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20 Coolest Careers in Cybersecurity

The most interesting and most in-demand cyber job roles.
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Cybersecurity Talent Crunch

We've all been talking about The Skills Gap for some time now, but what does this mean, what effect does this have on global organizations, and is there anything we can do about it?

According to the Cybersecurity Jobs Report, the demand to fill roles within the information security industry is expected to reach 3.5 million unfulfilled positions this year. Furthermore, unemployment in the industry is currently exceptionally low. Research in an annual global survey by the Enterprise Service Group (ESG) found that by 2021, 51% of IT decision-makers said they were struggling to fill open positions. This worrying statistic is exactly why the World Economic Forum (WEF) named cyber-attacks as the fourth most serious global concern, and data breaches the fifth, but also why those with an interest in, or currently employed in an IT role, should consider learning the skills to become a Cyber Security Professional.

20 Coolest Careers in Cybersecurity

Organizations are hiring individuals with a unique set of skills and capabilities, and seek those who have the abilities and knowledge to fulfill many new job roles in the cybersecurity industry. We've put together a list of careers in cybersecurity that are the coolest and most in-demand by employers.

1: Threat Hunter

This expert applies new threat intelligence against existing evidence to identify attackers that have slipped through real-time detection mechanisms. The practice of threat hunting requires several skill sets, including threat intelligence, system and network forensics, and investigative development processes. This role transitions incident response from a purely reactive investigative process to a proactive one, uncovering adversaries or their footprints based on developing intelligence.

Why is this role important? Threat hunters proactively seek evidence of attackers that were not identified by traditional detection methods. Their discoveries often include latent adversaries that have been present for extended periods of time.

“Digging below what commercial anti-virus systems are able to detect to find embedded threat actors in client environments makes this job special. Shoutout to Malware and Threat Intelligence Analysts who contribute their expertise to make threat hunters more effective against adversaries.” - Ade Muhammed

Recommended SANS courses: SEC504 (GCIH Certification), FOR508 (GCFA Certification), ICS515 (GRID Certification), FOR572 (GNFA Certification), FOR578 (GCTI Certification), FOR610 (GREM Certification), and ICS612 

2: Red Teamer

In this role, you will be challenged to look at problems and situations from the perspective of an adversary. The focus is on making the Blue Team better by testing and measuring the organization’s detection and response policies, procedures, and technologies. This role includes performing adversary emulation, a type of Red Team exercise where the Red Team emulates how an adversary operates, following the same tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), with a specific objective similar to those of realistic threats or adversaries. It can also include creating custom implants and C2 frameworks to evade detection. 

Why is this role important? This role is important to help answer the common question of “can that attack that brought down company, happen to us?” Red Teamers will have a holistic view of the organization’s preparedness for a real, sophisticated attack by testing the defenders, not just the defenses.

“The only way to test a full catalog of defense is to have a full catalog of offense measure its effectiveness. Security scanning is the bare minimum and having Red Team perform various operations from different points will help the organization fix weaknesses where it matters.” - Beeson Cho

Recommended SANS courses: SEC560 (GPEN Certification), SEC564, SEC660 (GXPN Certification), SEC760, and SEC504 (GCIH Certification)

3: Digital Forensics Analyst

This expert applies digital forensic skills to a plethora of media that encompass an investigation. The practice of being a digital forensic examiner requires several skill sets, including evidence collection, computer, smartphone, cloud, and network forensics, and an investigative mindset. These experts analyze compromised systems or digital media involved in an investigation that can be used to determine what really happened. Digital media contain footprints that physical forensic data and the crime scene may not include.

Why is this role important? You are the sleuth in the world of cybersecurity, searching computers, smartphones, cloud data, and networks for evidence in the wake of an incident/crime. The opportunity to learn never stops. Technology is always advancing, as is your career.

“Forensics is about diving deep into any system and device and locating the problem so as to develop a solution.” - Patricia M 
“Data doesn’t lie, and the digital forensic analyst looks at the data to convey the stories that they tell.” - Anthony Wo

Recommended SANS courses: FOR308, FOR498 (GBFA Certification), FOR500 (GCFE Certification), FOR508 (GCFA Certification), FOR509 (Course coming soon), FOR518, FOR572 (GNFA Certification), and FOR585 (GASF Certification)

4: Purple Teamer

In this fairly recent job position, you have a keen understanding of both how cybersecurity defenses (“Blue Team”) work and how adversaries operate (“Red Team”). During your day-to-day activities, you will organize and automate emulation of adversary techniques, highlight possible new log sources and use cases that help increase the detection coverage of the SOC, and propose security controls to improve resilience against the techniques. You will also work to help coordinate effective communication between traditional defensive and offensive roles. 

Why is this role important? Help blue and red understand one another better! Blue Teams have traditionally been talking about security controls, log sources, use cases, etc. On the other side Red Teams traditionally talk about payloads, exploits, implants, etc. Help bridge the gap by ensuring red and blue are speaking a common language and can work together to improve the overall cybersecurity posture of the organization!

“The combination of red team blue team operations is very interesting and you get to see both sides. I have been on a Purple Team for a while now and it has driven a lot of positive change for us.” - Andrew R

Recommended SANS courses: SEC599 (GDAT Certification) and SEC699

5: Malware Analyst

Malware analysts face attackers’ capabilities head-on, ensuring the fastest and most effective response to and containment of a cyber-attack. You look deep inside malicious software to understand the nature of the threat – how it got in, what flaw it exploited, and what it has done, is trying to do, or has the potential to achieve. 

Why is this role important? If you’re given a task to exhaustively characterize the capabilities of a piece of malicious code, you know you’re facing a case of the utmost importance. Properly handling, disassembling, debugging, and analyzing binaries requires specific tools, techniques, and procedures and the knowledge of how to see through the code to its true functions. Reverse engineers possess these precious skills, and can be a tipping point in the favor of the investigators during incident response operations. Whether extracting critical signatures to aid in better detection, or producing threat intelligence to inform colleagues across an industry, malware analysts are an invaluable investigative resource.

“Being a malware analyst provides a great opportunity to pit your reverse engineering skills against the skills of malware authors who often do everything in their power to make the software as confusing as possible.” - Bob Pardee

Recommended SANS courses: FOR610 (GREM Certification), FOR518, and FOR585 (GASF Certification)

6: CISO/ISO or Director of Security

As a chief information security officer, you will be the balance between the IT department and the boardroom, with an equal understanding of both business and information security. Together with the ability to influence and negotiate, you will also have a thorough knowledge of global markets, policy, and legislation. With the ability to think creatively, the CISO will be a natural problem solver and will find ways to jump into the mind of a cybercriminal, discovering new threats and their solutions.

Why is this role important? The trend is for CISOs to have a strong balance of business acumen and technology knowledge in order to be up to speed on information security issues from a technical standpoint, understand how to implement security planning into the broader business objectives, and be able to build a longer lasting security and risk-based culture to protect the organization.

“The chief gets to coordinate the plans. The chief gets to know the team, know them well and disperse them appropriately to strategically defend and test org networks and security posture.“ - Anastasia Edwards

Recommended SANS courses: MGT512 (GSLC Certification), MGT514 (GSTRT Certification), MGT521, and MGT520

7: Blue Teamer – All-Around Defender

This job, which may have varying titles depending on the organization, is often characterized by the breadth of tasks and knowledge required. The all-around defender and Blue Teamer is the person who may be a primary security contact for a small organization and must deal with engineering and architecture, incident triage and response, security tool administration, and more.

Why is this role important? This job role is highly important as it often shows up in small to mid-size organizations that do not have budget for a full-fledged security team with dedicated roles for each function. The all-around defender isn’t necessarily an official job title as it is the scope of the defense work such defenders may do - a little bit of everything for everyone.

“In this day and age, we need guys that are good at defense and understand how to harden systems.” - David O

Recommended SANS courses: SEC530 (GDSA Certification), SEC450, SEC503 (GCIA Certification), SEC511 (GMON Certification, SEC505 (GCWN Certification), SEC555 (GCDA Certification), and SEC586

8: Security Architect & Engineer

Design, implement and tune an effective combination of network-centric and data-centric controls to balance prevention, detection, and response. Security architects and engineers are capable of looking at an enterprise defense holistically and building security at every layer. They can balance business and technical requirements along with various security policies and procedures to implement defensible security architectures. 

Why is this role important? A security architect and engineer is a versatile Blue Teamer and cyber defender who possesses an arsenal of skills to protect an organization’s critical data, from the endpoint to the cloud, across networks and applications.

“A security architect needs to understand workflows, networks, business requirements, project plans and sometimes even budget restraints. A very diversified role!” - Chris Bodill

Recommended SANS courses: SEC503 (GCIA Certification), SEC505 (GCWN Certification), SEC511 (GMON Certification), and SEC530 (GDSA Certification)

9: Incident Response Team Member

This dynamic and fast-paced role involves identifying, mitigating, and eradicating attackers while their operations are still unfolding. 

Why is this role important? While preventing breaches is always the ultimate goal, one unwavering information security reality is that we must assume a sufficiently dedicated attacker will eventually be successful. Once it has been determined that a breach has occurred, incident responders are called into action to locate the attackers, minimize their ability to damage the victim, and ultimately remove them from the environment. This role requires quick thinking, solid technical and documentation skills, and the ability to adapt to attacker methodologies. Further, incident responders work as part of a team, with a wide variety of specializations. Ultimately, they must effectively convey their findings to audiences ranging from deep technical to executive management.

“Incidents are bound to occur and it is important that we have people with the right skill set to manage and mitigate the loss to the organization from these incidents.” - Anita Ali

Recommended SANS courses: All FOR classes plus SEC402SEC504 (GCIH Certification), SEC508 (GCFA Certification), FOR509 (Course coming soon), FOR518, FOR572 (GCFA Certification), FORC578 (GCTI Certification), and FOR610 (GREM Certification)

10: Cyber Security Analyst/Engineer

As this is one of the highest-paid jobs in the field, the skills required to master the responsibilities involved are advanced. You must be highly competent in threat detection, threat analysis, and threat protection. This is a vital role in preserving the security and integrity of an organization’s data. 

Why is this role important? This is a proactive role, creating contingency plans that the company will implement in case of a successful attack. Since cyber attackers are constantly using new tools and strategies, cybersecurity analysts/engineers must stay informed about the tools and techniques out there to mount a strong defense.

“It doesn’t become much more versatile than in this role, as oftentimes you’ll be challenged with whatever tasks or projects customers or managers envision, ranging from simple analysis support to introducing new solutions and implementing whole services such as a SOC.” - Harun Kuessner

Recommended SANS courses: SEC401 (GSEC Certification), ICS410 (GICSP Certification), ICS456 (GCIP Certification), SEC501 (GCED Certification), SEC540 (GIAC Certification coming soon), SEC503 (GCIA Certification), SEC530 (GDSA Certification), SEC555 (GCDA Certification), SEC504 (GCIH Certification), SEC555 (GCDA Certification), SEC586, and FOR509 (Course coming soon)

11: OSINT Investigator / Analyst

These resourceful professionals gather requirements from their customers and then, using open sources and mostly resources on the internet, collect data relevant to their investigation. They may research domains and IP addresses, businesses, people, issues, financial transactions, and other targets in their work. Their goals are to gather, analyze, and report their objective findings to their clients so that the clients might gain insight on a topic or issue prior to acting. 

Why is this role important? There is a massive amount of data that is accessible on the internet. The issue that many people have is that they do not understand how best to discover and harvest this data. OSINT investigators have the skills and resources to discover and obtain data from sources around the world. They support people in other areas of cybersecurity, intelligence, military, and business. They are the finders of things and the knowers of secrets.

“Being an OSINT investigator allows me to extract information in unique and clever ways and I am never bored. One day I’m working on a fraud investigation and the next I’m trying to locate a missing person. This job always tests my capabilities, stretches my critical thinking skills, and lets me feel like I’m making a difference.” - Rebecca Ford

Recommended SANS courses: SEC487 (GOSI Certification), SEC537, and FOR578 (GCTI Certification)

12: Technical Director

This expert defines the technological strategies in conjunction with development teams, assesses risk, establishes standards and procedures to measure progress, and participates in the creation and development of a strong team. 

Why is this role important? With a wide range of technologies in use that require more time and knowledge to manage, a global shortage of cybersecurity talent, an unprecedented migration to cloud, and legal and regulatory compliance often increasing and complicating the matter more, a technical director plays a key role in successful operations of an organization.

“A technical director must have strong cybersecurity knowledge, a strategic view of the organization’s infrastructure and what’s to come, and communication skills. These things are hard to get, and I would imagine this job to be very challenging, no matter the organization size or business.” - Francisco Lugo

Recommended SANS courses: MGT516, SEC566 (GCCC Certification), MGT551, and SEC557

13: Cloud Security Analyst

The cloud security analyst is responsible for cloud security and day-to-day operations. This role contributes to the design, integration, and testing of tools for security management, recommends configuration improvements, assesses the overall cloud security posture of the organization, and provides technical expertise for organizational decision-making. 

Why is this role important? With an unprecedented move from traditional on-premise solutions to the cloud, and a shortage of cloud security experts, this position helps an organization position itself thoughtfully and securely in a multicloud environment necessary for today’s business world.

“This role is essential to find and patch vulnerabilities in the cloud environment to ensure that crackers and hackers are unauthorized in cloud environments.” - Ben Yee

Recommended SANS courses: SEC488 (GCLD Certification), SEC510, SEC545, SEC541, SEC401 (GSEC Certification), SEC588 (GCPN Certification), SEC557, and FOR509 (Course coming soon)

14: Intrusion Detection / (SOC) Analyst

Security Operations Center (SOC) analysts work alongside security engineers and SOC managers to implement prevention, detection, monitoring, and active response. Working closely with incident response teams, a SOC analyst will address security issues when detected, quickly and effectively. With an eye for detail and anomalies, these analysts see things most others miss. 

Why is this role important? SOC analysts help organizations have greater speed in identifying attacks and remedying them before they cause more damage. They also help meet regulation requirements that require security monitoring, vulnerability management, or an incident response function.

“The intrusion analyst is the guard at the gate and can get great job satisfaction from detecting and stopping network intrusions.” - Chuck Ballard

Recommended SANS courses: SEC450, FOR508 (GCFA Certification), SEC511 (GMON Certification), SEC555 (GCDA Certification), SEC503 (GCIA Certification), FOR572 (GNFA Certification), and SEC504 (GCIH Certification)

15: Security Awareness Officer

Security Awareness Officers work alongside their security team to identify their organization’s top human risks and the behaviors that manage those risks. They are then responsible for developing and managing a continuous program to effectively train and communicate with the workforce to exhibit those secure behaviors. Highly mature programs not only impact workforce behavior but also create a strong security culture. 

Why is this role important? People have become the top drivers of incidents and breaches today, and yet the problem is that most organizations still approach security from a purely technical perspective. Your role will be key in enabling your organization to bridge that gap and address the human side also. Arguably one of the most important and fastest-growing fields in cybersecurity today.

“This role allows me to use my previous experience to influence proper security behaviors, effectively improving our company’s defenses. And the rapidly evolving nature of threats means my job is never boring.” - Sue DeRosier

Recommended SANS courses: MGT433 (SSAP Certification), MGT521, and MGT512 (GSLC Certification)

16: Vulnerability Researcher & Exploit Developer

In this role, you will work to find 0-days (unknown vulnerabilities) in a wide range of applications and devices used by organizations and consumers. Find vulnerabilities before the adversaries!

Why is this role important? Researchers are constantly finding vulnerabilities in popular products and applications ranging from Internet of Things (IoT) devices to commercial applications and network devices. Even medical devices such as insulin pumps and pacemakers are targets. If we don’t have the expertise to research and find these types of vulnerabilities before the adversaries, the consequences can be grave. Recommended Courses Associated

“I think researchers will play a crucial role in years to come. They will be able to identify and help us prepare for the vulnerability before it is exploited by the hacker so instead of responding to incidents we will then be able to proactively prepare ourselves for the future issues.” - Anita Ali

Recommended SANS courses: SEC660 (GXPN Certification), SEC760, SEC661 (Course coming soon)

17: Application Pen Tester

Application penetration testers probe the security integrity of a company’s applications and defenses by evaluating the attack surface of all in-scope vulnerable web-based services, client-side applications, servers-side processes, and more. Mimicking a malicious attacker, app pen testers work to bypass security barriers in order to gain access to sensitive information or enter a company’s internal systems through techniques such as pivoting or lateral movement.

Why is this role important? Web applications are critical for conducting business operations, both internally and externally. These applications often use open-source plugins which can put these apps at risk of a security breach.

“It is not only about using existing tools and methods, you must be creative and understand the logic of the application and make guesses about the infrastructure.” - Dan-Mihai Negrea

Recommended SANS courses: DEV522 (GWEB Certification), SEC542 (GWAPT Certification), SEC552, SEC560 (GPEN Certification), SEC588 (GCPN Certification), and SEC642

18: ICS/OT Security Assessment Consultant

One foot in the exciting world of offensive operations and the other foot in the critical process control environments essential to life. Discover system vulnerabilities and work with asset owners and operators to mitigate discoveries and prevent exploitation from adversaries. 

Why is this role important? Security incidents, both intentional and accidental in nature, that affect OT (primarily in ICS systems) can be considered to be high-impact but low-frequency (HILF); they don’t happen often, but when they do the cost to the business can be considerable.

“Working in this type of industry, I can see how the demand is increasing so rapidly that companies starting to desperately looking for people with proper skillsets.” - Ali Alhajhouj

Recommended SANS courses: SEC560 GPEN Certification), ICS612, ICS515 (GRID Certification), ICS456 (GCIP Certification), and ICS410 (GICSP Certification)

19: DevSecOps Engineer

As a DevSecOps engineer, you develop automated security capabilities leveraging best-of-breed tools and processes to inject security into the DevOps pipeline. This includes leadership in key DevSecOps areas such as vulnerability management, monitoring and logging, security operations, security testing, and application security. 

Why is this role important? DevSecOps is a natural and necessary response to the bottleneck effect of older security models on the modern continuous delivery pipeline. The goal is to bridge traditional gaps between IT and security while ensuring fast, safe delivery of applications and business functionality.

“From my point of view it is a highly demanded position by companies which need to offer flexible, agile and secure solutions to their clients’ developers.” - Antonio Esmoris

Recommended SANS courses: SEC522 (GWEB Certification), SEC540 (GCSA Certification), SEC510, SEC584, and SEC534

20: Media Exploitation Analyst

This expert applies digital forensic skills to a plethora of media that encompasses an investigation. If investigating computer crime excites you, and you want to make a career of recovering file systems that have been hacked, damaged or used in a crime, this may be the path for you. In this position, you will assist in the forensic examinations of computers and media from a variety of sources, in view of developing forensically sound evidence. 

Why is this role important? You are often the first responder or the first to touch the evidence involved in a criminal act. Common cases involve terrorism, counter-intelligence, law enforcement, and insider threat. You are the person relied upon to conduct media exploitation from acquisition to final report and are an integral part of the investigation.

“This is like solving a puzzle or investigating a crime. There is an exciting element to the unknown and the technical complexity of countermeasures. The sensitivity of content and potential to get real evidence on something is exciting.” - Chris Brown

Recommended SANS courses: FOR308FOR500 (GCFE Certification), FOR508 (GCFA Certification), FOR572 (GNFA Certification), FOR585 (GASF Certification), FOR518, and FOR498 (GBFA Certification)

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Invest in Your Future

In our economy of increasing need for cybersecurity professionals, training in this profession puts you at an advantage in comparison to other industries. Safe in the knowledge that unemployment in this sector is so low, the investment of time and money to improve your cybersecurity skills is a wise move.

Whether you're looking to give your career a boost, keep up to date with current cyber threats, or first joining the world of information security, SANS can offer you training and certifications which you will be able to use in your career, the moment you complete the course.

To find out which course may suit your knowledge level, take the Level Up test which covers: Information Security Fundamentals, Pen-testing & Ethical Hacking, Cyber Defense, or Digital Forensics. When you've completed your test, Level Up will provide a list of suggested course options catered to your skillset. You can also use the SANS Roadmap to plan out the training path to your ideal goal.

Contact us at info@sans.org if you'd like to learn more!