How do you begin an information security career?

My interest in information security began when my dad gave me The Cuckoos Egg, a book by Cliff Stoll written in 1989.

For those who haven't read it, in short, Cliff was responsible for managing computers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. He was asked to resolve a 75-cent accounting error in the computer usage accounts.He discovered an unauthorized user who used the system for a short period of time, incurring the 75-cent fee. Over the next few years, he traced the hacker to Hanover, Germany, had him arrested and eventually testified at the trial.

It is a fascinating story that left a strong impression on me.

My career in information security began in earnest in mid-2007. I had recently joined a small retail bank headquartered in New York as a network administrator.

I was the 18th hire, and the IT department was made up of two people. As we opened additional branches in New York and our employee ranks grew, the complexity of our annual audits with the New York State Banking Department and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) increased.

We needed to answer questions related to information security. Do you have an incident response plan? What about a disaster recovery/business continuity plan? Management had no idea how to respond to these questions.

Where do you begin learning about these topics?

I began attending the annual RSA Conference in California, joined the local ISSA chapter and read books related to information security. I began building my network and connected with information security professionals in the area. Eventually, I earned a few industry certifications and began an information security-related master's degree.

Here is my advice, in no particular order, for those starting out.

  1. Join a local information security organization. Go to monthly meet-ups, ask questions and connect with individuals who attend. Find your local ISSA, ISACA, OWASP or InfraGard chapters. Become a member and regular attendee.
  2. Find a mentor. Preferably someone who can set aside time for you and guide you through your job search and career progression.
  3. Go to information security conferences. There are numerous such events throughout the year that take place all over the world. RSA Conference, Black Hat, Defcon, ShmooCon, SOURCE and many others. It is also a great venue to meet like-minded individuals and broaden your network with folks from the information security community.
  4. Read books. Interested in virtualization security? There is a book for that. Mobile security? There is a book for that too. Pick a topic of interest and become the expert in that subject.
  5. Get information security certifications. There is plenty of debate whether certifications add value. For someone just getting started with information security, it is an easy way to demonstrate your commitment to a potential employer or your passion for the subject matter.

I had a difficult time getting my first security-related job.

Employers were always looking for folks with either IT, networking or security-related experience. How can you get the experience if no one is willing to take a chance on you?

I found that by methodically achieving each milestone -- joining a local chapter, finding a mentor, attending conferences, reading books and earning certifications -- opportunities will present themselves.

I believe information security is a noble profession. Where else do you have the opportunity to protect your firm's infrastructure, reputation and confidential information from nefarious individuals?

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