You may have seen the terms ‘Cyber Security Engineer’ and ‘Cyber Security Analyst’ used interchangeably when looking at job titles and descriptions. While the two positions may have similar duties and roles in a company, there are clear distinctions between the two and their primary purposes in the cyber security space.
The differences between a Cyber Security Engineer vs. an Analyst? Cyber Security analysts work on identifying security issues like vulnerabilities and threats, whilst a cyber security engineer will work on putting in protections against the security issues identified by the analyst, like patching up vulnerabilities, installing security tools to defend against the identified threats.
Both Cyber Security engineers and Cyber security analysts work hand in hand to secure their employers environments against potential threats and attacks. Here’s a detailed list of the differences.
- Analysts are ‘attackers’ and engineers are ‘defenders’
- Cyber security analysts seek out and identify threats
- Cyber security engineers develop secure systems
- Analysts run tests and try to compromise systems
- Engineers will make changes based on threats
- Cyber security engineers receive higher salaries
- Analysts look at how a system can be optimized to prevent threats
- Engineers must stay up to date on new technologies
- Analysts develop detailed reports to bring to engineers and management
- Education requirements vary slightly for each role
It can be difficult to delineate between the two roles in many cases because both can have similar job functions and requirements based on a company’s needs. We will work through these primary differences and the relevant information needed to work towards a career in each field.
10 Differences Between a Cyber security Engineer and Analyst
In certain jobs, the roles of an engineer or analyst may be blurred a little, but we’ve pulled together some of the general differences that are usually made between the two.
1. Analysts are ‘Attackers’ and Engineers are ‘Defenders’
Both cyber security engineers and analysts are used to ensure that a company’s digital security system is strong. While there are overlapping demands of each job, you can use a sports analogy to differentiate between the two.
Think of an engineer as a defensive player, preparing the team for the opposing attack and making adjustments based on threats to their style of play and organization of players on a field.
An analyst is an attacker on a sports team, trying to find the weaknesses of the other team and take advantage. An analyst takes the mindset of an intruder, seeing how they can ‘attack their own team’ to make it stronger and less vulnerable to attacks.
2. Cyber security Analysts Seek Out and Identify Threats
As we mentioned, cyber security analysts are the attackers of a team. Whether serving as an internal analyst for the company or an outside consultant, analysts are consistently trying to find problems in a system and identify potential threats that could compromise it. This means that they need to have a clear idea of how the current cyber security system works.
They pretend to be a hacker and think through all the possibilities that could arise from a comprised security perspective. They are constantly looking at how to get access to valuable information, and if the current security system in place can prevent attacks from occurring.
3. Cyber security Engineers Develop Secure Systems
On the defensive end, cyber security engineers create the cyber security system to protect their team (company). This means that they need to have a strong background in computer programming and software engineering to provide secure network solutions for a business. They also need to think of potential threats and design the system to block them.
Cyber security engineers look at a few important components when setting up a secure network:
- Identify sensitive information a company wants to protect: You need to know what should be protected before you set securities in place.
- Determine potential threat sources: Threats will vary depending on the industry you are in, but there are some general ones you should be aware of, including competitors, hackers, terrorists, and criminals.
- Proactively prevent threats by using security by design in the solutions developed including ensuring secure code is developed, lateral movement protection using firewalls to protecting against malware and viruses.
- Develop security solutions to prevent threats: This includes specific programming to block hackers, antivirus protection, and firewalls. IT protection and software are designed and updated frequently.
4. Analysts Run Tests and Try to Compromise Systems
While engineers may do this too, depending on their role at a company, an analyst is responsible for running a penetration test. This is an authorized hack on a cyber security system to identify its effectiveness. This will allow a security team to determine what works well and where security can be heightened so that the system is not compromised in the future.
Analysts will devise a plan for attack by targeting specific components of the system and looking at how the system behaves both before and during the attack. The goal is to see if they can maintain access once into the system and then take the results to an engineer to fix problems. The analyst will run it again and again until these vulnerabilities are gone.
5. Engineers Respond and Make Changes When Threats Arise
The penetration tests are the safest way to respond to threats because they are practice, and no real compromises have occurred. It is the job of the engineer to respond to these threats and change system configurations to prevent real threats from occurring. In the event that a real intrusion occurs, the engineer is responsible for trying to terminate their access.
Most IT and security departments will have set protocols to deal with these types of threats so they can be handled consistently and calmly. It is often best for the engineers involved in the design to deal with intrusions as they know exactly how the system works and can be manipulated.
6. Cyber security Engineer Salaries are Higher
The added designing and maintenance of security and IT systems that engineers are responsible for often result in higher salaries. The average cyber security engineer salary across the United States is just under $100,000 per year. Many of the job functions that analysts do are also incorporated into engineer roles in addition to their program design and updating of systems.
Cyber security analysts average $75,000 per year. This will vary based on the years of experience as there are senior analysts that will be higher earners. More experience and skillsets will drive this salary higher.
7. Analysts Optimize Systems To Block Threats
Analysts are the inspectors and problem solvers, going in to see where the problems lie and how they can be fixed. While they are not responsible for the actual changes to the networks and IT systems, they are very well versed in the programming to understand how it should be set up and how to do so most efficiently.
The two jobs work closely together to create the best plan for keeping hackers out, with analysts doing a large amount of planning and engineers executing the changes.
8. Engineers Constantly Stay Up to Date on Technologies
Security systems need to be frequently updated and safeguarded as technologies develop to make it easier and easier to steal company data. This means that engineers are in charge of understanding and being well versed in the newest technologies in the cyber security space. This is not only to enhance their security but also to understand programs used to attack.
9. Analysts Develop Reports for Engineers and Management
One of the most important roles of a cyber security analyst is to take the tests and analysis they have done and turn it into helpful reports that can be used for company protection. These reports are given to both the engineers so they can put deeper security measures into place within the programming and to management, so they are aware of stability and job progress.
10. Education Paths and Requirements May Differ
Both roles will require strong backgrounds in cyber security-related courses and studies, but these educations can vary. Because these roles are competitive to get, most require a bachelor’s degree.
Cyber security engineers typically receive degrees in:
- Engineering or computer programming
- Computer science
- Applied mathematics
- Information systems
These degrees are typically more focused on the software development side, as this will be your primary role as an engineer.
Cyber security analysts typically receive degrees in:
- Computer science
- Information technology (IT)
Additional certifications and coursework in cyber security and forensics also serve this role particularly well.
The delineations between the two roles can be difficult to distinguish because there is often a lot of overlap. When applying for these roles, look less at the job title and more at the descriptions to see what your roles as either an analyst or engineer will include. You’ll often find you’ll be doing a little bit of both.
How to become a cyber security engineer without a degree? Hands-on experience of using security tools, along with a solid understanding of security from a relevant course, can increase the chances of becoming a Cyber Security Engineer without a degree.
How long does it take to become a Cyber Security Analyst? It can take between two and four years depending on the length of the courses taken at university.