If you're aspiring to a successful cybersecurity career, your technical knowledge and problem-solving skills will likely matter more than academic qualifications. Here's why.

Source: USNews – The safety of digital channels is a matter of global concern and growing importance. News stories about computer takeover scams, data breaches and virtual surveillance are frequent and alarming. Those who want to help address these threats – and enter a well-paid profession with plenty of job opportunities – should consider preparing for a career in cybersecurity.

What Is Cybersecurity?

Although cybersecurity is related to fields like computer science and information technology, or IT, it is distinct from those two disciplines.

“At a very, very broad level, I would characterize it as defense of everything IT-related,” explains Stephen Rejto, division head of cybersecurity and information sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology‘s Lincoln Laboratory.

While conventional IT work involves managing computers, networks and systems, “cyber jobs are much more focused on the security aspects of … the electronics,” he says.

Cybersecurity usually concentrates on identifying and patching loopholes in software and hardware that a criminal might exploit, and it may include building hacker-proof technology. It’s different than straightforward programming and narrower in scope than computer science.

“The key distinguishing feature of cybersecurity is that we worry about computer systems performing as they should even when they are under attack by an adversary who tries to get at our data or break down our systems,” says Lujo Bauer, a professor at the Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Mellon University, which is home to the No. 1-ranked undergraduate cybersecurity program in the U.S. News rankings. “Even under those circumstances, we want our systems to work, and that’s the cybersecurity part.”

Training and Coursework in Cybersecurity

Future cybersecurity professionals may want to earn a degree in cybersecurity, if that option is available at their chosen college or university, or they can major in a related academic discipline like computer science, data analytics or math. They could also concentrate on a type of engineering pertinent to cybersecurity, such as software engineering.

However, college majors and graduate degree concentrations aren’t usually a significant factor in hiring decisions within the cybersecurity sector, according to industry experts.

“Potential cybersecurity workers can come from almost any background,” Melissa Rhodes, senior director of human resources for the cybersecurity, intelligence and services business for Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a division of Raytheon Technologies, wrote in an email.

“While a technical degree of some kind is certainly helpful, people don’t stop learning when they complete their highest institutional education level,” Rhodes says. “They should have a general working knowledge and understanding of information technology, since that’s the primary mechanism for cyber attacks. However, some of the most valuable lessons can be taught outside of academia and some of the best and brightest minds out there don’t necessarily have the resources or upbringing to obtain the education they need.”

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