Introduction

Cybersecurity analysts are a highly sought-after type of information security specialist that help to analyze and interpret the current security stance of an organization. They are responsible for the monitoring of threats and security issues as they show up on the network. They also fill an educational role by highlighting best practices and user training. 

Although a security analyst will most likely not be doing the actual training themselves, they will make all of the necessary recommendations. The most serious threats need to be communicated to the rest of the company as soon as they surface.

Cybersecurity analysts also conduct security exercises such as penetration tests and vulnerability scanning. They generate reports and document their findings so that the necessary fixes can be applied. If there are budgetary considerations, that need to be taken into account. Then a full report, including a risk assessment and potential threat impact assessment will be generated to convey the seriousness of the assessment. This can all help to motivate the purchasing of new software and hardware, the hiring of new staff and the training and education of users. 

Based on all of this information, we can now move onto the interview questions and see how you can prepare for your next job interview.


1. Where do you get your news and the latest information about cybersecurity?

Some popular cybersecurity news resources include:

Obviously add your own resources to the mix, but sites like the examples above are the kinds of sites that can give you some good information about what is happening in the world of cybersecurity.

Why did they ask that? This question is usually asked as a way to gauge your interest in cybersecurity. This is a field of work that requires constant research and learning, and a large part of this is achieved through keeping up with the latest developments in the information security industry. 

This is quite a subjective question, so feel free to speak about all of your preferred news and information platforms as well as what it is that you hope to learn when you visit these sites and what you enjoy most about using them from an educational perspective.

2. What is the CIA triad?

The CIA triad is a security model that highlights the most important aspects of cyber security in three parts. The three aspects of the CIA triad are Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability. Knowing what the CIA triad is made of is important if you are trying to show your understanding of basic cybersecurity concepts; this is taught in all entry level cybersecurity courses, so you should know what it is if you are ever asked. Explaining what the CIA triad is all about is quite simple and can be summarized as follows:

  • Confidentiality: In this context, confidentiality relates to data security and protection within an organization. Confidentiality means that data must be kept safe from unauthorized access and that no information can be disclosed, leaked or given to anyone that is not expressly permitted to view or use it. Confidentiality includes the methods that you could use to prevent data from being accessed by unauthorized users and/or outside parties. It also deals with factors relevant to confidentiality, such as user training and password best practices
  • Integrity: Integrity is all about how trustworthy the data is on your network and inside your databases. The data that is accessed by applications and users must not be tampered with in transit or in storage, which means that data validation is a big part of integrity. Access controls also come into play, as stored data needs to be kept free from any unauthorized changes that might jeopardize the overall accuracy and integrity of the information. Think about safeguards such as backups, checksums and data verification techniques
  • Availability: Organizational data is only useful if it is accessible, which means availability is key. If a system is down and data is unavailable, then the systems and users that need it to do their work are suddenly dead in the water. Availability is ensured by implementing redundancy in technologies that are both software and hardware based. Using a combination of redundancy technologies gives you the best chances of keeping the data flowing in times of crisis such as a hardware failure or a malware outbreak. The implemented technologies that guarantee availability need to be flexible and intelligent enough to not limit access to legitimate users and not grant access to unauthorized users

Why did they ask that?

The CIA triad is a fundamental cybersecurity concept that is touched upon very early in a cybersecurity professional’s career, and you should know all about the theory behind the work that you are doing. It’s not a bad idea to brush up on some lingo and basics before going in for an interview, especially if you haven’t looked at your old study materials in a while.

3. How do you define risk, vulnerability and threat on a network?

We can define these terms like this:

  • Threat: A threat is takes on many different forms. It could be a single individual, a technology such as malware or even natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods. Anything that has the potential to cause damage to a computer system such as a network, server or a company as a whole could be classified as a threat
  • Vulnerability: A vulnerability is a gap in the security of a system that could be used by cybercriminals or malware (threats) to gain unauthorized entry into a system, such as an unpatched server, a weak password or an open port on an unmonitored computer on your network
  • Risk: Risk could be seen as the potential for loss or damage when a threat is carried out against a vulnerability on your network. This is the worst-case scenario and is used as a means to help motivate for any security-related issues to be detected, prevented or resolved

Why did they ask that?

This is a basic warmup question and is an icebreaker to try and set the tone, like most of the early questions in an interview. They are setting a baseline to see how much you know and will compare it to your experience on your resume, as well as the position that you have applied for. Getting the basics right is important, so be sure to brush up ahead of time so that you are prepared.

4. What do you know about cybersecurity frameworks?

Four common cybersecurity frameworks that are used in the United States are:

  • PCI-DSS
  • ISO 27001/27002
  • CIS Critical Security Controls
  • NIST Cybersecurity Framework

Why did they ask that?

As a cybersecurity analyst, you should be familiar with some of the frameworks that need to be implemented and followed in secure environments. Remember, frameworks are usually mandatory so that an organization can remain compliant. They are generally based on existing guidelines and practices for organizations to better manage and reduce cybersecurity risk, so adhering to them is essential.

5. How would you define weak information security?

Information security is weak when it cannot meet the requirements set out by the organization. Strong information security relies on user compliance, which means that the security policies need to be made available to everyone in the company so that they are aware of what is required from them. Users are the easiest point of entry into a company’s computer network, so they need to understand and follow the company’s information security policies so that they all act in the same predictable way.

Why did they ask that?

Cybersecurity analysts are keenly aware of how important user compliance is when it comes to security policies, so you should convey your understanding on the subject. There are other elements that make up a strong or weak security policy, but starting with user compliance is always a safe bet. If you are pressed for more detail, then you are free to go into the more technical aspects of information security stances that an organization could take.

6. Can you explain SSL encryption?

SSL (Secure Socket Layer) allows for safe and private communications between two computers or other devices over the internet. It was originally created to let participants double-check who they were communicating with, allowing them to verify that the other party was indeed who they said they were before proceeding with the conversation.

The real value of SSL that most people are familiar with is when it is used with HTTPS on port 443. This is seen one of the most secure ways of traversing the internet, as it allows your communications to be encrypted and made inaccessible to other parties. 

SSL has largely been replaced by Transport Layer Security (TLS) these days, even though the term SSL is still used to describe TLS. You may hear the term TLS/SSL being used to describe secure HTTPS protocols.

Why did they ask that?

All internet traffic should be encrypted, regardless of what it is. If you are able to show that you understand what it is, how important it is and where it is used most often, then you are more likely to understand user security and safety while they are using online websites and other resources on the internet. Also, showing that you understand that most people are referring to TLS when they speak about SSL is important.

7. Explain SSL and TLS in your own words

SSL was a protocol developed in the mid-1990s as a way to secure internet communications. SSL v3 was the last version of the protocol that was used before TLS was launched at version 1.0. Many improvements have been made to TLS, and it is currently on v1.3.

Why did they ask that?

This is a common trick question that usually follows from the standard “What is SSL?” question. It goes as little deeper and can take some candidates off-guard if they thought that they had already adequately dealt with SSL. Just remember that TLS has mostly replaced SSL and that people still use the terms interchangeably.

8. What are salted hashes?

Salt is essentially just random data. The term is used when a security system that deals with passwords on a network or within a computer system receives a new password. 

One example of salting is when a system adds random values to the password, or salt, and then creates a hash of that password. The hash of this salted password is then stored. This is an effective security measure that protects passwords with an additional layer of security, as the salted password is far more complex. 

The hash is a one-way cryptographic function. This makes it practically impossible to decrypt.

Why did they ask that?

Understanding how a password is stored can help you to test password strength and retrieve lost information. This is good knowledge to have if you are conducting an audit or a penetration test, so your understanding salted hashes is important in an interview.

9. What is a DDoS attack? How is it mitigated?

This is one of the most common attacks on the internet and is usually used to take down a website. DDoS stands for distributed denial of service. The attack uses a large number of clients that flood the affected server with so many requests that it eventually stops responding to them. This makes actual users that are just sending standard requests to access the online resource unable to connect, thus taking the server offline.

In this scenario, there are a few techniques that you can use to mitigate a DDoS attack on a website. The first thing that you should try is minimize your website’s exposure to potential attacks. This is done by reducing the number of ports and resources that are exposed directly to the internet. Only essential services that are expecting communications should be internet-facing; everything else should be locked down. 

Another way to mitigate DDoS is to have a sound understanding of what normal traffic looks like for your site. When you are being attacked, you should see an obvious difference between your baseline and the current state of your site. This is important, because you need to know what strain your online resources are under in real time. 

Backup services and connections are also another way to help mitigate DDoS attacks. If you have redundancy, then you can fail over to a backup connection if you have the resources to do so. If you are hosting your own web services, then you need to make sure that your webserver is in a DMZ and is protected by a firewall, as well as a Network Intrusion Prevention solution. 

Working with your connection provider to help identify the source of an attack can also help to mitigate such an attack, as they might be able to better identify and block some of the traffic that is part of the attack. 

Why did they ask that?

Many organizations host their own online services and websites, which means that you will need to understand how to protect these systems from a DDoS attempt and how to minimize the business impact when their systems are under attack.

10. Why do you need DNS monitoring?

DNS monitoring is simply a way for you to test connectivity between your local connections and the rest of the internet. DNS monitoring is important because it gives you a better idea of the current state of your connections, helping you to troubleshoot issues when they occur. This is especially helpful from a cybersecurity perspective if you suspect any malicious activity.

Why did they ask that?

Companies that have an online presence need to know how well you understand their setup and what tools you would use to try and diagnose, troubleshoot and combat connectivity problems. If they were under attack, then they would want to know that you have the knowledge to use the appropriate countermeasures when dealing with such a threat.

Conclusion

Interviews are a challenge for everyone, regardless of the field or industry that they work in. Cybersecurity analysts have a lot of technical questions that they need to get through, depending on the level of the position that they are applying for. 

We have gone through a mixture of questions that you could face if you are lucky enough to be sitting through an interview soon. Even though you may have been working in cybersecurity for a very long time, it never hurts to do a little bit of preparation before the interview. Be sure to read up as much as you can on some of the latest threats that are challenging modern companies, and make sure that you can apply your knowledge to the current problems that they are facing. 

 

Sources

  1. How to Get an Information Security Analyst Job: Interview Questions, Answers & Advice (Part Two), Red Canary
  2. Top 4 cybersecurity frameworks, IT Governance
  3. Cybersecurity Framework, NIST

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Section Guide

Graeme
Messina

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Graeme
Messina

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