A recent study conducted by the Ponemon Institute on behalf of IBM revealed that a staggering 77% of enterprises do not have a strong cyber security incident response plan applied across the organization. This is an alarming statistic, especially considering that the FBI has reported a 300% increase in reported cybercrimes since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Against this backdrop, it is no surprise that incident response analysts are some of the most sought-after cybersecurity professionals in the industry.
An incident response (IR) analyst is responsible for developing a remediation strategy after a breach in the security system has occurred. While incident responders work to neutralize or eliminate an immediate security threat, incident response analysts guide the solutions and techniques that the team implements. As the position requires you to efficiently direct the course of action taken by the incident response team as a whole, the job is well paid and requires significant expertise. According to Talent.com, the average salary of an incident response analyst in the US is $97,500 per year. A junior analyst typically makes $48,263 per year and the most experienced workers can earn up to $115,000 per year.
There are many routes to becoming an incident response analyst, but all require mastering certain skills and technical knowledge. Here is a comprehensive guide with five steps to help you become an incident response analyst—including key skills, job roles, and responsibilities.
What Is an Incident Response Analyst and What Do They Do?
The primary responsibility of an incident response analyst, also called an intrusion analyst, is to minimize the overall effects of a breach on an organization’s systems, networks, and digital assets. The role involves large-scale network maintenance as well as potential interactions with law enforcement. In the long term, incident response analysts are tasked with monitoring, testing, assessing, and improving an organization’s cybersecurity systems. They may also help in developing protocols, policies, and training programs that enable organizations to better respond to security incidents.
How To Become an Incident Response Analyst in 5 Steps
While there are many different career paths you could take to become an incident response analyst, there are five essential steps you need to follow:
1. Earn Educational Qualifications
The most reliable way to prepare for a career in cybersecurity is to get a university education. A bachelor’s degree in computer science or a more specialized field like cybersecurity and computer forensics will give you the educational background needed for an incident response analyst role. Taking courses focused on cybersecurity law and policy, ethical hacking, and cyber warfare will also help you prepare for the job. A master’s degree might be necessary for upper-level positions that have a strong focus on management and administration.
2. Gain Work Experience Within a Security Team
Before you can start working as an incident response analyst, you need to gain experience in an entry-level cybersecurity position. Employers tend to look for candidates who have demonstrable experience working within the security team of an organization similar to their own. Security, network or system administrator positions can provide relevant experience for an IR analyst. Generally, you need two to three years of work experience to qualify for a computer security incident response team (CSIRT). Once you become a member of a CSIRT, you can learn from managers, handlers, and other senior security professionals to expand your applied knowledge and skills.
3. Get Cybersecurity Certifications
Professional certificates are extremely valuable, if not mandatory, to find a job as an incident response analyst. Certifications provide compelling evidence of the skills you have mastered in the course of your career so far. They demonstrate your dedication to the role and can help you stand out in a sea of applicants. The most prominent certificates for the position of an IR analyst are:
- GIAC Certified Intrusion Analyst (GCIA)
- GIAC Certified Incident Handler (GCIH)
- CERT-Certified Computer Security Incident Handler (CERT-CCSIH)
- Certified Reverse Engineering Analyst (CREA)
- GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA)
- Certified Computer Forensics Examiner (CCFE)
- Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- GIAC Reverse Engineering Malware (GREM)
4. Build Skills With System Monitoring Tools and Forensics Software
To be an efficient incident response analyst, you will need to build expertise on the entire incident response life cycle. An IR analyst is responsible for conducting forensic investigations into the attack vector and using the findings to develop recovery strategies. This requires a solid understanding of network forensics, penetration testing, reverse engineering, and risk analysis. You should take advantage of online resources and professional opportunities like training programs and boot camps to build your skills in cybersecurity operations management.
5. Find a Job as an Incident Response Analyst
Interviewing for the position of an IR analyst is all about establishing your technical competence and the ability to work in high-pressure situations. You will be expected to balance your creative and analytical skills to respond appropriately to security incidents. You will also need to demonstrate your ability to convey complex technical concepts and strategies to the management, stakeholders, and other colleagues. It is advisable to get in touch with potential employers to understand their cybersecurity priorities and the skills or certifications they value the most.
Required Incident Response Analyst Skills
The scope of an Incident Response Analyst job is extensive. You need comprehensive technical expertise as well as persistence and flexibility to succeed in the role. As this is a skills-based job, you must be proficient in the following capabilities to become an incident response analyst:
- Unix, Linux, and Windows operating systems
- Programming languages such as Python, C++, PowerShell, Java, ASM, PHP, and PERL
- Network protocols such as TCP/IP, Domain Name System (DNS), and Dynamic Host Configuration
- Network security architecture—components, protocols, and topology
- Enterprise Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) tools
- Classes of attacks including active, passive, close-in, distribution, and insider attacks
- Cyber attack stages including reconnaissance, scanning, gaining access, escalation of privileges, network exploitation, and covering tracks
- Security threat and vulnerability concepts such as buffer overflow, return-oriented attacks, race conditions, and mobile code
- Business continuity and disaster recovery methodologies
- eDiscovery tools such as NUIX, Clearwell, and Relativity
- Forensics applications such as EnCase, XRY, Cellebrite, FTK, and Helix
Job Outlook for Incident Response Analysts
In 2018, The New York Times reported that an astonishing 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs would be available but unfilled by 2021. As the pandemic boosted global cybercrime rates, the scramble to find qualified IT security professionals has only intensified. Skilled incident response analysts enjoy a zero unemployment rate and incredible job mobility. Jobs for IR analysts are readily available within the banking, financial, and consulting sectors. Even government agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA), Department of Homeland Security, and Defense Department have multiple open positions for expert cybersecurity professionals.
The role of an incident response analyst requires considerable creativity and versatility along with specialized technical skills. As a result, their job prospects cannot be harmed by advances in software and automation, and will only grow more profitable in the coming years.
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.