IT Security Jobs Go Mainstream

 
 
By Deborah Rothberg  |  Posted 2006-10-19
 
 
 

IT Security Jobs Go Mainstream


IT security, once a subject of interest to a narrow group of techies and niche publications, has in the last year catapulted into mainstream media focus.

On a tide of widely covered data breaches, laptop thefts and complex malware tactics—some of which require no user intervention whatsoever—general public interest is beginning to reflect what IT pros have long known: Securing networks is a daunting task.

Those reports have also sent a bolt of fear into IT departments, many of which lack confidence that they could contain a large-scale security compromise.

Its not just about securing desktops and laptops, but securing every memory stick device, mobile technology and user that may touch and unknowingly—or worse, knowingly—infect a network.

For every office PC with a USB outlet awaiting a device connection, every remote worker who jumps on an insecure Wi-Fi network, and every piece of phishing-based e-mail enticing users to click, there is a potential security breach, virus, or resource-draining spyware program that could be lurking.

For example, Apple on Oct. 18 revealed that it mistakenly shipped a small inventory of iPods with Windows viruses.

Imagine if you had plugged one in to your system?

"While our number of overall job listings on Dice.com are up 20 percent from this time last year, theyre up 30 percent in the area of IT security," Ed ONeill, director of technical services at Dice.com, a New York-based job site for technology professionals, told eWEEK.

eWEEK spoke to a range of professionals, from those on the recruiting side to long-term security technologists, to get a sense of whats changing for the role and responsibilities of the IT security professional these days. Below, trends that stand out.

Shift from exterior to interior

Three years ago, the biggest security concern was viruses sneaking into networks. More recently, however, theres been a shift in focus to stopping data from exiting the network. Those widely covered data breaches have not just the public panicking, but IT professionals as well.

A recent study by the Elk Rapids, Mich.-based privacy management research company Ponemon Institute found that only 37 percent of IT professionals believed their company would be effective in detecting data breaches.

"Security 1.0 was all about fundamentals—firewalls [and so on]. As the market has matured, however, theres less focus around infrastructure, more about data and customer relationships," said Jim Lanzalotto, vice president of strategy and marketing at Yoh Services, a provider of talent and outsourcing services based in Philadelphia.

The rise of CISSP

Considered one of the premiere information security certifications, the CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional), a vendor-neutral certification governed by the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, or (ISC)², has shown steady growth over the last several years.

"In any high-level security job, you need your CISSP, and youll see them often among mid- to senior-level IT security professionals. We call this a center of the circle skill set," said Matt Colarusso, national recruiting branch manager for Sapphire Technologies, a provider of IT staffing solutions in Woburn, Mass.

Yet the CISSP is not without its critics, many of whom argue that passing the exam doesnt necessarily attest to acumen in staving off threats. All the same, half of security professional job openings request these letters after a name.

"CISSP-certified professionals represented 50 percent of the openings for network security in Silicon Valley, New York and Washington, D.C., on Dice," said ONeill.

Next Page: Resiliency: Not if, when.

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Resiliency: Not if, when

As network security has matured, so has the outlook of many weathered IT departments, which now no longer presume that they will always be able to protect their networks from the next evil-doer. Instead, a greater focus is on not only protection, but also recovery.

"The trend I see in IT security is in finding the highest impact areas, figuring out how to close those holes, and a move toward security as resiliency. There is an understanding that we know were going to get attacked, but how will we recover? This is a big trend," Ross Brown, CEO of Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based eEye Digital Security, a developer of endpoint security and vulnerability management software solutions, told eWEEK.

In job interviews, techies are increasingly questioned about not only what they know how to secure, but also how well they can recover a failed effort. Network downtime is lost money for a business, and each company wants to know how its next IT pro can put a cap on this damage.

"When IT security pros are interviewing, theyre getting asked not just what they have done to prevent intrusions, but what they did after, understanding that its often more a matter of when than if," Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology, based in Menlo Park, Calif., told eWEEK.

Embedding of security into all IT jobs

While the largest corporations will always have dedicated security teams, the smaller to midsize organizations increasingly need their IT department to be full of technology everymen: manning the help desk, database backups and security upgrades.

"IT security is becoming so pervasive that its now part of everybodys job. If youre a programmer, even if it doesnt have to do with network security or passwords, its still a big part of your job," said Lee.

Solid security knowledge and experience, once considered a bonus within a candidate, is now considered non-negotiable.

"Ten years ago, you were either a help desk worker or a network administrator. Now, most positions require security experience. The world of IT gets hit with threats everyday… any company sharing any sort of information has to have someone doing security in their company," said Colarusso.

Smart guys think ahead

Two of the fastest-growing job areas in IT security are in penetration testing and security analysis, both of which place emphasis on looking into a metaphorical glass ball and anticipating the biggest risks.

"If you look at the most sought-after skill for someone in the security area to have, it would be a security analyst. This person performs risk assessment on enterprisewide networks, gathers information and assigns risk values," said Colarusso.

Many argue that the current biggest enterprise security risks are in wireless threats, from PDAs to mobile phones to the laptops of remote employees. Any device that syncs the desktop with a network can set out a welcome mat for the bad guys, IT pros argue.

"We are seeing multiple reports of data being lost on laptops," said Paul Davis, a Boston-based IT security strategist. "Who has started worrying about all of those PDAs and mobile phones being left in the back of taxis and airplanes?"

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