The unrelenting pace of cyberattacks has created a huge demand for threat analysts. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for these professionals is expected to exceed 32% over the next 10 years. And while the threat analyst position is often the entry-level title among cybersecurity professionals, it is not an entry level job. Analysts need strong IT skills, with a broad understanding of network architecture. Some job postings require security clearances.
Consequently, many new cybersecurity analysts land in the position after having been shuffled over from other IT roles. There simply aren’t enough qualified applicants to poach from other companies or recruit from strong university programs.
But the threat analyst role requires a new set of attitudes, some of which might surprise IT professionals accustomed to a different benchmark for success. Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of new analysts struggle to figure out some of these unwritten rules, here’s what they need to know.
It’s All About Your Company’s Brand
Your company’s reputation is one of its most valuable assets. Don’t just worry about broad threats from specific vectors, such as the latest piece of malware with a fancy logo. Use investigative skills to find threat actors that are directly targeting your company; they often do it by name on Dark Web marketplaces. I can recall a recent example that my company was involved in: A threat analyst found someone selling RDP access to his company on the Dark Web. Closing that loophole was a big success.
Think Like the Bad Guys
While there are several motivations for cybercrime, most threat actors are simply in it for the money. As an exercise, pick assets in your company’s inventory, and ask yourself how a threat actor could monetize an attack on them. Then, research how threat actors have attacked those systems in the past.
Develop Personal Interests
Threat analysts aren’t robots (they just rely on them to do their jobs!) An easy way to accelerate your learning curve is to research how cybersecurity has impacted one of your hobbies. You might be surprised. Even relatively innocuous hobbies – like running and hiking – have cybersecurity angles, because so many people use fitness trackers and other devices that store large amounts of personal data.
Level Up Your Critical Thinking Skills
Unbiased analysis is the gold standard of threat research. But most people have trouble identifying their own blind spots. Learn to ask the right questions. Challenge your own assumptions, use data to guide your conclusions, evaluate your hypotheses, and look for conflicting data.
Watch Out for Analysis Paralysis
Cybersecurity tools throw buckets and buckets of data at analysts. It’s not a bad strategy, if you are in the business of cybersecurity tools, because there’s no downside to saying that your tool has more features or detects more attacks. But alert fatigue is real, and some analysts begin to ignore warnings when they pile up or are not actionable. As an analyst, the quality of your product is completely dependent on the quality of your tools. Look for tools that cut through the noise.
Build Relationships Within Your Organization
Don’t get pigeonholed! Even though there should be a robust procedure for reporting suspicious incidents and delivering intelligence information, an analyst should also have personal relationships across the entire organization. This enables analysts to better understand business processes and confidential information, and how they may be targeted. And it allows stakeholders to better consume and give their input into the intelligence program.
Speak in the Language of the Business
Don’t be too technical, and don’t deliver information that cannot be actionable. Rather, understand the business processes and explain how a particular threat could impact them. Use language and terminology that are familiar to the recipients of your reports. Focus on what leadership values. Use data and intelligence to identify the threats that leadership cares most about, and focus your reports on those issues.
The job of a security analyst is not an easy one, but the career path can be rich and rewarding. Many IT professionals struggle to make the transition, not because they lack the technical skills, but because the analytical skills force them to go outside the traditional areas of expertise. Successful analysts rely on lots of data points, some of which comes from Dark Web monitoring, but also from the world of politics, economics, and news to understand the behavior and motivations of others. These are valuable skills, and mastering them lays the groundwork for a successful cybersecurity career.
Dov Lerner is the security research lead at Sixgill, focusing on malware distributed on the dark web. He served for five years in the military as an intelligence officer, and subsequently worked as a malware analyst. He holds the CISSP and CISM certifications and an MA in … View Full Bio