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Academy Xi Blog

Could cyber security be your ultimate career hack?

By Academy Xi

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Picture this, you buy a flat white, connect to a coffee shop’s wifi and spend an hour inputting numbers for financial reporting. It’s boring, repetitive work, so you push your laptop aside, photograph the fancy looking muffin cabinet and tap in an Instagram caption – “Much ado about Muffin”. You’re feeling pretty clever, but you’ve actually just been hacked, and so too has everyone else using what seemed to be the coffee shop’s wifi.

Man-in-the-middle hackers use ‘Evil Twin’ connections that display the name of a normal hotspot to vacuum up shared data. It wasn’t just the wifi that was public and free, so too was some of your most sensitive private and corporate information. If all this sounds like an almost unavoidable breach that anyone could fall victim to, it’s because it is. That’s what we’re up against these days.

It’s practically impossible to overstate the value of cyber security. We live in an era where what we do in the material world and our existence in the digital space are merged beyond distinction. When we talk about the need for cyber security, it’s precisely who we are and everything we do that’s really at stake.

Our professional, financial, social and recreational lives are carried out online through technologies and digital platforms that evolve at breakneck speed. Staying on top of changes in the cybercrime landscape is a full-time job.

But seriously, it’s a full-time job.

The number of professionals currently employed in cyber security tops 4.1 million globally, shooting up from 3.5 million in 2020. With a wealth of employment opportunities, is it possible that you could turn a negative into a positive, reverse the dynamic, and become someone who actually profits from (stemming) the rise of cybercrime?

If you want to find out how cyber security works, who it works for, how some of the more recent online scams are being fended off in Australia and what the national demand is for skilled professionals, then read on. We’ll help you decide if retraining in cyber security should become your ultimate career hack.

What is cyber security?

In the simplest terms, cyber security is the application of technologies, processes and controls to defend networks, systems, devices and data from cyber attacks. These cyber attacks are usually performed to access, alter or destroy sensitive data, but hackers also extort money from individuals and businesses, or even sabotage an organisation’s normal operational procedures and reputation.

Cyber threats are especially rife in today’s world because there are far more devices than people. Each of us currently produces over 1.7 MB of data per second, while 70% of global gross domestic product is now digitised. On the one hand, all this represents welcome growth for digital industries and data-driven economies, on the other, it reflects an overspilling swagbag of opportunities for cyber criminals.

What does a cyber security professional do?

Truthfully, there’s no simple answer to this question, which is why the job’s so exciting. Cyber crime is complex, multifaceted and always changing, and what cyber security professionals do in defence has to be equally sophisticated and adaptable.

As a cyber security professional, your role might entail installing firewall and encryption tools, reporting breaches or weak spots, as well as researching cyber attack trends and setting new protocols in response. Given that cyber criminals are every bit as innovative as the digital ecosystems they lay hidden within, the research side of the job needs constant attention. There are always more hackers with new ways to hack, and your job is to always stay one step ahead of their methods.

The world had 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs by the end of last year. This is up from Cisco’s previous estimation of 1 million cybersecurity openings in 2014 (Cybersecurity Ventures, 2021).

Social media accounts represent some of our most vulnerable weak spots, but many people working in the profession look to cyber security influencers to stay on top of their game. You’ll also gather updates from more traditional sources, including news websites and blogs, or by communicating directly with someone well versed in the field. Webinars and conferences provide the chance for a global community of cyber security professionals to pool its knowledge and pull together to uphold a common good.

There’s also a high chance that you’ll train teammates on potential threats and security measures. The people you work with can be the first and last line of defence against cyber crime, so it’s vital everyone understands the threats they might face and the role they play in keeping an organisation protected. At the very least, you’ll likely need the know-how and soft skills to educate your colleagues on:

  • Maintaining strong passwords and passphrases
  • Identifying and avoiding ever-evolving cyber threats
  • What to do on encountering a cyber threat
  • How to report a cyber threat

As well as training individuals and teams, cyber security professionals are often responsible for maintaining company-wide best practices. Depending on the remit of your specific role, you might develop a business continuity plan which will come into effect in the event of a cyber attack. This can entail analysing company data and threat intelligence, enabling you to make well informed decisions whilst implementing risk mitigation tactics and data protection acts.

Finally, it almost goes without saying that cyber security professionals have to think and act like cyber criminals. Your job could include simulating attacks to identify potential vulnerabilities. It might sound crazy, but you can get paid handsomely to hack and, unlike the real crooks, still tell the honest truth when your sweet old grandparents ask what you did all week over Sunday dinner.

An online identity crisis

With most of our day-to-day admin recorded digitally, online identity fraud is growing. Identity fraudsters steal an individual’s personal information and use it to complete a secondary task, such as obtaining a credit card or carrying out further illegal online activities. Gone are the days when tearing your post into confetti and mingling it among your rubbish is enough to thwart someone wanting to style it out as you and buy 10 televisions on payment plan at Harvey Norman. 

Recent trends in identity theft represent a widespread social problem. A landmark University of Phoenix report found that nearly two thirds of US social media users had been hacked up until 2016, but with a lack of social media companies disclosure, accurate up-to-date statistics are scarce. It’s safe to assume the number of hacked accounts will have skyrocketed in the interim years.

There is a hacker attack every 39 seconds and 43% of these target small businesses (Sentrient, 2021).

Imitation might be the ultimate form of flattery, but when it comes to social media impersonation, it’s a serious cyber crime. Impersonators set-up duplicate accounts mimicking trusted businesses and influencers, leading to crimes ranging from data phishing scams to full-blown frauds that will have you buying counterfeit products from illegitimate sellers.

A pandemic of cyber crime

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch is charged with the task of alerting the public to digital scams, even working closely with the banks to block online fraud at the payment stage. Scamwatch received reports of over $70 million in bogus investments for the first half of 2021, representing a 172% year-on-year increase. Half of these losses are attributed to 2,240 cryptocurrency scams.

Did you know?

Cryptocurrency received its name because it uses encryption coding to safely store and transfer financial data between wallets and public ledgers. Not to be deterred, impersonators have taken to creating fake social media accounts matching the profiles of known cryptocurrency experts and traders. Potential investors are then contacted and promised the immediate doubling of an Ether or Bitcoin investment. To no one’s surprise, the cyber criminal immediately vanishes with the victim’s money into the shady recesses of the crypto space.

Following a covid-induced shift to online activities, over 18,000 cases of online crime were tracked by Scamwatch in November of last year alone, with a report of unprecedented leaps in losses with phishing scams (261%), remote access hacks (144%) and identity theft (234%). 

Check Point Software’s security report reveals that throughout 2020 and 2021 “digital transformation advanced by up to seven years”, as “cyber criminals changed their tactics so that they could take advantage of the pandemic’s disruption.” In the 2020-21 financial year alone, more than 67,000 cyber crime reports were processed by the Australian Cyber Security Centre, with losses mounting to more than $33 billion – equivalent to the GDP of a small nation state.

Building long-term immunity

WIth more of life and business moving online, there’s been an outbreak of cyber crimes. All this has left businesses, organisations and the Australian government clamouring for the trained professionals needed to build immunity to a cyber crime pandemic, the ills of which are sure to linger for years to come. 

In direct response, government and private cyber security initiatives will grow exponentially throughout the next decade. In October 2021, the Minister for Science and Technology, Melissa Price, announced $60 million in grants for the year ahead, dedicated to building career pathways for the next generation of Australian cyber security professionals. This investment comes with a spiriting parallel objective of increasing ehtnic and gender diversity in the cyber security workforce. 

The fund forms part of a larger Australian Cyber Security Strategy which will see an investment of $1.67 billion over 10 years, dedicated to realising a vision of “a more secure online world for Australians, their businesses and the essential services upon which we all depend.” 

Adopting a “coordinated, whole-of-nation approach”, the strategy spans various governmental departments, countless private cyber security partners and educators, and also aims to raise cyber security savvy among the general public.

Demand for cyber security skills

Big government and businesses big and small are fast realising that everyone needs to spend money to keep money (let alone make it), meaning cyber security job opportunities are set to soar in all sectors. As well as safeguarding valuable assets and data, qualified professionals help organisations protect their priceless brand images. The reputational fallout from a security breach can be immeasurably costly, and those with the skills to fend off cyber attacks are fast becoming some of the nation’s hottest human resources. 

The government’s Cyber Security Strategy clearly states that “Australia is suffering from a Cyber Security skills shortage.” This represents a tremendous opportunity for anyone trained in the trade. According to official Australian employment projections, demand for cyber security capabilities will grow by at least 21% in the next year.

In the last eight years, unfilled cybersecurity jobs increased by 350 percent globally, up from one million in 2013 to 3.5 million in 2021. Recruiting and retaining staff is a priority for businesses of all sizes and types (Cybersecurity Ventures, 2021).

The high earning potential for cyber security professionals is representative of an understaffed industry. Australian cyber security professionals earn an average of $116,347 per year or $59.67 per hour, while even entry-level positions offer salaries starting at $98,002. Ultimately, there’s serious money to be made from keeping the web’s baddest at bay, while there are also plenty of opportunities to do so, with the Cybersecurity Workforce Study 2021 recording over 134,000 active roles nationally, reflecting an increase of over 26,000 jobs in just a year. 

What can be read into these stat’s is that industry demand for skilled cyber security professionals has never been higher, and it’s set only to climb, strapped to a wider demand for digital products, services and lifestyles that’s nowhere near peaked.

How to break into cyber security

If you find the prospect of working in cyber security promising, you’re probably wondering how to masterplan your career transition and break into the profession. At this stage, it’s empowering to know that not everyone who works in cyber security is an experienced coder, with a range of non-coding roles available in the cyber security employment market. 

What’s more important to get going with is a well-rounded cyber security approach that enables you to critically test an organisation, website, process, or tool and understand how it can be better protected. You’ll also need to harness a set of cyber security essentials, including how to analyse hacker methods, mitigate risks and stop an attempted security breach. 

Designed in collaboration with Flatiron School – a leading New York based tech education provider – Academy Xi’s Introduction to Cyber Security: Elevate course is delivered by Australian cyber security experts and built to ensure you develop the skill set and mindset of a cyber security professional who’s properly equipped to foil the latest forms of cyber crime.  

There are countless unsung (but well paid) cyber security heroes that protect everyone’s best interests from one click to the next, normally without our realising. 

If it’s time for you to join their honourable ranks, check out our latest cyber security course, or speak to a course advisor and make 2022 the year that cyber security becomes your ultimate career hack.