How to Become a Cybersecurity Analyst in Canada
Protecting digital data is more important now than ever. You can help by becoming a cybersecurity expert!
More and more data goes online every day, and a small group of skilled workers is responsible for protecting it. Love computers and keeping up-to-date with the latest technology? If you've got a sharp eye for detail, you might make a great cybersecurity analyst.
What is a cybersecurity analyst?
A cybersecurity analyst is a computer networking expert who works in a public or private institution, or perhaps as a consultant, advising on and designing protections for data.
Cybersecurity is a growing field, and the Government of Canada expects a shortage in the number of workers in this field over the next decade, so this could be a great opportunity for you to begin a dynamic, engaging career.
What does a cybersecurity analyst do?
Cybersecurity analysts defend computer systems and information from unauthorized access, using the latest and greatest technology to keep you safe online.
Here's a quick list of common duties that cybersecurity experts might face:
- Work with clients to identify requirements, and assess security risks to data, software, and hardware
- Apply encryption protocols, and manage keys to ensure data security
- Monitor access and credentials for information and systems
- Install, test and operate security software and tools
- Monitor for cyber attacks, intrusions, and unusual activity
- Plan and carry out security measures in response to cybersecurity events and incidents
- Document computer security and emergency measures policies, procedures, and tests
All that is to say, cybersecurity analysts work with people and systems to ensure confidential data's safe and secure. You may even need to do a bit of teaching to ensure everyone in your organization has the right security skills. After all, the most vulnerable part of a security system is the humans who use it.
You'll generally work a standard 9-5 office job, but may need to respond to the dreaded "3 AM phone call" if something goes awry.
Professionals with strong skills in cybersecurity have never been more necessary than they are today! So much of life is online, and a cyberattack can do inestimable harm to companies and governments without firing a single bullet. (At time of press, the Toronto Public Library, the world's busiest city library system, has been under maintenance for weeks due to a cyber attack!) After all, cybersecurity attacks happen every 39 seconds!
How to become a cybersecurity analyst in Canada
Ready to start fighting back against the bad guys? Here's how to become a cybersecurity analyst in Canada in just a few steps:
Step 1: Undergraduate education
Most cybersecurity jobs will expect you to have, at the very least, an undergraduate diploma or degree. Universities are starting to offer more three- and four-year undergraduate degrees, covering everything from networking basics to cybersecurity principles.
You can either go for a specialized cybersecurity undergraduate degree, or opt for a more general computer science / software engineering credential, which will give you the fundamentals required to ladder up into a cybersecurity job down the line.
There are diploma programs that will prepare you well for this field, too. (You may even find business programs with significant cybersecurity elements, if you're less techy and more into management!
In your courses, you'll cover areas of broad relevance to computer science, and cybersecurity-specific degrees will gradually introduce you to the tenets of the field. You can expect courses in topics like:
- Math and statistics
- Data protection
- IT analysis
So, having a strong background and interest in topics like math and science will make you a good candidate for admission to an undergrad cybersecurity program. Speaking of which...
Undergraduate entry requirements
Whether you opt for a general undergrad, or cybersecurity-specific, to get entry to a program you'll need decent grades in high school courses like:
- Calculus and vectors
- Advanced functions
Step 2: Graduate education (optional)
Getting a graduate degree, be it a master's or a post-graduate diploma, isn't mandatory to find work in cybersecurity, but it will certainly help. Focused as it is on cutting-edge tech, employers will expect you to have a strong grasp of your field, which grad school can help with. You can take grad school alongside further certifications, discussed below.
Many cybersecurity-specific programs are at the graduate level. These programs focus on areas of interest to cybersecurity professionals, like:
- Vulnerability analysis
- Threat intelligence analysis
- Network forensics
To gain admission to a post-grad program, you'll need a completed diploma or degree in computer science, information technology, networking, computer engineering, or a related field. Experience working with network tech in a professional capacity is an asset, too, so if you can land a co-op or entry-level job to gain some experience before applying, all the better.
Step 3: Security certifications
Whether or not you attend grad school, you'll almost certainly want to pursue some security certifications. These are shorter-term courses offered by companies and organizations that drill down on the technical skills professionals need to succeed in their roles.
Unfortunately, courses like these won't generally qualify you for student aid or scholarships, like undergrad and graduate education does, so you'll need to cover the expense out-of-pocket. Still, getting certified shows employers that you know your stuff.
Here's a quick inventory of popular cybersecurity certifications you may want to look into once you have a firm technical background:
- CompTIA Security+ is perhaps the most popular, offering a core suite of competencies you'll need as a cybersecurity analyst. The certification consists of a 90-minute multiple choice exam, and you can get free practice tests and resources before signing up for the exam.
- GIAC Information Security Fundamentals gives a solid foundation in network security, incident response, and cryptographic principles. It's a two-hour online exam, with plenty of training available if you need it.
- Certified Ethical Hacker is a fun one: you'll learn the basics of hacking as a white-hat hacker, sharpening your knowledge of computer security vulnerabilities. These courses can be expensive, but come with plenty of training before earning your certification.
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional is a higher-level certification that expects a few years of work experience under your belt: though a good cybersec degree may be enough. This certification is aimed at professionals who want to lead cybersecurity teams — if you're looking for something more entry-level, ISC2 also offers Certified in Cybersecurity, a free training program and exam!
Step 4: Finding a job and starting your career
Depending on how much training and education you've got, you may not start out on the front lines of the cyber war. Getting work experience in networking and information technology is an important step for many new grads who want to work in cybersecurity.
By all means, start looking for cybersecurity jobs right away — you may get lucky — but many of these require a good amount of experience and aren't really aimed at entry-level workers.
Keep your eye open for jobs in information technology and computer networking as a way to get your foot in the door and start earning experience in related fields.
From there, you'll be well-placed to continue earning certifications in cybersecurity analysis, and moving up in your career. Here's a (rather long) list of entry-level job titles to keep an eye out for:
- IT support specialist
- Computer network support specialist
- Junior cybersecurity analyst
- Network support specialist
- Network security operator
- System administrator
- Security administrator
- Cyber security operations analyst
- IT security specialist
- Security tester
- Incident responder
- Cyber security operations analyst
- Vulnerability analyst
Step 5: Building professional connections
Cybersecurity analysis is relatively new as a field — compared to doctors, lawyers, and business executives, for example — but there are professional organizations dedicated to advancing the field and bringing experts together to share ideas.
One interesting body in Canada is the University of New Brunswick's Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity, which is open to professionals and post-graduate researchers alike. Organizations like this host webinars for professional development, networking events, and may have job listings you won't find elsewhere.
Internationally, one of the big names is the Information Systems Security Association, which offers general and student memberships at local chapters around the world, including across Canada.
While organizations like these may have a small fee for membership, the networking and learning opportunities may be well worth the expensive. After all, as a cybersecurity expert, your income is likely going to be much higher than average! In fact...
How much money do cybersecurity analysts earn?
Cybersecurity professionals, like other computer engineers and IT analysts, tend to earn strong salaries, even in the early stages of their careers. Highly technical fields like these command salaries to match the education and job requirements!
In Canada, the average salary is around the $88,000 per year range, and can grow to $120,000 or more with a few years of experience. Payscale.com suggests a median income of about $71,000 per year in Canada, while Glassdoor.ca has the average right around $87,000.
As a cybersecurity analyst, you'll be less vulnerable to automation than folks in many other careers, as the cyber war between unethical black hats and white hats will never end. Technology changes at a brisk pace, and well-trained, well-educated, well-intentioned professionals will always be needed to keep people and their data safe.
Be one of the good guys, put your skills to work, and start your path to becoming a cybersecurity analyst today.
Explore undergraduate programs in cybersecurity