Computer security specialists protect computer systems and networks against such cyber threats as viruses, spyware and intrusion by hackers. These tech professionals design, install and manage network control tools and other security mechanisms that protect computer systems from unauthorized access or data loss.
Information security is part prevention and part critical response. Therefore, the job description for security specialists usually includes the following.
Establishing security procedures.
Educating users in how to keep data safe.
Installing security software.
Monitoring networks for vulnerabilities and unauthorized access
Developing methods to fight cyberattacks.
In the case of cybercrimes, security forensics experts may be brought in to collect evidence to help prosecute cyber criminals. FBI Director Robert Mueller warned in January 2012 that "Down the road, the cyber threat will be the number one threat to the country," adding that it would surpass that of terrorism, according to the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC estimates that the annual cost of cyber-crime exceeds $1 trillion.
As a result, the need for the computer security specialists is expected to grow significantly in the years to come. If you think this might be the right career path for you, keep reading to learn more about how much these professionals make and how you too can become an internet crime stopper.
How Much do Computer Security Specialists Make?
The National Association of Colleges and Employers says that computer science and information systems — degrees usually held by computer security specialists — are among the highest-paid bachelor's degrees in the nation. The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a mean annual wage of $91,600 in the U.S. for information security analysts (a title frequently used by computer security specialists) as of May 2014.
Factors in computer security specialist salaries include certification and previous experience, as well as location.
Certifications typically increase earning potential, but in addition, employers often prefer candidates who possess them. Useful may include the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) certification, sought by those who audit, control, monitor and assess information technology and business systems; or the Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) certification, the global standard certification for those who develop, build and manage information security systems.
According to a study by Global Knowledge, the CISM is the second-highest-paying certification on the 15 Top-Paying Certifications for 2014 list, with an average annual salary, according to the Global Knowledge salary survey, of $114,844 nationally.
Region also influences earning power. The BLS identifies the following states as offering the top salaries for information security analysts in May 2014:
- New York: annual mean wage of $111,970
- New Jersey: annual mean wage of $107,390
- California: annual mean wage of $106,200
The metropolitan areas offering the top annual mean salaries for computer security specialists are:
- New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ Metropolitan Division: $118,830
- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA: $113,510
- San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, CA Metropolitan Division: $110,680
Occupational Requirements and Job Types
The degree type needed to become a computer security specialist generally is at least a bachelor's in computer science, programming or a related field. For some positions, information security analysts also may be required to possess master's degrees, such as the Master of Business Administration (MBA) in information systems. Previous work experience in positions with information technology, network systems or database administration may also be preferred.
Programs that train computer security specialists can be found in both traditional schools and online. They may be offered under a variety of names including computer crimes & cybersecurity, security services administration & management and others. Degree programs in computer programming, computer science and network administration may also provide the skills needed to work as a security specialist.
The Department of Homeland Security has identified 31 jobs types that are common within cybersecurity careers. These include the following specialties, among others:
- Computer network defense analysis
- Exploitation analysis
- Incident response
- Knowledge management
- Software assurance and security engineering
Students interested in a specific job type may want to work with an education advisor to select classes that will best prepare them to specialize in their area of interest.