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Network Security Engineer Career Guide

The field of Network Security falls within the environment of protection of data and information. A Network Security Engineer is the one who designs and builds protection systems for a computer network to maintain the integrity of the data and ensure that only appropriate individuals and entities have access to that data. The role is very important to any business or organization that houses information in a computer network – the need for network security increases exponentially with larger, international businesses and government. The Network Security Engineer is the one who “builds the castle and the moat” to protect the information held within. This role represents the first line of defense and assurance that data integrity and appropriate access is properly maintained. The Network Security Engineer supports the protection of the network.

Generally speaking, there is a pronounced difference between a Network Security Engineer and a Network Security Analyst: the Network Security Engineer builds and fixes systems to offer assurance of protection while the Network Security Analyst works to find vulnerabilities in the defense and tries to expose risks. Analysts try to break what Engineers build.

Foundations – Education

A strong background in computer technology is critical to this field; cybersecurity, computer science and network administration are all good foundational areas of study. Entry into the field as a career will require a Bachelor’s Degree from an accredited institution. Additional certifications and/or a Master’s degree is recommended for wider opportunities for employment and advancement.

A Network Security Engineer learns all aspects of the computer network and its peripheral components. The successful engineer understands complex topics such as:
Network Architecture
Database Platforms
Sub-Net, Encryption and Technology Standards
Application Security, Phishing and Social Engineering
Gateway Malware Vulnerability
Firewalls and Detection of Intrusion
Access Management and Identity protocols
Internet protocols
Secure Coding and Threat Modeling
Virtualization
Operating Systems (IOS, Linux, UNIX, Windows)

Nearly all of these topics are covered within a computer-related network and/or security degree program curriculum. Because of the changing nature of security needs, no single classroom course will cover everything exhaustively, however, the theory and nature of the environment is well defined.

The field is open and available to career-changers as well. With a related degree or experience in computer network operations, a candidate can be successful by taking additional courses or seeking a specialized certification.

Foundations – Experience and Certifications

Network Security is virtually universal in its scope due to the sheer number of businesses, organizations and governmental agencies that rely on computer networks for their data storage and daily activities. Many companies offer internships (paid and volunteer) to provide exposure to the nature of the work. This opportunity benefits both the prospective candidate and the employer as the employer can determine the value of the candidate and the candidate can evaluate the industry and the company for future consideration.

Additionally, there are Certifications available to enhance the resume and provide solid credentials to a potential employer. These include:
CCNP Security: Cisco Certified Network Professional Security
CEH: Certified Ethical Hacker
CISSP: Certified Information Systems Security Professional
GSEC / GCIH / GCIA: GIAC Security Certifications

Foundations – Continuing Education

Due to the fluid nature of the Security Industry, continuing education is vital for the long-term success of the Network Security Engineer. Not only is keeping abreast of technology advancement through trade publications, news, blog and organizational affiliations important, but additional classroom training and field exercises are vital to staying current in the business. Many other professional roles have specific requirements for continuing education; within the computer and network industry, many certifications must be refreshed every few years and it makes sense to realize that trends and technology will change over time. The successful Engineer will willingly keep learning about the world of computer security.

Employment Opportunities – Job Titles

There are several job titles that encompass Network Security Engineering. These titles include (but are not limited to):
Information Assurance Engineer
Information Security Engineer
Information Systems Security Engineer
Network Security Engineer

Future opportunities within this field include:
Security Architect
Security Manager
Security Consultant
Security Director
CISO

It is important to note that Network Security Engineers and Security Engineers share a similar responsibility – to protect and maintain safety and integrity. Network Security Engineers are interested in computer networks and server architecture (the ‘virtual’ world) whereas Security Engineers have a broad scope within the physical world.

Employment Opportunities – Job Duties

On any given day, the Network Security Engineer may be faced with a variety of tasks. In general, they will fall into the following categories:

Assess Network Security Needs
The Network Security Engineer is tasked with designing a new network security suite as well as evaluating the condition of an existing network’s security system; the job of analyzing, reviewing, evaluating the needs and implementing processes falls under that scope of work. Topics such as access management, firewalls, anti-malware (phishing, spam and web-filtering) and data backup are always in view. Considering who has access (and for what purpose) and recommending strategy is part of the job description.

Prepare for Disaster
The Network Security Engineer must have some “Chicken Little” in mind! Business Continuity Plans are critical for an organization to stay active in the face of disaster (weather, cyber-attack or natural disaster). In case of data loss, the plan for data restoration is under the Network Security Engineer’s jurisdiction. Identifying possible risks and generating a plan for enduring and recovering from unforeseen disaster is wise; implementing test scenarios and dry-runs will ensure a better outcome if/when a real disaster or business interruption strikes. The results of these tests are reported to and discussed with leadership to evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy offered by the Network Security Engineer.

Testing, Testing and more Testing
Network Security Engineers work closely with Network Analysts to identify and isolate vulnerabilities in their security system. Constant testing in cooperation with Security Analysts will increase the integrity of the security system. The threat of cyber-attack is constant; the testing of security systems should be constant also.

Document and Review Documents
Staying current on the condition of the security system via Logs, Reports and other feedback mechanisms is important to maintain the strength of the security system. Any anomalies in routine logs and reports must be investigated; any irregularities in monitored activity should be reported to leadership. Seemingly small incidents may be the harbinger of future disaster.

Repair Tech
The ability to examine, recognize, diagnose and troubleshoot problems is a key skill for the Network Security Engineer. Any network irregularity – either onsite or remote – must be addressed quickly and effectively. In addition to their own network, the Engineer must be aware of any client system that accesses their network to maintain security of that access and be able to fix problems with the interface. This element of network administration falls under the Network Security Engineer’s jurisdiction.

Policy-Making
The Network Security Engineer is one of the voices of Security in an organization. The Network Security Engineer is involved in policy decisions made by leadership; in order to be effective, the Engineer must know the needs of the company, the access requirements for all employees, clients and vendors and the inner-workings of the network architecture. Most organization’s leaders do not fully understand this aspect of security; it is up to the Network Security Engineer to inform, instruct and counsel the leaders to help them make wise decisions.

What this means is that as a Network Security Engineer, on any given day you will be tasked with:
Configure and install a new or upgraded Firewall
Oversee the installation of new hardware
Generate or recommend Anti-Virus software
Determine the cause of a hardware malfunction
Test a potential security feature and report on the results
Review, analyze and report on Security Analysis findings
Maintain virtual private networks, email servers and security programs
Develop tracking scripts to capture anomalies, issues and problems
Modify and upgrade existing systems
Investigate possible security breaches, evaluate the risk associated with them, report incidents and respond to them
Develop, review and/or revise security policies
Monitor access requirements and credentials
Maintain server hardware and switches including LAN, WAN and server architecture
Review and/or develop authentication, authorization and encryption protocol
Report on the current condition and life-cycle of hardware, software and security elements of the network
Research new security technologies
Recommend changes, upgrades and system enhancements to leadership
Seek creative solutions to existing issues

Conclusions

The Network Security Engineer is more than the organization’s “police force” to make sure all users work within stated parameters; he/she is the “Captain of the Guard” providing the assurance of security and safety of the network and its data. The Engineer is part guard, gatekeeper, triage doctor, repair technician, rehab trainer and security expert. They are versatile and valuable, knowledgeable and discerning. They are skilled at interactions with hardware, software and people – and understand the difference in communication methods! When they are at their best, they are invisible; when an issue arises, they are immediately responsive. Ultimately, they are problem-solvers.

The opportunity for Network Security Engineers is great because the need is so wide-spread. Organizations of all sizes need network security; whether on staff or as consultant, the credentialed, seasoned, well-trained Network Security Engineer is in high demand.

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