To get into cyber security, what skills and certifications do you need?

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In cyber security aspiring professionals need a strong foundation of skills, qualifications, and certifications, writes Andrew Harvey, senior recruitment consultant at Computer Futures.

The demand for skilled cyber security experts, particular on a temporary basis, is increasing, driven by the frequency and sophistication of cyber threats.

For those aiming to launch and advance their careers in cyber security on an independent or freelance basis, navigating the essential credentials and specialisms is key.

Key skills and qualifications to break into IT security on a temp basis

Let’s start with the core expertise often required for cyber security success as a contractor.

In other words, the:

Technical skills

  • Network Security: Understanding network infrastructures, including TCP/IP, VPNs, firewalls, and intrusion detection systems.

  • System Security: Proficiency in securing operating systems, such as Windows, Linux, and macOS.

  • Application Security: Knowledge of secure coding practices, vulnerability assessment, and software development lifecycle.

  • Cryptography: Familiarity with encryption techniques and secure communication protocols.

To succeed in the freelance stakes at cyber security, you’ll also need:

Analytical skills

  • Threat Intelligence: Ability to gather and analyse information on emerging threats and vulnerabilities.

  • Risk Management: Skills in assessing and mitigating risks to maintain the client’s security posture.

  • Incident Response: Competence in identifying, responding to, and recovering from security breaches.

But as any top IT security consultant will tell you, it’s not all about ‘hard’ technical and analytical skills.

You’ll also need a bunch of interpersonal competencies and:

Soft skills

  • Problem-Solving: You’ll need to employ critical thinking to address complex security challenges.

  • Communication: You’ll be expected to have effective communication skills, particularly to convey technical information to non-technical stakeholders.

  • Ethical Integrity: Strong ethical principles in your approach, work and execution are vital, given the sensitive nature of the work. And given that as a contractor/freelancer, reputation matters massively!

What are the top 5 security certifications for IT contractors in 2024?

These are the five tech security certifications which our tech staffing agency recommends at the time of writing:

  1. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP): A globally recognised certification for experienced security practitioners, managers, and executives.

  2. Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH): Focuses on offensive security through ethical hacking and penetration testing skills.

  3. CompTIA Security+: An entry-level certification covering core security fundamentals.

  4. Certified Information Security Manager (CISM): Ideal for for freelance IT workers seeking to move into managerial roles focused on security governace.

  5. Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate: Specialises in operational aspects like incident response and handling.

Top 5 specialisations in Cyber Security…

Once contractors have found their feet, meaning they have a few security contracts under their belt, it might be time to specialise – to carve out a niche, with a view to commanding a premium rate. Try these five:

1. Penetration Testing: Simulating cyber attacks to identify vulnerabilities.

2. Digital Forensics: Investigating and analysing breaches and cybercrimes.

3. Cloud Security: Specialising in protecting cloud-based systems and data.

4. Compliance and Governance: Ensuring adherence to laws, regulations, and policies.

5. Cybersecurity Architecture: Designing secure network and system architectures.

UK cyber security market for freelance contractors: skills in-demand in 2024

End-clients and organisations in the UK seeking cyber security contractors highly value professionals who maintain up-to-date knowledge of the latest cyber threats and defence mechanisms.

Staying informed through continuous learning is crucial to understanding and mitigating evolving cyber risks.

Additionally, acquiring expertise in emerging technologies like AI, Machine Learning, and Blockchain Security is increasingly essential, given their significant role in modern cyber defences.

These ‘cutting edge’ skills are imperative for creating robust security strategies that address the sophisticated threats of the digital age.

Cyber security worker traits, GDPR, remote work

The clients of cyber security specialists who operate on a temporary basis also look for professionals who exhibit adaptability and resilience -- traits crucial for swiftly responding to new threats and navigating complex security challenges.

In addition, with stringent data protection laws such as GDPR, there's a growing demand for cyber security professionals adept in compliance, who can ensure that organisations meet legal and regulatory standards.

In the era of remote work, expertise in securing distributed networks and endpoints has become important, too, reflecting the shift towards flexible work models and the necessity to safeguard remote work environments.

Future cyber skills: corporate tech security requirements in 2024/2025, be like..

Looking ahead to the next 12 months, the cyber security landscape is poised to focus even more acutely on AI and Automation.

Contract workers in tech security should be ready to integrate and work alongside AI-driven security tools -- a trend that underscores the growing complexity and sophistication of cyber defence strategies.

Concurrently, as organisations shift their operations to cloud-based platforms, there will likely be a surge in demand for cloud security contractors. This shift requires freelance technologists in this space to develop a deep understanding of cloud infrastructure and the unique security challenges it presents.

In parallel, the cyber security sector is placing a stronger emphasis on privacy. As public and regulatory concerns around data privacy intensify, proficiency in privacy technologies and familiarity with evolving regulations like GDPR, will be increasingly critical.

Likewise, the widespread adoption of IoT devices necessitates a greater need for experts capable of securing these interconnected systems, which are often vulnerable to unique threats.

Finally, keep at the cutting-edge of cyber security as a freelancer or consultant

To remain effective and relevant in this dynamic field, continuous professional development as a freelancer, contractor or consultant is going to be essential in 2024/25 and beyond. Cyber security workers operating short-term contracts must commit to lifelong learning to keep pace with rapid technological advancements and the ever-changing threat landscape, particularly if money matters and gaps in assignments (downtime) are to be avoided.

In summary, starting out in cyber security in 2024 requires a solid foundation in technical skills, soft skills, a commitment to continuous learning, and the acquisition of relevant certifications. Specialising in areas like AI, Cloud Security, and Privacy will provide competitive advantages and make the career shift -- if you’re already a freelance techie in another area -- financially worth your while! Ultimately, cyber security contractors must be adaptable, resilient, and prepared to evolve with the changing digital landscape to meet the almost ever-changing demands of clients, now and in the future.

Written by

Andrew Harvey

Computer Futures

Andrew Harvey is a Senior Consultant at Computer Futures, focusing on cyber security within IT recruitment. With a strategic approach and deep market insight, he works with clients to connect them with skilled talent, leveraging the global network of Computer Futures' parent company STEM-specialist talent group SThree PLC. Andrew's expertise in identifying the needs of clients and matching them with candidates capable of mitigating cyber threats significantly contributes to enhancing digital security landscapes, embodying the commitment of both Computer Futures and SThree PLC to elevate expertise and energise progress.

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