I'm brand new to the IT Security world, and I figure you'd be a great person to get career advice from. I'm 30 and in the process of making a career change from executive recruiting to IT Security. I'm enrolled in DeVry's CIS program, and my emphasis will be in either Computer Forensics or Information Systems Security. My question is, knowing that even entry-level IT jobs require some kind of IT experience, how does someone such as myself, who has no prior experience, break into this exciting industry? My plan is to earn some of the basic certifications by the time I graduate (A+, Network+, Security+). What else should I be doing? What introductory books and resources can you recommend?
I thought I'd discussed this sort of question before, but all I found was my post on No Shortcuts to Security Knowledge and Thoughts on Military Service. I believe I cover this topic in chapter 13 of Tao.
To those who are also interested in this question, I recommend reading both of those posts first and then returning to this post. I'll do my best to provide some additional useful advice here.
Here are seven ways you can make yourself more attractive to security-minded employers.
- Represent yourself authentically. It's tough when starting out to recognize the size of the digital security world. It's taken me nearly ten years to grasp the scope of the field. You'll be successful if you can clearly identify just what you (think) you know, and what you definitely do not. You will not do anyone favors if you claim to be even somewhat proficient in all or nearly all aspects of digital security. It's extremely important to want to work in security for love of the field, and not the potential paycheck.
- Stop using Microsoft Windows as your primary desktop. This is not an anti-Microsoft rant. The reality is the vast majority of the world uses Windows. When you stop using Windows, you move yourself into a smaller group that needs to think and troubleshoot. Some see this as a problem, while others see it as a learning opportunity. If you are completely new, start with one of the easy Linux distros. As you feel adventurous try one of the BSDs. (Mac OS X doesn't really count as a non-Windows platform for the purposes of this point.) This does not mean you will never use Windows again. I dual-boot Windows and FreeBSD on my laptop.
- Attend meetings of local security group. Ideally you would have a group like NoVA Sec nearby, but you're more likely to have an ISSA chapter in your city. In either case, attend some meetings. Get immersed in the discussions that occur in those settings. Ask questions.
- Read books and subscribe to free magazines. You should start with the books on my Listmania Lists. Subscribe to Information Security, SC Magazine, NWC, and Cisco's IP Journal. I wouldn't bother with 2600. It costs money and more often than not you'll read about "hacking" point of sale terminals and the like.
- Create a home lab. No real security "pro" has a only single laptop/desktop connected to a DSL/cable modem. Most every security person I know maintains some sort of lab. If you are resource-constrained, install VMware Server and build a small virtual lab. Experiment with as many operating systems as you can.
- Familiarize yourself with open source security tools. Fyodor's Sectools.org is a good starting point. As you meet people and read, you'll learn of new techniques and tools to try.
- Practice security wherever you are, and leverage that experience. So many people are in security positions but do not recognize it. If you are a network administrator, you have security potential and responsibilities. If you are a system administrator, you have a platform to secure. If you are a developer, you should practice secure coding. If you set up a home lab, you need to operate it securely. It is both a blessing and a curse that anyone with a computing device is an administrator and a security practitioner. Whatever your background, consider how it might apply to security. For example, former software developers might become involved in application testing and/or source code review, instead of securing carrier networks.
Once you follow this advice, where can you work? A search for jobs with "network security" at Monster.com or similar job sites reveals plenty of opportunities. If you are just starting out, I recommend getting a job where you are a cog in the machine and not the whole machine. In other words, you are probably setting yourself up for failure if you land a job as an organization's sole security person -- and you are brand new. You won't know where to start and you'll have no one on site to mentor you.
It's best to pick a niche first, know that niche well, and then branch out as time passes. It also pays to know where you (want to) fit in the security community.
I appreciate anyone else's advice for this question-asker.