15 Essential Skills for Cybersecurity Analysts in 2021

Written by Coursera • Updated on Sep 10, 2021

Getting a job in cybersecurity often means having the right set of technical and workplace skills. Here are 15 cybersecurity skills companies are hiring for.

An instructor teaching cybersecurity skills assists a student on her laptop.

Working in cybersecurity typically means leveraging a range of technical and people skills to protect your organization’s data. Having the right set of skills could be critical to getting hired. But what skills should you focus on?

To find out, we reviewed cybersecurity analyst job listings on LinkedIn and Indeed to find the skills most frequently included in job descriptions (as of August 2021). Target, Visa, Delaware North, and Mosaic are among the companies hiring for these skills.

What skills does a cybersecurity analyst need?

Cybersecurity analysts use a combination of technical and workplace skills to assess vulnerabilities and respond to security incidents. If you have a background in information technology (IT) you may already have some of the technical skills, and many of the workplace skills carry over from a wide variety of occupations. 

Start building job-ready cybersecurity skills with the IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate on Coursera. Learn more about the program and how to get started for free.

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10 cybersecurity technical skills

1. Scripting

Knowing how to build tools and automate repetitive tasks with languages like Python or PowerShell empowers you to become a more efficient analyst. Python in particular ranks among the most prevalent languages in cybersecurity. As a bonus, it’s also among the easiest to learn. 

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Python for Everybody

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2. Controls and frameworks

A cybersecurity framework provides a collection of best practices, policies, tools, and security protocols designed to help secure an organization’s data and business operations. A control is a measure your company uses to protect itself from vulnerabilities and attacks. 

The framework you use will vary depending on your organization and industry. You may find it helpful to familiarize yourself with some of the most common cybersecurity frameworks, including:

  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

  • International Organization for Standardization (ISO)

  • Center for Information Security (CIS)

  • System and Organization Controls 2 (SOC 2)

3. Intrusion detection

As a cybersecurity analyst, a big part of your job will involve monitoring network activity for possible intrusions. Knowing how to use intrusion detection software—security information and event management (SIEM) products, intrusion detection systems (IDS), and intrusion prevention systems (IPS)—enables you to quickly identify suspicious activity or security violations. 

Watch to learn more about the difference between IDS and IPS systems:

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What exactly do IDS and IPS systems do?

4. Networks

Many cybersecurity attacks take place across a network of connected devices. The same technologies that allow companies to collaborate can also lead to security vulnerabilities. To keep an organization secure, you’ll need an understanding of wired and wireless networks, and how to secure them. 

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Network Security & Database Vulnerabilities

IBM

5. Operating systems

Security threats exist across all operating systems, both on computers and mobile devices. Set yourself up for success as a security analyst by building a deep familiarity with MacOS, Windows, Linux, as well as their command-line interfaces. You might also find it helpful to study the threats and vulnerabilities associated with mobile operating systems, like iOS and Android. 

6. Incident response

While prevention is the goal of cybersecurity, quickly responding when security incidents do occur is critical to minimize damage and loss. Effective incident handling requires familiarity with your organization’s incident response plan, as well as skills in digital forensics and malware analysis.

Learn more about what incident response is and why it’s important.

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In this video, we'll be covering what an incident response is and why they're important. We'll also be discussing the difference between an event and an incident and taking a high level look at the different phases of an incident response.

7. Cloud

As more and more businesses move to cloud environments, professionals with cloud expertise are in demand. According to data from Burning Glass Technologies, having cloud security skills can come with a salary premium of more than $15,000. This makes cloud security skills among the most lucrative in the industry [1].

8. DevOps

Security risks often exist within applications themselves. More and more companies are adding a security focus to their software development and operations (DevOps) phase to help ensure that applications are secure from the start. 

9. Threat knowledge

“Know thy enemy.” General Sun Tzu could have been talking about cybersecurity. You can be a more effective cybersecurity analyst by keeping up-to-date on the threat landscape. If you’re new to the field, get started with the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) Top 10—a document that outlines the top 10 web application security risks.

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Cyber Threat Intelligence

IBM

10. Regulatory guidelines

Cybersecurity has to protect an organization from attack, theft, and loss, as well as comply with industry regulations. If you’re working for a company that does business around the globe, familiarity with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) could be beneficial. Cybersecurity analysts in the healthcare industry will need to understand how to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA)—a US federal law that helps protect the privacy of medical records. Some states within the US have their own privacy laws as well.

5 cybersecurity workplace skills

1. Communication

Both written and verbal communication play a key role in cybersecurity. As an analyst, you may need to communicate technical concepts to individuals without a technical background, such as executives or legal teams. You may also be asked to write incident reports, where you’ll have to document what you did in a concise and clear manner. 

2. Collaboration

As a cybersecurity analyst, you’ll likely work with a larger security team of other cybersecurity professionals. You may also need to collaborate with other teams within your company (legal, IT, public relations) or share your findings with other organizations or the greater cybersecurity community. 

3. Risk management

Your ability to think through what could possibly go wrong, assess the severity of threats, and gauge the potential impact empowers you to focus your energy on the tasks where you’ll have the biggest impact.

4. Adaptability

Cyber criminals are constantly adjusting and enhancing their attacks. Technology continues to advance, introducing new vulnerabilities. Adopting the mindset of a  lifelong learner can help you keep up with (or stay one step ahead of) these changes.

5. Critical thinking

Working in cybersecurity sometimes means making high-stakes decisions about your organization’s security. Developing your critical thinking skills can help you to:

  • Ask the right questions

  • Evaluate and assess data

  • Identify your assumptions

  • Consider alternatives

  • Understand context

  • Draw data-driven conclusions

Learn how to become a better critical thinker with these tips from IBM.

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Learn to describe the five keys skills of critical thinking: challenge assumptions, consider alternatives, evaluate data, identify key drivers, understand context.

How to improve cybersecurity skills

There’s more than one way to build your cybersecurity skills. While you likely already possess some of the skills listed above, developing those you’re less familiar with could make you a more competitive candidate when you start applying for jobs.

Here are some options for building cybersecurity skills:

Take classes.

Whether you’re learning cybersecurity fundamentals or more advanced skills, enrolling in a course adds structure to your learning. Many courses that target specific technical skills, like network security or incident response, may also give you opportunities to practice workplace skills, like technical writing and collaboration. 

Consider earning the IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate to develop some of these in-demand skills at your own pace.

Put your skills into practice with guided projects.

Deepen your learning and accelerate your skill development by putting your skills into practice in a hands-on environment. These guided projects take less than two hours each and don’t require any special software downloads:

Stay up to date on latest trends.

Keeping your technical cybersecurity skills up to date with the current threat and technology landscape can help you build confidence as a security analyst and give you a competitive advantage in your job search. Here are some resources to get you started:

  • SANS StormCast: Subscribe to this daily podcast for five to 10-minute episodes covering the latest security threats.

  • Security Now: Steve Gibson who coined the term “spyware” discusses current topics in cybersecurity on this weekly podcast.

  • CISA Alerts: Sign up to receive technical alerts from the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency.

Next step

Take the next step toward a career in cybersecurity by enrolling in the IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate on Coursera. Experience for yourself what cybersecurity is all about with a free seven-day trial.

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IBM Cybersecurity Analyst

IBM

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Article sources

1. Burning Glass Technologies. "Protecting the Future: The Fastest-Growing Cybersecurity Skills, https://www.burning-glass.com/top-cybersecurity-skills-for-2021-apps-cloud-will-dominate-demand/." Accessed September 1, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Sep 10, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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