Cyber security: graduate area of work

Cyber security skills are in high demand. Richard Holmes from CGI outlines the latest trends and how graduates can start their career in this area.

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Cyber security specialists develop and employ a range of technologies, processes and practices to protect computers, data, networks and programs from attack, damage and illegal access. There are usually three core job roles within cyber security:

  1. Consulting: this involves advising clients on policy and strategies to help them protect their organisations. Conducting risk assessments to ascertain the extent to which an organisation is exposed to threats is an example of a consulting role.
  2. Engineering: security engineers, or architects, design and build IT systems in such a way that they’ll remain safe and secure. It’s a technical job that is usually project-based, with projects lasting 12 to 24 months.
  3. Operations: operational security experts monitor IT systems for active signs of attack. They might work in a security operations centre (SOC), undertaking protective monitoring; in digital forensics, where they might investigate clients’ machines that have been attacked; or penetration testing, where they simulate attacks to explore vulnerabilities in a client system.

The main employers of cyber security personnel are specialist organisations that are hired for their expertise by a range of institutions and businesses. However, some organisations do have their own cyber security teams. They are usually large companies that have a good reason to invest in security, such as banks.

Graduates wanting to work in cyber security need to know…

Cyber security is one of the biggest issues facing the world today. Recent high-profile leaks, hacks and cyber attacks have made people uncomfortably aware of the risk cybercrime poses to society. Cybercrime is also increasingly recognised as a threat to business: a recent study by CGI and Oxford Economics showed how severe cyber breaches permanently damage company share price. The prevalence of cybercrime means that people with cyber security skills are very much in demand. Regardless of how technology progresses in the future, there are always going to be attackers and there are always going to be defenders. It’s a good career bet in this day and age.

Skills for graduate jobs in cyber security

Cyber security is particularly suited to graduates with technical degrees, namely STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths), although it’s not unheard of for graduates from other degree disciplines to work in this field. It’s important to have an agile mindset and enjoy problem solving because a lot of the work involves solving complex puzzles and thinking like an attacker.

What technology graduates can expect in this area of business

In consulting and engineering roles, graduates will typically work on one or two major client projects at a time. They’ll often be guided by mentors and learn as part of a large team, getting exposure to the kind of decisions they’ll have to make as they gain more experience.

Graduates on the operational security side can get thrown in at the deep end very quickly if they have genuine aptitude for doing the investigative work. Cyber security specialists can get client call-outs at short notice and operation staff will have to find out how the client has been attacked and how to stop or recover from an attack – you’ll always be dealing with new problems.

Choose this IT career area if...

  • You enjoy problem solving
  • You want a high-demand, secure, lifelong career
  • You want to work with a variety of clients, such as governments and businesses

RICHARD HOLMES is head of cyber security services at CGI UK. He has a BEng in electrical and electronic engineering and a PhD in applied optics from Nottingham University. Richard has worked in IT and technology for 23 years, focusing on the provision of secure systems and cyber security systems.

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