Introduction: What is the role of a cybersecurity architect in information security?
A cybersecurity architect is a key player in protecting a company’s networks, data and sensitive information from cybercriminals. In fact, this professional oversees many areas of the implementation of security features in networks and computers as well as the building of all defenses, in particular with the devising of ways to test the systems and planning for response and recovery. He or she also drafts and implements policies and procedures related to the security of the IT infrastructure they are entrusted with.
A position with such a variety of duties requires a professional with a great understanding of computer systems and network architectures as well as the mastery of a variety of technologies from VPNs to clouds. You must be able to provide advice on secure solutions like applying essential security tools for vulnerability discovery, such as using intrusion prevention systems.
In addition, however, security architects need to be well-versed in recommending changes or enhancements in order to maintain the integrity, security and availability of the company’s systems and information assets preparing proposals to submit to a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) and/or management for funding. Supervising a team of security experts is often needed, as well as having a good grasp of the company’s mission, priority and work to advise on the best, cost-effective measures to implement for its protection.
This is definitely not an entry-level position and requires a strong theoretical background and highly developed skills in planning, project management, communication and leadership. That said, as a cybersecurity architect, you’re likely to serve in various roles in an organization with similar duties but different titles, such as:
- Security architect: Designs and engineers secure solutions across complex enterprise environments; also establishes an architecture program to protect the value of the systems and information assets of the enterprise from both external and internal threats
- Information architect: Works with teams to build efficient systems and software. Helps safeguard a company’s architecture through identifying and driving appropriate initiatives
- Computer network architect: Often works with computer systems engineers who help build the network; moreover, they play a key role in putting together data communication networks, including local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), virtual private networks (VPNs), and Intranets that are typically part of the IT infrastructure found in most enterprise workplace environments.
- Cloud security architect: Supports an organization’s on-premise and cloud security infrastructure at all levels of design, development and implementation from the most advanced cyberattacks. They tend to have knowledge and skills in cryptography to safely store data, while building secure systems from the application development security point of view
The possible career paths
If deciding on a cybersecurity architect career, it is important to know what experience and education might be needed and how to build knowledge through IT security training and professional certifications to get the right level of skill set required for the job.
A career in this field normally starts in positions such as system or network administrator, with the candidate later specializing in security roles such as security analyst, engineer or consultant. A senior-level role and years of experience could eventually lead to a CISO position.
Education is surely a good starting point for entering this career. A cybersecurity degree is an obvious choice to give professionals the sound foundation on which to build their knowledge base. It will give the security practitioners the information needed on the overall architecture of systems and networks with a focus on its design and protection covering any cybersecurity issues associated with operating systems, networking and virtualization software while controlling outside access to the hardware.
For such a complex role, however, it’s clear how employers are looking for professionals that can demonstrate sound work experience and yet are willing to keep updated and further their proficiency. This is when certifications can really help a cybersecurity architect focus on required skillfulness, while they keep abreast of the newest tools and trends as well as demonstrate their strengths in the profession.
So what are the best, and not-so obvious, certifications for a cybersecurity architect role?
The CREST Registered Technical Security Architecture (CRTSA) tests the candidates’ knowledge and expertise in a common set of core skills and knowledge for systems architects. The test checks if the candidate has an adequate technical understanding to perform a satisfactory and meaningful risk assessment. It also covers the design of effective security architectures, their implementation, the devising of countermeasures and solutions to enhance security and mitigate risks as well as elements of supervision.
The examination is aimed at individuals seeking the role of a senior security architect. It consists of a closed-book exam in both written multiple-choice form and written long form. Do note that the following examinations are currently in development: Security Architecture (Practitioner Level) and Security Architecture (Certified Level).
EC-Council’s Certified Network Defense Architect (CNDA) is a unique credential that targets ethical hackers in government agencies who build defenses against cyber-attacks that can cripple business operations.
To earn this qualification, personnel who are working at a government/military agency must take the CEH exam, as there is no examination for CNDA. And anyone who has already passed the CEH can be grandfathered for the CNDA certification.
Those who are interested can download and complete the CNDA application form and then pay a $200 administrative fee.
The GIAC®️ Defensible Security Architecture (GDSA) is an industry certification that proves an individual can be “all-round defenders, capable of designing, implementing and tuning an effective combination of network-centric and data-centric controls to balance prevention, detection, and response.”
For an examination fee of $1,999 USD (which includes access to two practice tests through the GIAC Certification Portal), candidates will be tested on a large variety of topics including network-centric and data-centric approaches, hardening applications across the TCP/IP stack, and secure environment creation with private, hybrid or public clouds.
This test, suitable for security architects that will investigate cyber threats, features 75 questions to be completed in two hours, with a minimum passing score of 63%. It is delivered online through a standard web browser and must be proctored through Pearson VUE.
IACRB’s Certified SCADA Security Architect (CSSA) determines if a candidate possesses adequate knowledge to properly secure a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system that uses computers, networked data communications and graphical user interfaces to monitor an entire infrastructure in real time.
This is a great certification for professionals working or looking to work in the power transmission, oil and gas or water treatment industries. Credential holders will have a thorough understanding of assessing and securing an Industrial Control Systems (ICS) architecture, to include developing proper policies, standards and procedures, access control, authentication of users, securing field communications, identifying and protecting from cyberattacks.
The exam for certification comprises 100 randomly selected questions and is two hours in length, with a flat fee of $499 per exam and on-site proctored exam for $399 per voucher.
(ISC)²’s CISSP – ISSAP (Information Systems Security Architecture Professional) certification is appropriate for anyone who wants to “specialize in designing security solutions and providing management with risk-based guidance to meet organizational goals.” Those who earn the credential can help prove their expertise developing, designing and analyzing security solutions.
The ISSAP certification requires passing (700 out of 1000 points) the 75-question multiple-choice exam within the 3-hour time limit. The test is proctored at Pearson VUE Testing Centers and pricing is as follows: USD $599, EUR €555, or GBP £479.
Note: There are many other certifications that can be a great asset for the career of a cybersecurity architect: from the standard CISSP: Certified Information Systems Security Professional to the GIAC Security certification and the CISM: Certified Information Security Manager, just to name a few.
What’s the best way to train for any of the certification exams?
Taking courses offered by the certification’s provider is always a good option for the candidate preparing for examination, but training partners can be a good option too.
The CREST (Council of Registered Ethical Security Testers) provides a professional development pathway for those wishing to progress as a Registered Technical Security Architect. In fact, those interested in pursuing the CRTSA can download the syllabus, which highlights specific skill areas to know, and the generic Guide to the examination structure.
EC-Council, renowned for its infosec cybersecurity certification programs, for the Network Defense Architect (CNDA) pathway via their Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification, suits anyone who is concerned about the integrity of the network infrastructure all from a vendor-neutral perspective. Training is available by EC-Council — see the Road Map to Certification of the C|EH program.
The GIAC certification requires no specific training. Nonetheless, the GDSA certification does align with SANS training SEC530: Defensible Security Architecture and Engineering, which is designed to help reinforce key points in the exam.
IACRB is a not-for-profit legal entity with a sole mission to certify individuals, not train them; Infosec is an IACRB-approved training provider for the CSSA. According to IACRB, the “ICS/SCADA Boot Camp builds your homeland security skills by teaching you how to assess and secure SCADA systems — and you’ll gain hands-on experience on the latest threats via [their] SCADA Cyber Range.” The CSSA certification path covers everything from field-based attacks to automated vulnerability assessments for SCADA networks “to provide holistic security for critical industrial automation systems.”
(ISC)²’s CISSP-ISSAP Training Course is ideal to review and refresh the students’ knowledge and identify areas they need to study for the exam.
Career outlook and salary
Many employers are in search of cybersecurity architects to help limit the impact of network intrusions and provide measures and a security architecture able to protect an IT environment from current cyber threats. The demand for skilled (trained and certified) cybersecurity architects combined with a scarcity in talent supply has resulted in higher wages and excellent benefits packages for qualified applicants.
In order to have access to the best jobs, candidates need to prepare themselves by keeping their knowledge up to date and be able to demonstrate their skills to potential employers. Many cybersecurity architect job openings require a certification and, in any case, even when not expressly requested, a qualification could be a major deciding factor in who will get the job.
In many cases, the hired person can look forward to a more-than-reasonable salary. Of course, this depends on their education (any degree programs in cybersecurity), background experience, skills and expertise.
According to CyberSeek, the average salary is $129,000 annually. PayScale also indicates the median salary for a security architect is approximately $122,612. When considering not only the salary but also bonuses, commissions, overtime and other pay, such a career is tempting.
So are you ready to become a cybersecurity architect? Or are you looking for more expert guidance that will shine more light in to such a career that you might not have considered? The CyberSpeak with Infosec podcast breaks down the path from security newcomer to an elite cybersecurity architect or reach a related role. Make sure, however, to consider the mentioned certifications as a best way to push forward your career towards senior levels.
- Cybersecurity Jobs and Salaries, Computer Science MS Degrees
- 12 certifications for enterprise architects, CIO
- Career Spotlight: Cybersecurity Architect, Careers in Cybersecurity
- CyberSecurity FAQ – What is a cybersecurity architecture?, CyberSecurity Forum
- Cyber Security Architect: Courses, Certification & Training, Study.com
- CREST Registered Technical Security Architect, CREST
- Certified Network Defence Architect (CNDA), EC-Council
- GIAC Defensible Security Architecture (GDSA), GIAC
- Certified SCADA Security Architect (CSSA), IACRB
- CISSP Concentrations – ISSAP, (ISC)²