Transitioning from IT Security to Cyber Security

We've said it before, and we'll say it again: there is no better time to get into cyber security. Cyber attacks have compromised around 207 million accounts in Canada since 2004. To make matters worse, 1 in 6 cyber security roles go unfilled.

The good news is this leaves many opportunities for skilled and motivated individuals to fill the gap in an industry that withstands tough times while reducing cyber crime.

Is IT security the same as cyber security?

While IT security and cyber security roles often overlap (example, a network security analyst and an information security analyst) there are distinct differences in their focus, responsibilities, and how they interact with computer networks.

10 key differences between IT security and cyber security

1. Scope of Focus

IT security

Cyber security

Encompasses a broader range of security measures for all aspects of information technology, including physical security, network security, and data security.

Specifically focuses on protecting data, including networks, systems, and digital assets from cyber threats. 

2. Nature of threats

IT security

Cyber security

Addresses a wide range of security concerns, including physical theft, unauthorized access, and natural disasters.

Primarily deals with digital threats, such as malware, phishing, ransomware, and other cyber attacks.

3. Data protection

IT security

Cyber security

Involves safeguarding all types of data, whether digital or physical.

Concentrates on protecting digital data from unauthorized access, manipulation, and destruction.

4. Focus on networks

IT security

Cyber security

Involves securing overall network infrastructure, including routers, switches, and firewalls.

Concentrates on protecting networks from cyber threats and attacks, with an emphasis on intrusion detection and prevention.

5. Incident response

IT security

Cyber security

Encompasses a broader set of incident response activities, including physical security incidents.

Primarily focuses on responding to and mitigating digital security incidents like cyber attacks and data breaches.

6. Compliance and regulations

IT security

Cyber security

Involves ensuring compliance with various regulations, including physical security standards.

Places a strong emphasis on compliance with digital security standards and regulations.

7. Skills and expertise

IT security

Cyber security

Requires a broader skill set, including knowledge of physical security measures.

Demands specialized skills in areas like penetration testing, ethical hacking, and security analytics.

8. Endpoint security

IT security

Cyber security

Addresses security concerns related to physical endpoints, such as laptops, desktops, and mobile devices.

Specifically focuses on securing digital endpoints, often involving the protection of devices from malware and other cyber threats.

9. Preventive vs. Reactive

IT security

Cyber security

Often involves a mix of preventive and reactive measures, including physical security controls and disaster recovery planning.

Emphasizes proactive measures to prevent cyber threats but also includes reactive measures like incident response.

10. Emerging technologies

IT security

Cyber security

Involves securing a wide array of technologies, including traditional IT infrastructure and physical security systems.

Keeps pace with rapidly evolving digital technologies and focuses on securing cloud environments, IoT devices, and other emerging technologies.

Overall, IT security tends to deal more with bolstering the security around the physical environment and network endpoints, like computers or mobile devices. In contrast, cyber security requires specific knowledge of defending the inner workings of information systems.

IT security professionals deal more broadly with the system, often well-versed in various security protocols. On the other hand, while cyber security professionals also hold a vast array of knowledge, they tend to be more specialized in certain areas depending on their role.

With a general understanding of security principles nailed down, those in IT can hone in on more specific skills to make the switch to cyber security easier.

Challenges in the cyber security field

The vulnerabilities in computer systems are a glaring problem. The lack of information security professionals in the industry costs the country an estimated $3 billion every year.

Outward problems are the most evident, but those within the profession are concerned about emerging technologies like blockchain, AI, VR, and quantum computing risks. And with artificial intelligence (AI) taking a more prominent place in the industry, worries surround how AI can be misused. Hackers can create realistic phishing emails, encourage users to share private information with malicious actors or use language learning models (LLM) to develop code accurate enough to pull off a minor attack.

With these growing challenges, the scope of cyber security jobs is expanding, and those with an IT background can leverage their knowledge to transition into the field.

Can you do cyber security with an IT degree?

Beyond specific specializations, IT security and cyber security professionals share various skills. If the following sounds familiar to you in your IT role, you might just be a few steps away from helping to fill the cyber security gap.

  • Network security
  • Risk management
  • Incident response
  • Vulnerability management
  • Security awareness and training
  • Encryption and cryptography
  • Communication

While moving from IT security to cyber security, you may need to deepen your understanding of digital threats, cyber attack techniques, and specific cyber security tools and practices.

What training is needed to make the switch?

Although IT and cyber security land in the same ballpark, IT pros will need to pick up necessary certifications or possibly reskill entirely into cyber security.

Education options

University degree

Returning to university is one way to learn the necessary skills to transition to cyber security. However, you may find the process long and tedious as you are probably already familiar with much of what is covered. It's also the most expensive option.

Online courses and specializations

Platforms like Coursera, edX, and Udacity offer online courses and specializations in cyber security topics, providing flexibility for working professionals. This option is inexpensive but can hinder those who benefit from a more structured approach.

Cyber security bootcamp

Bootcamps, like Lighthouse Labs' Cyber Security Program, offer a structured and short-term learning path to cyber security. Bootcamps tend to cost $10,000 or more, focusing exclusively on need-to-know industry information. Bootcamps are the best option for those who need to change careers quickly and don't have years to dedicate to a long-term program.

Networking groups

Joining professional organizations and local security groups can provide networking opportunities and access to industry-specific knowledge. You can also potentially pick up side gigs or internships to give you hands-on experience in cyber security.

Ready to dive into cyber security? Download the Cyber Security Program curriculum to learn more about our Cyber Security Bootcamp.

Which is better: IT or cyber security?

While neither role is better than the other, those in IT may be motivated to switch to cyber security. While each role has its pros and cons, here are some cyber security jobs you could take on with an IT background and the right training.

Penetration Testing (Ethical Hacking)

In this role, you’ll assess and exploit vulnerabilities in systems to identify weaknesses before malicious actors can exploit them.

Are you a good fit?

  • You enjoy problem-solving, critical thinking, and understanding how attackers exploit vulnerabilities.
  • You have a strong technical background and enjoy hands-on, practical work.
  • You're curious and enjoy staying ahead of the latest attack techniques.

Security Analytics and Threat Intelligence

Here, you’ll monitor and analyze security data to detect and respond to cyber threats. Threat intelligence analysts focus on understanding and predicting the tactics, techniques, and procedures of cyber adversaries.

Are you a good fit?

  • You have an interest in data analysis, pattern recognition, and identifying anomalies.
  • You enjoy staying informed about the latest cyber threats and developing strategies and security solutions to defend against them.
  • You're detail-oriented and can connect the dots between seemingly unrelated pieces of information.

Incident Response and Forensics

This role involves investigating and mitigating security incidents like data breaches or cyber attacks. If you choose this path, you'll analyze evidence to understand the scope and impact of incidents.

Are you a good fit?

  • You enjoy solving puzzles and piecing together a timeline of events.
  • You have strong attention to detail and can work well under pressure.
  • You are interested in understanding how attackers operate and finding ways to prevent future incidents.

Governance, Risk Management, and Compliance (GRC)

GRC professionals ensure that organizations adhere to security policies, comply with regulations, and manage cyber security risks effectively. They often work on developing and implementing security policies and frameworks.

Are you a good fit?

  • You are interested in the business and regulatory aspects of cyber security.
  • You have strong communication and interpersonal skills.
  • You enjoy working with stakeholders to ensure the organization's overall security posture.

Cloud Security

Maybe the closest relation to IT security, professionals in cloud security focus on securing cloud environments, addressing unique challenges related to cloud infrastructure, applications, and services.

Are you a good fit?

  • You have a background in IT or system administration and an interest in cloud technologies.
  • You enjoy understanding and mitigating the specific risks associated with cloud services.
  • You are familiar with cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud.

One crucial aspect of cyber security specialists is their curiosity and willingness to keep up with changes and developments in their rapidly evolving industry. Whether you're in the transition stages or fully engaged in the cyber trenches, continuous learning - picking up necessary certifications, networking, and reading cyber news - is essential for professional and personal growth.

Making any sort of career jump can feel intimidating. However, with the right support system, knowledge, and certifications, you can gain the right skills to get noticed in the job market.

Explore Lighthouse Labs’ Cyber Security Bootcamp to kickstart your transition to a cyber security career.