Important Network Security Skills

Network security professionals are responsible for protecting an organization’s information systems, data, and hardware while ensuring that employees and executives who need access to the system can connect easily and securely.

A pair of analysts seated in front of a laptop, reviewing data together.

To accomplish these goals, network security professionals

  • Build, install, and update security systems;
  • Monitor networks for suspicious activity;
  • Create policies and practices for safe login and connections.

They also serve as the first responders during cybersecurity breaches.

The field includes positions such as network administrators, information security analysts, and network security engineers.

In the network security field, you will usually need to work with other IT pros to ensure the system and all connected devices remain secure. Your duties also include training non-technical staff in cybersecurity best practices.

Technical skills and knowledge of computers, coding, and hardware are essential in this career. Because of ever-evolving cybersecurity threats and the differing needs of each company, you also need a firm grasp of strategies and theoretical concepts of network security.

Finally, you might be surprised by the soft skills necessary to excel in this career. Network security pros must be resourceful, able to communicate with technical and non-technical staff, and capable of handling sudden, stressful situations.

1. Familiarity With Network Security Tools

Network security requires the use of specialized tools that help fortify the system against common threats, monitor network usage and traffic to detect performance issues, and provide early warnings when someone attempts to breach the defenses.

For example, every IT security professional needs to be familiar with network monitoring software. These programs provide real-time activity data that can alert you to suspicious traffic and data bottlenecks, both of which are early signs of a cybersecurity attack. You can investigate anomalies immediately to limit any damage from hackers who get into the network.

Other tools of the network security trade include

  • Firewalls;
  • Virtual private networks (VPNs);
  • Anti-virus and anti-malware programs;
  • Access control systems;
  • Event management programs.

Not only do network security experts need to be able to install and deploy these tools, but they also need to know how to configure and customize them for their employer’s needs. Larger companies may prefer to hire IT professionals who can use computer languages like Java and C++ to develop security applications from scratch.

2. Strong Understanding of Cybersecurity Concepts

Network security tools can keep a company’s internal systems safe, but you also need to comprehend the primary concepts behind networking and cybersecurity. This big-picture understanding can help you know where and when to deploy your tools. You should keep in mind that security applications, as effective as they may be, are merely components of your overall strategy.

Cybersecurity strategies involve multiple components. You use different tools and techniques to

  • Identify threats;
  • Block intruders from accessing the network;
  • Backup and protect data;
  • Respond to any intruders who can beat your defenses.

You need a deep understanding of how to accomplish each of these tasks so that you can respond to problems immediately when they arise.

Here is an example of a cybersecurity concept being used in a real-world situation: 82% of cyber-attacks are due to human error, such as weak or stolen passwords. If you believe employees have compromised login details, you cannot simply shut down the whole network. In addition to mandating password changes, you can set up two-factor authentication (2FA). This will require users to get a second code via text, email, or external device when logging in. Even if hackers steal a password, they will not be able to get into the network without the second code.

In this example, you identified the threat and found a solution that still allows employees to access the network with one simple additional step.

An understanding of all networking and cybersecurity concepts can help you come up with similar solutions when issues arise.

3. Preparation and Resourcefulness

Many of a network security pro's duties focus on stopping breaches before they start. However, new demands, such as connections for remote workers, and new hacking strategies can increase the chance of a hack. Network security professionals need to prepare for the worst-case scenario, keeping in mind that their employer needs the network to remain productive.

Preparations for a breach can include constantly backing up data so that it remains saved and accessible in the event of a ransomware attack. Not only will this limit the damage of a hack, but it will also help the company continue operations instead of having to shut down until the data is retrieved.

You might consider compartmentalizing your network so that you can block off compromised sections without shutting the whole system down. You can also back up security system configurations so that you can limit any interruptions by getting right back online with a fully functioning security system.

4. Communication

Contrary to stereotypes, IT specialists do not spend their whole day alone on a computer. Network security pros have to be skilled communicators. They must be able to collaborate with other technical staff members to solve issues and complete tasks. Security problems are time-sensitive and often require quick, coordinated action, so organization and communication between IT experts are essential components of any cybersecurity operation.

At the same time, network specialists are responsible for communicating their needs and plans with company decision-makers, who typically do not have the same level of technical knowledge. These reports require simplifying things without “dumbing them down.”

Finally, many network security experts have to train employees to use the network and embrace good cybersecurity practices. This process requires clearly communicating steps for logging in, dealing with downloads from emails and third-party sites, and using VPNs when connecting remotely. Again, it's essential to communicate this information in a non-technical way that won’t confuse employees.

5. Software Development

Software development is not a part of the daily routine for most network security professionals. However, the job often requires knowledge of computer code. Many network security tools require configuration or customization to work on a company’s existing network. Some firms build their tools from scratch, and if you work for a third-party cybersecurity provider, such development projects will be quite common.

An example of this type of software development would be firewalls, which you build or customize using C or Python coding languages. You may also need C++, which is a common language for computer systems, and SQL, which is an important code for database backups and security.

You should also understand the process for building, debugging, and testing your applications.

Being Proactive With Cybersecurity

The field of cybersecurity evolves fast. Several factors drive these rapid changes. Firstly, cybercriminals are constantly coming up with new methods to exploit vulnerabilities. For example, there was a significant increase in ransomware attacks in 2022. Hackers use malware to access databases and encrypt the data, not decrypting it until the owners pay a ransom. You can be proactive by backing up data so that this type of attack does not stop operations.

Secondly, companies have changing needs. Remote and hybrid work arrangements require secure access from outside an office. You can use VPN or proxy servers to secure these remote connections or build a secure app that employees can use to access the network via their smartphone. These steps can strengthen vulnerabilities that hackers might seek to exploit.

Finally, network security professionals need to keep up with the latest cyberthreats. This allows them time to proactively address new hacking methods early before they become an issue.

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