Management, compliance & auditing

The top security architect interview questions you need to know

Simon Puleo
April 27, 2023 by
Simon Puleo

Congratulations on securing an interview for the security architect role! Security architects design and configure systems to protect the infrastructure and networks of organizations. A security architect understands security in-depth and how to develop a security plan to protect internal assets. A few essential skills you must demonstrate are the ability to:

  • Establish and maintain technical security policies and processes.
  • Work with technical teams, including network engineers, on protocols, switch and router configurations.
  • Develop and apply technical security protocols to servers, firewalls, applications and even cloud-based infrastructure.  

For your interview success, here are some best practices to follow and sample questions you might encounter.

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Best security architect interview practices:

  • Read the job description carefully before applying so that you can target essential questions for your preparation. Take notes on other IT and security-related job postings on the company's website. This will give you an overview of the applications and infrastructure that will be important to secure.
  • Prepare to discuss your experience in context or how it relates to the company's applications, servers and even products. For example, if the company is an e-commerce company, be prepared to discuss what controls and architecture you recommend that are PCI compliant. 
  • Be prepared for challenging questions. The interviewer may ask,” How do you best secure a Cisco Cloud Service Router V1000?” If you have never used this router before, be able to discuss router security in general and ask why this specific router is vital to the organization.

Common questions and answers to study and prepare before your interview:

Why did you apply for this job?

Discuss your passion for cybersecurity and interest in contributing to an organization's security posture. You can also discuss how your experience and skills align with the position's requirements and how you can significantly impact this role.   

Additionally, you can mention your desire for professional growth and development in the field of information security and how this opportunity can help you achieve your career goals. If it is a senior-level position, discuss how to mentor others and help the organization mature. 

Tell us about your experience as a security architect.

When asked about your experience as a security architect, you could answer by discussing how you have applied your expertise in securing infrastructure, networks, and applications to design and implement security solutions that address an organization's specific needs and requirements. You could also discuss your experience working with stakeholders across different departments, such as IT, operations and business teams, to understand their needs and develop security strategies that align with the organization's goals and objectives.

You can mention the projects you have led, such as developing security frameworks, creating security policies and procedures, conducting security risk assessments and implementing security controls. It would also be helpful to discuss your experience in cloud security, identity and access management, data protection or any other relevant security domains.

Overall, you want to demonstrate your ability to think strategically about security and your expertise in designing and implementing security solutions that align with business objectives. Provide specific examples of successful security initiatives you have led or contributed to, highlighting your ability to communicate complex security concepts to technical and non-technical stakeholders.

Tell us about a cyberattack that you've encountered and how you managed it. 

What this question is really asking is, what is your process for troubleshooting, and how do you work with others to resolve it? Describe your response to the discovery and the steps you take to address the issue. Your answer could include the following:

1. Acknowledge the issue: Start by acknowledging the issue and taking responsibility for it. Explain that while you designed the system, it's always possible for vulnerabilities to go undetected or for patches to be missed.

2. Investigate the issue: Explain that you immediately investigated the issue to determine the extent of the vulnerability and whether any data had been compromised.

3. Develop a remediation plan: Once you understood the scope of the issue, you developed a remediation plan that included patching the firmware, testing the fix and monitoring the system for any signs of further compromise.

4. Communicate the issue: Throughout the process, you communicated regularly with the security analyst and other stakeholders to inform them of the situation and the steps you took to address it.

5. Review your process: Finally, you reviewed your process for designing and testing systems to identify any areas where improvements could be made to prevent similar issues from occurring in the future

Overall, your answer should demonstrate your ability to respond quickly and effectively to security incidents, communicate with stakeholders and take steps to prevent future incidents.

Cybersecurity interview guide

Cybersecurity interview guide

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What is your plan for the first 30 days, 90 days and 6 months?

Consider this question before the interview. Think about when you started your last position; What did you do, and how did you add value? Be able to articulate that you will evaluate systems and be boots on the ground working with others.

Consider the below response:

  • In the first 30 days, I aim to get up to speed with the company's security policies, procedures, and systems. I would also like to meet with key stakeholders to understand their security concerns and work on developing a rapport with my team.
  • In the first 90 days, conduct a comprehensive review of the company's security posture and overall infrastructure, identify any gaps or vulnerabilities and develop a plan to address them. I would also like to start working on implementing best practices for security and establishing metrics for measuring the effectiveness of our security measures. I would also like to partner with and work closely with other engineers and architects to understand the current architecture firsthand. 
  • In the first six months, I aim to establish a robust security architecture program that aligns with the company's goals and objectives. This would include working with IT infrastructure and network teams to design and implement procedures for secure system design, threat intelligence and risk management. Aim to foster a culture of security awareness with everyone I work with so they think about security first when architecting new systems. 

My goal in the first 30 days, 90 days, and six months is to establish a strong foundation for the company's security program and provide tangible improvements to its security posture.

Why do you want to work at and secure the systems at our company?

Here is where you put it all together. Express why you are excited about their product or industry and how it aligns with your values. Talk about why you will be excited to build security solutions for their organization. Consider the response below:

I am passionate about information security, and I believe your company's commitment to implementing robust security measures aligns with my values and expertise. The opportunity to work for a company that prioritizes security and provides the necessary resources is both challenging and rewarding. Additionally, I am drawn to your industry or product (state why this interests you) and believe that working with a team of security professionals in this field would enable me to enhance my skills and expertise. I am excited about contributing to your company's security posture and participating in a collaborative and supportive work environment.

How do you stay current on the latest cybersecurity news and threats?

Discuss which websites you review and conferences you attend, like RSA or ISAACA. Also, discuss local or virtual meetup groups you may belong to that discuss cyber. Get specific with vendor and government threat reports that you read. Be sure to visit https://www.cisa.gov/ for the latest reports on U.S. threat intel.  

Are there specific standards you're familiar with that relate to this role?

Be prepared to discuss how you apply the NIST Risk Management Framework or the 27000 Series to both your work and policies. You might also discuss the MITRE Framework and how it applies to your threat response and mitigation approach. 

Get technical!

You may also be asked specific technical questions. Below is a list of common technical questions:

What are the most potent viruses in the wild?

Zero-day viruses are viruses that are just released in the wild and have no definitions. This means that antivirus and firewall software won’t detect them. These are potent for businesses.

Describe a few sites that should be blocked from a network and why?

Torrent sites are one of the biggest threats to internal networks. You should also block proxy servers to avoid allowing users to get around blocks. Warez sites are also filled with malware.

What type of tests can you use on your network to detect security faults?

Penetration testing is a must-have for most businesses. You can also use packet sniffers like Wireshark to view malicious or suspicious traffic. You can write scripts to test for unauthorized access to automate it.

How safe are VPNs? Are there any security flaws to be aware of?

Generally, VPNs can be safe as they can be set to restrict access and administrative rights. However, a man-in-the-middle attack allows an attacker to spoof the network and observe and or sometimes control a VPN session. Typically I advise active monitoring of VPN sessions for suspicious behavior. 

What is a firewall?

A firewall is software, hardware or both that protects traffic from outgoing and incoming connections. A firewall can detect malware sending traffic from a user’s computer and block unauthorized traffic from entering the internal network.

What is the difference between a firewall and a network gateway?

A network gateway connects two networks. It’s usually the router connected to the hosts. A firewall protects, blocks, and filters network traffic across the router.

What is packet filtering, and is it worth it?

Packet filtering allows you to block ports, IP addresses or protocols on the firewall. The firewall can read the packet header, which has this information contained. You then allow or block the traffic based on the packet header information.   Packet filtering may slow traffic, but given the priority of the application, it may be worth the latency. 

What is a public encryption key?

The public key is a key you publish for people to encrypt messages sent to you. You then use your private key to decrypt these messages to read them.

 What is a DoS attack?  

DoS attack is a denial of service attack. The attacker floods the network with packets to crash servers or routers.

How common are DoS attacks? 

Large-scale DoS attacks don’t happen as often as they used to, as most companies have mitigation plans. Small DoS attacks may always happen as attackers are probing networks.   

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Tame your interview nerves

The best advice to boost confidence and tame your nerves is to remember to practice, practice, practice! Follow these tips to tame your interview nerves:

  • Have a friend or coach run mock interviews with you, and have them ask questions from this article and personal questions so you get used to answering various questions.
  • Prepare questions and topics you would like to discuss with the interviewer. 
  • Dress for success and keep a positive attitude even when asked difficult questions. 
  • Finally, be yourself. You must find a company that best matches your skills and abilities and that you believe you’ll enjoy working at and will help you further your career. 

 

If you’d like help brushing up on your knowledge, check out Infosec’s cybersecurity articles and security architect training. You are on your way to your next role as a security architect

Simon Puleo
Simon Puleo

Simon Puleo, Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), is an educator by day and a security researcher at night. Simon has trained employees, customers and partners on security tools, methods and practices at Contrast Security, Micro Focus and HPE. He specializes in helping apply the NIST framework working across many domains including IAM, application security, network security and SIEM. Simon is a thought leader actively engaged in researching the cyber-threat landscape and sharing his perspectives in seminars and articles.

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