, phishing, identity theft, hacking, or social engineering attacks. A data breach that compromises sensitive or confidential data can cost the organization both market reputation and millions of dollars. Cybersecurity consultants strengthen their clients’ security frameworks and safeguard their data from new threats and risk factors.
In addition to communication and leadership skills, IT security consultants also need significant technical expertise. While they may choose to specialize in a few specific domains, every cybersecurity consultant must have these core competencies:
- Programming languages used in raw data storage and processing
- Penetration testing
- Advanced persistent threat management
- Ethical hacking and coding practices
- Operating systems (Windows, Unix, and Linux) management
- Encryption techniques and technologies
- Firewall safety controls and protocols
- Frameworks knowledge
- Knowledge of compliance assessments
How To Become a Cybersecurity Consultant in 5 Steps
While there is no exclusive career path for the position of a cybersecurity consultant, these five fundamental steps will help you succeed in the role:
1. Get a Degree
A bachelor’s degree is quickly becoming a necessity for a career in the cybersecurity industry. In addition to important technical skills, a university education will also help you develop the analytical and problem-solving skills needed for the role. Employers generally prefer candidates from majors like computer science, information technology, or a related field, but you can also take specialized courses to build your skill-set in cybersecurity. A master’s degree in digital forensics or ethical hacking will give you the best chance at success as a cybersecurity consultant.
2. Gain Work Experience in an Entry-Level Information Security Position
Since the position of a cybersecurity consultant requires advanced technical knowledge and skills, there is no ‘entry-level cybersecurity consultant’ job. Instead, you will need to take up jobs like IT security engineer, junior penetration tester, security technician, or incident responder at the beginning of your career. These jobs will help you gain a foundational understanding of enterprise cybersecurity and can act as stepping stones to a cybersecurity consultant job. Consider getting a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification, which is the gold standard for aspiring information security professionals.
3. Advance To a Security Administrator, Auditor, or Analyst Position
After getting practical security training in an entry-level job, you need to advance to administrative roles. Positions like network administrator, senior system administrator, cybersecurity manager, and cyber forensics analyst can give you the managerial experience you need. These jobs will help you get a comprehensive understanding of the typical cybersecurity needs and vulnerabilities of an organization. Employers usually look for three to five years of hands-on work experience when hiring for a cybersecurity consultant position. Ideal candidates for the job will have a proper balance of technical and soft skills.
4. Earn IT Security Certifications
Certifications from reputable institutions are a crucial element of any cybersecurity consultant resume. While some certificates can be essential requirements for applying to jobs, others are optional and make your profile stand out from the crowd. Consider reaching out to potential employers to get an idea of the certifications they value the most. Some of the most well-recognized certifications for cybersecurity consultants are:
- Certified Security Consultant (CSC)
- Certified Protection Professional (CPP)
- Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
- Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)
- Certified Information Security Officer (CISO)
- Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
5. Secure a Cybersecurity Consultant Job
The market for cybersecurity consultants has far more job openings than there are qualified candidates to fill them. This means that you can find a job in the industry almost immediately, provided you have a strong set of technical and executive capabilities. Cybersecurity consultants are generally self-employed and work on a contractual basis for diverse clients. This shifts the balance of power in your favor and allows you to dictate your own prices and hours. However, you may also choose to work in-house for larger organizations for better job security.
Cybersecurity Consultant Salary
Average salaries for cybersecurity consultants can be hard to determine, as a vast majority of them are self-employed. They take on varying numbers of projects and clients depending on their availability and expertise. ZipRecruiter reports an average annual salary of $115,767 for cybersecurity consultants in the U.S.
Professional opportunities like training programs and conferences can help you boost your earning potential. Attaining membership of specialized organizations such as ASIS International and the International Association of Professional Security Consultants (IAPSC) will also allow you to increase your task-based or hourly rates.
Is cybersecurity the right career for you?
According to Cybersecurity Ventures, the cybersecurity industry is expected to have 3.5 million high-paying, unfilled jobs this year. With Springboard’s comprehensive Cyber Security Career Track, you’ll work 1:1 with an industry-mentor to learn key aspects of information technology, security software, security auditing, and finding and fixing malicious code. Learning units include subject-expert approved resources, application-based mini-projects, hands-on labs, and career-search related coursework.
The course will culminate in a multi-part capstone project that you can highlight on your resume for prospective employers or use to demonstrate your technical knowledge in your job interview. The learning materials will also help prepare you to pass the globally-recognized CompTIA Security+ certification so you stand out when applying for cybersecurity roles.
Learn more about Springboard’s Cyber Security Career Track here.