What Is a Cybersecurity Consultant? (And How to Become One)

Written by Coursera • Updated on

A cybersecurity consultant helps keep their clients' data protected from cyberattacks and similar risks. Learn more about what someone in this role does, along with job outlook and recommended education and certifications for cybersecurity consultants.

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Cybersecurity professionals have become critical to modern business operations as organizations and companies around the world work to protect themselves from cyberattacks. 

Cybersecurity consultants identify problems, evaluate security issues, assess risk, and implement solutions to defend against threats to companies’ networks and computer systems. They deal with many variables when evaluating security systems and craft layers of protection in a fast-changing IT landscape.

As technology has expanded and become more sophisticated, so have cybersecurity threats such as phishing, ransomware, and hacking. Total distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, attacks on servers that disrupt user access, for instance, are expected to hit 15.4 million by 2023, nearly double 2018’s 7.9 million, according to Cisco’s Annual Internet Report [1]. 

If you enjoy the combination of problem-solving and technology, this could be an exciting career path for you. 

Cybersecurity consultant job overview

The cybersecurity industry is experiencing rapid growth. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 33 percent increase in employment through 2030, well above the 8 percent average for all occupations [2]. 

The 2020 median annual salary for information security analysts in the United States was $103,590 and ranged up to $163,000 or higher [2]. While salary depends on education and experience, many consultants also enjoy benefits such as paid training, the ability to work remotely, sign-on bonuses, generous leave, and paid travel.

Job responsibilities

Cybersecurity consultants focus on risk prevention, detection, and response. Additional job titles include security consultant, computer security consultant, network security consultant, IT consultant, and database security consultant. Whatever the title, the job entails dealing with a wide range of variables in assessing security systems. 

Job focus varies based on the role, from engineering to customer service to executive leadership. Early career cybersecurity professionals might focus on configuring devices or customer service. Those with advanced degrees and years of professional experience are more likely to set organizational information security strategies. Common responsibilities for cybersecurity consultants include: 

  •  Maximizing efficiency in system protection, networks, data, software, and information systems to guard against potential attacks 

  • Performing vulnerability testing and security checks, and establishing a threat analysis schedule

  • Conducting ongoing research on cybersecurity criteria while staying abreast of validation procedures, security systems, and emerging threats

  • Monitoring internet safety problems and working cohesively with IT departments to craft dynamic solutions

  • Working closely with other security personnel to ensure complete protection for the client in every aspect.

  • Delivering technical reports and test findings with actionable preventative solutions

Job skills

Cybersecurity requires a balance of strong technical and interpersonal skills. Security systems must remain adaptable to keep pace with technology, so possessing the technical skills to update and upgrade systems is a core function of this career. 

Cybersecurity consultants also work across teams to educate the broader organization on technical subjects and best practices, requiring strong collaboration and communication skills. 

Technical skills

  • In-depth understanding of the ethical standards in hacking and coding

  • Working knowledge of potential threats such as social engineering, phishing, and network access and how they can cause harm

  • Ability to conduct penetration testing, which occurs when the consultant acts as a hacker to determine the security of the system and the vulnerabilities of concern to clients

  • Knowledge of operating systems, including Windows, UNIX, Linus, ongoing upgrades, and new systems that roll out continuously

  • Fluency in programming languages such as Python and Javascript

  • Encryption techniques to mitigate risks posed by hackers

Workplace skills

  • Strong verbal and written communication skills 

  • Leadership and project management for implementing new policies and procedures

  • Ability to collaborate with people at all levels of an organization

  • Desire to learn new things, as security and information systems and the associated threats change rapidly

The path to becoming a cybersecurity consultant

You can build a cybersecurity career in several ways. Many job candidates have a bachelor's degree in a field such as computer science, cybersecurity, engineering, information security, or other related fields [4]. Cybersecurity professionals often start as junior members of an IT team and spend one to three years gaining experience before becoming a consultant. Some consultants work for a single business, others work with multiple companies through consulting firms, and others decide to work for themselves.

But a degree is not always necessary, and some cybersecurity consultants have built long and fulfilling careers through a combination of on-the-job experience and professional certifications.

Certifications

Many cybersecurity professionals choose to build on their knowledge with professional certifications to stay up to date on relevant technical skills and best practices. Some of the most popular cybersecurity certifications include:

  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

  • Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

  • Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

  • Security+

  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

  • GIAC Security Essentials Certification (GSEC)

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Job opportunities 

Cybersecurity is an in-demand field. Working as a cybersecurity consultant offers growth potential and positions you to take advantage of a broad range of opportunities. In general, cybersecurity consultants serve in various roles across many environments, helping them build a portfolio of skill sets and titles.

The three most common employment types are:

  • In-house: Provide solutions and manage cybersecurity systems as a full-time employee of a business.

  • Freelance: Provide services to a variety of clients, with the opportunity to specialize in particular areas of cybersecurity. 

  • Consulting firms: Help companies establish or strengthen security measures by filling in gaps with outsourced employees.

Get started in cybersecurity

Learn about 2022’s most popular cybersecurity certifications and consider how you want to build on your resume for a successful cybersecurity career. Learn in-demand skills with courses like the IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate — no experience required.

Related articles

Article sources

1. Cisco. “Cisco Annual Internet Report (2018–2023) White Paper, https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/collateral/executive-perspectives/annual-internet-report/white-paper-c11-741490.html.” Accessed February 23, 2022.

2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Information Security Analysts, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/information-security-analysts.htm.” Accessed February 23, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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