Security engineer careers
What is a cybersecurity engineer?
Ever wonder what a cybersecurity engineer does? Or how to kick-start your career in cybersecurity engineering? Here’s an overview of this advanced-level job, salary and career path — find out if being a security engineer is right for you.
Cybersecurity engineers work with a team to protect networks, data and computer systems from attacks. They are responsible for building and maintaining security systems, developing information security policies, monitoring networks and handling incident response.
Cybersecurity engineering is a high-earning career option with long-term job security. CyberSeek reports more than 57,000 cybersecurity engineer job openings.
What does a security engineer do?
Security engineers — sometimes known as IT/IA security engineers, data security engineers and application/web security engineers — are responsible for designing, building and maintaining information security systems within an organization’s IT network. The role of security engineer is more prevalent at larger organizations that have funding for this specialized role.
Security engineer roles and responsibilities
The duties of a security engineer vary depending on the organization's size, industry and role (i.e., network vs. cloud vs. software security engineering).
Depending on the organization's size, duties can range from identifying security issues during an OS upgrade to administering penetration testing and provisioning physical security.
Typical duties are:
- Set overall security strategy for computer systems and network infrastructure
- Administer, referee and interpret results of penetration tests
- Monitor systems for unusual activity or behavior
- Install, configure and maintain software to monitor networks and systems for intrusions
- Define and document security requirements and make recommendations to management
Security engineer tools
Cybersecurity engineers are in charge of monitoring and protecting complex networks. Some common tools they use are:
- Aircrack-ng: Suite of tools for testing Wi-Fi network security
- Acunetix: Tool to scan complex web pages, interfaces and applications for vulnerabilities
- Metasploit: Popular pentesting tool
- Nessus: Remote security scanning tool
- Nmap: Open-source tool for network discovery and security auditing
- Snort: Popular network IDS utilized by vendors
- Wireshark and Zeek: Two popular protocol analyzers
Not sure where to start? Read Security engineers: The top 13 cybersecurity tools you should know. Then watch Terence Jackson of Thycotic's take on a main skill you'll use as a security engineer— implementing controls, particularly those related to identity and access management.
Security engineer career path FAQ
A security engineer is an advanced-level job — and it’s never too early to plan for the role. Expect to have at least a couple of years of work experience, education and potentially a few certifications. Many work as cybersecurity analysts, penetration testers or SOC engineers before becoming security engineers.
How to become a security engineer?
As highly skilled information security professionals, cybersecurity engineers typically have a range of education credentials. Many security engineers have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology or computer information systems.
CyberSeek reports that 64% of security engineer job postings require a bachelor’s degree; 22% of postings request a graduate degree. Infosec's article CyberSeek career path: Cybersecurity engineer helps you plan your learning.
In addition to traditional schooling, most security engineers also have a variety of professional certifications. The top certifications requested by employers are CISSP, CISM, CompTIA Security+ and CISA.
You’ll also need work experience to be a competitive candidate. Typically, this means having 4-6 years of experience in an information technology or security role (Zippia). You’ll most likely start in a junior engineering role handling tasks like malware analysis, incident response and black-and-white box testing before eventually working your way up to senior engineer.
The security engineer career path is rewarding! Take advantage of the many security engineer training, certifications and resources to get you there.
Do security engineers code?
As a security engineer, you will not be writing code daily, but being familiar with some common languages — especially the ones favored by hackers — can give you a deeper understanding of core cybersecurity concepts. Knowing how to code can be immensely beneficial when you need to “think like a hacker.”
What’s a day in the life of a cybersecurity engineer?
A typical day in the life of a security engineer will vary depending on your security engineer experience level, employer and specific job title.
Junior security engineers often develop threat models, research threats, write reports and implement new security tools. They may also be involved with incident response, malware analysis and security automation.
As you move into a senior engineering role, you’ll take on higher-level responsibilities like monitoring and maintaining security systems, performing risk assessments and making recommendations to management.
What’s the difference between network security and cloud security engineers?
When determining what you’d like your day-to-day work to look like, it’s important to consider the difference between a network engineer and a cloud security engineer.
One significant difference is the issue of complexity. Network security is typically considered simpler than cloud security. This is because most networks are closed systems, making them easier to protect from intruders.
An example would be an office building where all the computers, phones and peripheral devices are physically located and connected directly to the network.
Cloud security, however, deals with data accessed by users from various devices, apps and locations. Many users will connect to the cloud via public, unsecured Wi-Fi networks.
The complexity of the cloud introduces new vulnerabilities and greater opportunities for bad actors to get into the system. This makes the job of a cloud security engineer more complex and fluid as it’s based on a relatively new and rapidly evolving technology.
What tools does a security engineer use?
For many, becoming a cybersecurity engineer is the pinnacle of their career. As an advanced cybersecurity role, you’ll spend years collecting the right skills and tools.
The tools you'll use differ depending on your security challenge. Generally, security engineering tools fit into four categories:
- Network security monitoring
- Web vulnerability scanning
- Penetration testing
Check out Security engineers: The top 13 cybersecurity tools you should know to learn more.
Where can I find security engineer jobs?
While you may be able to find some promising leads on big career sites like Indeed, Monster and Glassdoor and LinkedIn — you’ll probably have a better experience and more productive job search with sites that cater specifically to cybersecurity professionals. A few of these sites include:
You can also attend local meetups or connect with other cybersecurity professionals on popular cybersecurity discussion boards.
When you find the job you want, don't forget to prepare for the interview! Here are cybersecurity engineer interview questions and answers to help you shine.
How much does a cybersecurity engineer make?
Cybersecurity engineers can look forward to a competitive cybersecurity salary with a national average of $98,928. Keep in mind that this number varies based on factors like education, location and experience.
Experienced cybersecurity engineers bring home an average of $114,454, while late-career engineers earn an impressive $127,588.
Check out Infosec's Cybersecurity engineer job & salary article to learn more.
Where can I find free security engineer resources?
Paid higher education and training courses can be a great way to build your cybersecurity engineering skills. There are plenty of free resources to tap into. Try exploring:
- Security engineer blogs: In addition to the Infosec blog, other popular resources include The Hacker News, Security Weekly and Infosecurity Magazine. However, hundreds of great industry blogs are out there, depending on your specific interests.
- Security engineer podcasts: Weekly podcasts like Cyber Work provide insights from those in the trenches about what it's like to actually work as a security engineer and other roles
- Security engineer books: Books cover a wide range of topics related to security engineering, from Navigating the Cybersecurity Career Path to studying for a security engineer certification. In addition to buying books online, you can check your local library to see what free resources are available.
- Social media: Follow thought leaders and connect with potential mentors on LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, TechExams and other platforms.
What job titles are related to security engineer?
Security engineers may go by different job titles depending on their organization and the specific tasks they perform. Some related job titles include:
- Security analyst
- Information security engineer
- IT security engineer
- Cybersecurity engineer
- Security systems engineer
- IS architect
- Cybersecurity architect
- Network security engineer
- Systems security engineer
What are security engineer-related NICE work roles?
The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) roles are:
- Network operations specialist
- System administrator
- Cyber infrastructure support specialist
- Information systems security developer
- Security architect
- Technical support specialist
- Systems testing and evaluation specialist
Check out Infosec training mapped to the NICE work roles for security engineers.
Security engineer certifications
Certifications are a great way to demonstrate your skills to employers. But which certifications are best for security engineers? See popular Cybersecurity engineer certification options below:
- CompTIA Security+, the most popular entry-level cybersecurity certification in the world.
- CompTIA CASP+, one of the industry's most respected certifications.
- EC-Council CEH, an entry-level penetration testing certification that covers how to perform a security assessment.
- (ISC)² CISSP, one of the most in-demand advanced-level cybersecurity certifications.
- Azure Security Engineer Associate, covers how to implement, monitor, maintain and secure Microsoft Azure solutions.
Security engineer interview questions and answers
When you interview for a security engineer job, you’ll have to persuade the interviewer that you have the right combination of hands-on experience, content knowledge and soft skills. Common security engineer interview questions include:
- What is a man-in-the-middle attack?
- What are encoding, encryption and hashing?
- What is ARP, and when would you use it?
- How do you deal with high-pressure environments?
- What is a three-way handshake?
- What is cross-site scripting?
- What techniques can be used to prevent a brute-force login attack?
- You find a USB flash drive in the parking lot with a “2019 salaries” label on it. What do you do with it?
- Have you ever experienced a serious breach?
Read our security engineer Q&A article for the answers. For even more guidance, download our ebook: Cybersecurity interview tips: How to stand out, get hired and advance your career.
Security engineer training courses
Live security engineer boot camps and on-demand security engineer courses provide expert, guided instruction to build your knowledge and skills. A few popular options are listed below:
More cybersecurity career advice
If you’ve been in the cybersecurity field for a couple of years and are looking to make the leap into security engineering, it’s helpful to have a plan. By planning, you’re giving yourself a head start on gaining the skills and certifications to make a successful career transition.
And don't let that fear stop you, says best-selling author and Infosec Skills instructor Ted Harrington. “Every single person who has ever achieved excellence didn’t know anything at one point, but they set out with that mindset of curiosity. You can do it, and you can excel at it. Just don’t be scared and put in the work.”
Want more career advice? Watch the Cyber Work Podcast or read these popular articles:
- 7 steps to building a successful career in information security
- 10 reasons why you should pursue a career in information security
- Most valuable cybersecurity skills to learn in 2022
- Which cybersecurity certifications are best for your career?
- How to specialize in cybersecurity: Find your path and your passion
- 133 cyber security training courses you can take now — for free