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Cyber threat analysts are professional intelligence experts. They use scientific and technical skills to analyze and address cyber threats for defensive and remedial purposes. This article discusses the role of a cyber threat analyst, the expected salary and scales and some essential skills for a successful cyber threat analyst career.

The evolving cyberworld needs the human factor. This is because products and technologies for cyber defense have a limited scope of functionality. An understanding of the inner workings and motivations of hackers is only achievable when people who possess emotional intelligence and technical skills are involved. They can research to reveal the causes of cyberattacks and better guard against and combat them.

Cyber threats are not definite. Millions are created annually, with increasing potency, some of which include social engineering attacks, malware, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, advanced persistent threats (APTs), trojans, wiper attacks, data destruction, manipulation, and so on. According to CISCO, total DDoS or social engineering attacks are expected to reach 14.5 million in 2022.

Not only does a cyberattack sabotage normal operations, but it may also inflict damage to important IT assets and infrastructure that can be impossible to recover from, especially without sufficient resources. To this end, cyber threat analysts are essential in any organization with digital affiliations.

Who is a cyberthreat analyst?

Cyber threat analysts are professional intelligence experts. They protect an organization from digital threats and actively develop programs used to respond to and subdue cyberattacks. Cyber threat analysts protect organizational infrastructure, such as networks, and relevant software or hardware components, like servers or workstations, from cybercriminals and hackers intending to cause damage or steal sensitive information.

As a trained professional, a cyber threat analyst specializes in network and IT infrastructure security. He also comprehensively understands cyberattacks, malware, and the nature of cybercriminals, and actively strives to anticipate and hinder these attacks.

Also known as threat intelligence analysts, cyber threat analysts analyze digital threats and give clear reports on any indicator of compromise (IoC) discovered and, based on their assessment, they take action to secure assets that are vulnerable to cyberattacks. The work of a cyber threat analyst requires meticulous attention to detail, research and technical skills, and creativity.

Also read: Report: Orgs with zero-trust segmentation avoid 5 major cyberattacks annually

Role of a cyberthreat analyst

Cyber threat analysts play a crucial role in protecting sensitive information. They work across departments and processes to spot and fix defects in an organization’s security systems and programs and recommend efficient strategies to improve the general security status of an organization.

In the world of cybersecurity, advanced persistent threats (APTs) and defenders are always trying to outwit each other. Information on a hacker’s idiosyncrasies is crucial to proactively tailor cyber defenses and forestall future attacks.

A cybersecurity analyst is tasked with protecting an organization’s hardware, software and networks from theft, loss or unauthorized access. At a small organization, they might be required to perform a variety of cybersecurity tasks, but at larger organizations, there is room for specialization as one part of a larger security team.

More streamlined duties of cyber threat analysts include:

1. Investigating security breaches

Data breaches can be overwhelming for an organization. When these events occur, they can jeopardize public and consumer trust; in the worst cases, they can cost thousands or millions of dollars and result in credit card fraud, identity theft or other terrible financial losses. The Identity Theft Resource Center reported that more than 90% of data breaches are cyberattack-related, indicating a quick start to data breaches in 2022 after a record-setting 2021. The repercussions of these breaches may include database destruction, the theft of intellectual property, the leakage of secret information and regulatory responsibilities to notify and possibly compensate people impacted.

It is the responsibility of the cyber threat analyst to scrutinize security breaches to identify hostile hackers and strengthen the organization’s security. Also, cybersecurity analysts are responsible for performing digital forensics at a digital crime scene. They determine whether a real or attempted breach occurred, look for surviving security flaws or malware left behind and try to restore data.

2. Locating vulnerabilities

One of the most important aspects of the role of cybersecurity analysts is finding vulnerabilities so they can be rectified before a breach occurs. You could carry out a vulnerability assessment to detect potential threats to organizational security. During this assessment, the analyst highlights the data and assets at risk and details the possible reasons for a future breach.

A vital part of this task is teamwork — not only with other members of the IT team, but also with the other nontechnical staff members whose jobs might be impacted by a setback in security. Cybersecurity analysts need to sustain open communication lines so that they can teach their non-cyber colleagues what they need to know about updated cybersecurity procedures and how to protect themselves from external attacks.

3. Performing ethical hacking

Ethical hacking is another important role of security analysts. By applying this practice, cybersecurity professionals do not aim to crack security to steal data themselves; instead, they seek to discover security back doors and block them before malicious hackers leverage them. For people who love problem-solving and unraveling challenging security matters, penetration testing can be one of the most exciting parts of the job. They might use software applications or manual coding skills to virtually hack and exploit their system, so that they may determine how to fix it.

Tools like Kali Linux and Metasploit come in handy for penetration testing, and robust software programs that disclose and probe vulnerabilities across operating systems. Kali Linux and Metasploit are both used by cybercriminals and ethical hackers to point out the same weaknesses but with different motives. While the cybercriminal aims to attack, the security professional seeks to defend.

4. Developing and implementing organization-wide security protocols

As a cybersecurity analyst, you will be required to develop security programs for an entire organization and its digital ecosystem. Because security affects everyone, regardless of how nontechnical their professions are, everyone in an organization must be aware of and follow security policies. As a cybersecurity analyst, you’ll have to create these standards while keeping in mind that a network’s security is only as strong as its weakest link.

5. Installing and operating security software

Managing, installing and utilizing security software is a critical part of the cyber threat analyst’s role. As a cybersecurity analyst, you might install system-wide software for better email or login security, prevent malware from traveling into a network from an individual computer, improve security for mobile devices or bolster your network’s shield against unwelcome infiltrations. You may also use specialized software to boost your penetration testing, shield your organization’s website and guard network traffic.

Also, a cyber threat analyst needs to ensure that only the people who should be privy to delicate data have access to those systems. One of the most critical facets of this task is identity and access management (IAM). When executing IAM, analysts ensure that each user on the network is properly identified and that their network access levels are what they need to be while restricting the system’s vulnerability to security problems. 

A recent World Economic Forum report revealed that 95% of cybersecurity breaches are caused by human error. Some of the most severe ransomware incidents of recent years were caused when non-tech-savvy employees unknowingly downloaded malware. Proper IAM can attenuate this risk when properly implemented.

Other responsibilities of cyberthreat analysts include:

  • Developing security strategies to protect data systems from potential threats
  • Analyzing security breaches and assessing damage extent
  • Keeping abreast of current digital security trends to recommend best practices on security enhancement for an organization
  • Fixing detected vulnerabilities, to maintain very low to nonexistent penetration risk
  • Responding to cyberattacks quickly and efficiently so that minimal damage is incurred
  • Spearhead cybersecurity training to ensure that all departments in an organization maintain high security standards
  • Liaise with stakeholders about cybersecurity issues and provide future recommendations

Also read: Cybersecurity landscape: The state of managed security services, 2022

Expected salary and scale

Since everything from our social lives to important corporate data is moving online, cybersecurity has indeed become a significant priority for just about every organization. Consequently, cybersecurity analysts are often well-compensated for their skills.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary of a cybersecurity analyst is $103,590. Salaries vary depending on factors including skills, experience and qualifications, location and sector. This means that the longer you are in this field, the more you can make. Also, if you have a good degree and a specialized skill set, you may be able to make more. There will be different pay rates for various titles as well.

The average entry-level cybersecurity analyst salary in the United States is $72,215, but the salary range typically falls between $65,820 and $79,148. However, based on skill level, location, and years of experience, the salary expectation can rise to $111,432 annually.

Top 10 must-have skills for a successful career as a cyber threat analyst

The job of a cybersecurity analyst is a specialized position that requires a unique set of skills. Cyber threat analysts use a combination of technical and workplace skills to examine vulnerabilities and respond to security incidents. Some of the top-tier skills of a cybersecurity analyst are:

1. Intrusion detection

The major duty of a cyber threat analyst involves monitoring network activity for possible intrusions. Knowing how to use intrusion detection software, including security information and event management (SIEM) products, intrusion detection systems (IDS) and intrusion prevention systems (IPS) ensures that they can quickly spot suspicious activity or security infringements.

2. Incident response

While prevention is the main goal of cybersecurity, quickly responding when security incidents occur is essential to keep damage and loss to a minimum. Effective incident dealing requires an understanding of an organization’s incident response plan, as well as skills in digital forensics and malware survey.

3. Cyber threat intelligence

Cyber threat intelligence is a body of information that enables an organization to understand the threats that have targeted, will target, or are currently targeting the organization. Threat intelligence ensures anticipation, prevention and identification of cyber threats that try to take control of valuable resources.

Threat intelligence findings gather raw data about emerging or existing threats from several sources. This data is then analyzed and probed to produce threat intelligence feeds and management reports that contain information that can be used by computerized security control solutions. You can be a more valuable cybersecurity analyst by keeping up with the trends on the threat terrain.

4. Knowledge of regulatory guidelines

Cybersecurity is meant to protect an organization from attack, theft and loss, as well as adhere to industry regulations. As a cyber threat analyst working for a company that does business around the globe, familiarity with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) could be beneficial. Data privacy is becoming an integral part of security and adherence for businesses. Cybersecurity analysts should know the rudiments of data privacy as well as the regulations around them such as GDPR, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

5. Operating systems knowledge

Security hazards exist in all operating systems, both on computers and other portable devices. Building a deep familiarity with MacOS, Windows and Linux, as well as their command-line interfaces is setting yourself up for success as a cyber threat analyst. It might also be beneficial to study the threats and weaknesses associated with mobile operating systems, like iOS and Android.

6. Network security control

Many cyber attacks happen across a network of connected devices. The very same applications that allow businesses to collaborate can also cause security vulnerabilities. To keep an organization secure, security analysts need knowledge of wired and wireless networks, and how to safeguard them.

7. Controls and frameworks

A cybersecurity framework provides a compilation of the best strategies, programs, tools and security procedures designed to help secure an organization’s data and business processes. A control is a measure that a company applies to protect itself from vulnerabilities and invasions. The chosen framework will vary depending on the company and industry. It might be helpful to get familiarized with some of the most common cybersecurity frameworks.

8. Endpoint management

As more people find themselves working from home, organizations need security professionals who know how to protect numerous endpoints, such as computers, phones and internet of things (IoT) devices. Common tools that help with this include firewalls, antivirus software, network access controls, and virtual private networks (VPNs).

9. Data security

Data embodies a valuable aid for many organizations. Knowing how to protect it involves understanding encryption, access management, transmission control and internet protocols (TCPs and IPs), and the CIA triad: confidentiality, integrity, accessibility.

10. Programming

Although progressions in technology are enabling cyber threat analysts to perform their work without having to write code, a fundamental understanding of digital languages like JavaScript, Python, and C/C++ could give you a competitive advantage.

Developing your skill set

Even as cybersecurity analysis is a technical role with some job-specific capabilities, you’ll also want to develop your workplace skills. This is because technical skills alone are not enough if you intend to work in an organization or communicate with clients and peers.

Some vital workplace skills include:

  • Communication: You may understand the threats to your company’s systems, but you need to be able to describe them in simple terms to others. You will have to communicate with others often and work with a team that is responsible for security. When security events occur, you will need to liaise with your security team and catalog the process of investigation and retrieval. You may also be tasked with training your colleagues in the best security practices.
  • Strong attention to detail: You need to be detail-oriented to do well in this role, paying rapt attention to the smallest adjustments and modifications in your organization’s network, because noticing a small irregularity could mean saving your company from a big data loss.
  • Critical thinking: Whether you’re reacting to a threat, repairing a vulnerability, or proposing new security protocols, critical thinking skills empower you to make data-driven decisions as a cyber threat analyst.

Read next: Top 20 cybersecurity interview questions to know in 2022

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