There are few computer-programming enthusiasts who don't occasionally fantasize about a career fighting crime in cyber space - and why shouldn't they? The nation could one day need their high-level technical expertise to help ward off digital criminals from around the globe. What IT professional wouldn't jump at the opportunity to have a real-life James Bond-style adventure? Who doesn't want a cell phone reserved for calls from the president, and a chance to save the world from disaster?
Well, maybe that's a little dramatic. Yet, within these Hollywood-influenced notions, there is an element of truth.
Cyber crimes are very real. Security agencies protect computer systems and networks against domestic and foreign threats from sophisticated hackers, spyware, and viruses every day. Internet crimes range from software pirating to identity theft to breaches of government intelligence. Thankfully, cyber security professionals, security software developers, security analysts, and Homeland Security agents play a vital role in keeping critical information out of the hands of hackers.
Ironically, IT security agencies often recruit hackers to protect the nation from the very crimes hackers commit. Hackers who haven't turned to the dark side typically possess a level of skill and intelligence that make them excellent candidates for employment as cyber security professionals. These white-hat hackers enjoy legitimate professional careers using their software know-how to earn a respectable living.
So, what's the downside? As with any career, it's important to be prepared for the moment when fantasy is confronted by the reality of actual job responsibilities. The fact is, the potential thrills related to detecting intelligence breaches are often tempered by work environment restrictions and the prolonged period of time it takes to detect the compromise.
Nonetheless, any cyber expert, hacker or not, can build a rewarding career by starting with realistic expectations. The lists below detail professional accounts of the pros and cons of a career in cyber security. While the job may, or may not, include phone calls from the president, it certainly can offer tremendous opportunity.
Cyber Security Pros will Love:
- 10-year projected job growth: 27%
- Job growth is faster than average compared to other occupations
- Average starting pay: $76,000
- Potential earnings exceeding $200,000
Employment opportunities in a variety of organizations such as:
International security roles, protecting:
- High-level government data
- State secrets
- Military plans
Cyber Security Pros should prepare for:
- Routine administrative tasks
- Restrictions in sources and kinds of technologies used such as:
- Limited permissions on their assigned machine
- Inability to upgrade or configure systems, or choose tools
- Limited Internet access
- Outdated technology
- Stress - losses can be astronomical if a system is infiltrated by a virus or hacker
While some of the high-stakes cyber threats portrayed in the movies do exist, they tend to be outnumbered by more ordinary intrusions like unauthorized web pages created on an Internet-facing web server or outbound transmission of compressed files. And while these standard intrusions might not provide the glamour associated with James Bond, an educated hacker with a computer science degree and/or professional certification (CISSP) can likely reduce the time spent "paying dues," enjoy greater trust, and work on cracking more sophisticated and political intelligence operations.
If you are a cyber security professional, what advice do you have to offer hackers interested in pursuing a career solving cyber crime? What job rewards do you appreciate most?