Vulnerability analysts, also known as vulnerability assessors, are responsible for identifying vulnerabilities in systems, applications, and networks. Their core tasks are to conduct custom vulnerability assessments and develop effective strategies to tackle security threats.
As cybersecurity becomes a pressing issue for businesses worldwide, the demand for vulnerability analysts is higher than ever. The 2021 Cyber Security Trend Report from PurpleSec reveals a 600% increase in global cybercrime since the COVID-19 pandemic began. As a result, more and more organizations are seeking vulnerability analysts to protect their digital assets. The employment opportunities for information security analysts are expected to grow 31% from 2021 to 2029—much faster than the average professional growth rate.
While there is no fixed career route for the role of a vulnerability analyst, you will need to master certain data security skills and technical knowledge before you can succeed in the field. Here is a comprehensive guide with five steps to help you become a vulnerability analyst—including key skills, job roles, and responsibilities.
What Is a Vulnerability Analyst?
Vulnerability analysts are cybersecurity experts who pinpoint weaknesses in the system that may be exploited by malicious agents looking to target an organization’s network. Their primary function is to analyze the existing cyber defense architecture and recommend policies and procedures for improvement.
Vulnerability analysts maintain a list of system security vulnerabilities and rank them to aid risk-based decision-making. They also take on the responsibility of ensuring data compliance with organizational and legal regulations. A vulnerability analyst works to eliminate both internal and external security threats and is, therefore, a crucial element of any company’s security posture.
The specific tasks for the job of a vulnerability analyst vary by company and industry. For example, a large organization may need you to perform enclave boundary risk assessments, while a small business might ask for the implementation of a vulnerability assessment database.
Skilled vulnerability analysts have the freedom to work for an organization in-house or as a consultant on limited projects. They can also choose to work in diverse industries like finance, retail, education, manufacturing, healthcare, hospitality, marketing, and many more.
How To Become a Vulnerability Analyst in 5 Steps
There are a number of career paths you could take to become a vulnerability assessment analyst. Since this job is extremely specialized even in the field of computer security, there are no clear requirements for the role. Organizations can hire vulnerability analysts with different educational qualifications and professional experiences depending on the security issues they are targeting. That being said, here are five steps you can use as a general guideline to become a vulnerability analyst:
1. Review Degree Requirements
Technically, there are no particular degree or major requirements for the position of a vulnerability analyst. University education in computer science, programming, cybersecurity, or a related field is usually not necessary to find a job, especially with smaller businesses. However, obtaining a bachelor’s degree can open many more doors for you in terms of employment and career advancement opportunities. A master’s degree is generally not needed for a vulnerability analyst role unless you are applying for a leadership position.
2. Gain Work Experience
Real-life experience with vulnerability analysis is often the first thing employers look for in a candidate. As the course structures for different programs can vary, hands-on experience with cybersecurity projects is the most reliable measure of an applicant’s competence. If you are just starting out, you might find it easier, to begin with,
independent or freelance work for small businesses in your community. Employers typically look for two to three years of relevant work experience for a specialized vulnerability analyst role.
3. Develop the Right Technical Skills
The specific hard skills required for a role can change according to the job profile and objectives. However, there are some fundamental technical skills you need to master to safeguard an organization’s digital infrastructure. These include:
- Strong knowledge of both hardware and software systems
- Proficiency in programming languages such as C, C++, PHP, PERL, and Java
- Experience with both Windows and Unix (with Linux) operating systems
- Experience or familiarity with network scanning tools such as Nessus, RETINA, ACAS, and Gold Disk
- Experience in scanning web applications that may be hosted internally or externally
- Skill in generating vulnerability management metrics and reports
- Skill in using network analysis tools like fuzzing and Nmaps to identify system vulnerabilities
- Familiarity with security tools such as AppScan (IBM) and Fortify (HP)
- Knowledge of security frameworks such as HIPPA, ISO 27001/27002, NIST, and SOX
4. Build Soft Skills
A creative and innovative approach to system security is vital for a vulnerability analyst. While most information security jobs value analytical skills above all else, the role of a vulnerability analyst requires you to engage in out-of-the-box thinking. You also need exceptional attention to detail and an aptitude for problem-solving to effectively protect a system from external threats. Strong skills in oral and written communication will help you draft assessment reports and convey their findings to the management or IT teams.
5. Earn Additional Certifications
Certifications from reputable sources can add significant value to your resume, especially if you don’t have a university education. Certified Vulnerability Assessor/Analyst (CVA) programs and courses offer foundational knowledge that will allow you to perform security vulnerability assessments and secure an organization’s data systems. You can also find a wide range of certifications for specialized topics in the field of system and network security. Some of the most popular ones include:
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)
- GIAC Certified Incident Handler (GCIH)
What Are Vulnerability Analyst Roles and Responsibilities?
Vulnerability analysts are highly valued by organizations for their expertise in information security across systems, networks, and applications. The day-to-day functions of the role constantly present new challenges and offer ample opportunities for creative problem-solving. The core tasks of a vulnerability analyst include:
- Identify system vulnerabilities by running custom scripts and applications
- Develop, test, and improve custom scripts used for vulnerability assessment
- Conduct routine vulnerability scans and security audits
- Use automated tools to detect vulnerabilities and improve efficiency
- Use manual testing techniques to eliminate false positives and discrepancies
- Compile and track vulnerabilities over time to quantify the effectiveness of strategies used
- Create and maintain vulnerability management training programs, procedures, and policies
- Engage with stakeholders to promote best practices in network and software security
- Evaluate and ensure compliance with regulations and organizational directives
- Draft and present comprehensive vulnerability assessment reports
It is important to note that some organizations also require vulnerability analysts to conduct penetration tests.
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.