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Learn Network Security Engineer Skills

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Explain the impact of network security on business.
  • List the key skills needed to become a network security engineer.
  • Describe common network security scenarios.

The Impact of Network Security on Businesses

Network security is crucial to business success. Any business (large or small) that employs poor security practices risks impacting the organization’s finances, damaging the company’s reputation, and facing potential legal consequences. 

A security breach can affect a business financially. Cybercriminals and cyberwarriors constantly attack computer systems in the hope of extracting money to enrich themselves and further their personal and political goals. In many cases, they also target corporate information and intellectual property.

In addition to direct economic impacts, a security breach can yield indirect economic impacts, like the loss of reputation. This can produce financial impacts due to a loss of sales, which can cause a ripple effect since it impacts a company’s suppliers, partners, investors, customers, and other third parties.

As a network security engineer at a medical clinic, Jim knows health records are a prime target for cybercriminals. Any security breach can have legal and regulatory ramifications resulting in fines and sanctions. To minimize those risks, Jim uses hardware and software tools that provide added layers of protection for patients.

Because Jim oversees all network security responsibilities for the medical clinic, he needs a wide range of skills. Let’s dig into this to see what skills make someone successful as a network security professional.

Knowledge Check

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Great job! Now that we've reviewed the importance of network security within an organization, let's look at the skills required for various network security engineering roles.

Network Security Engineer Skills

Network security professionals protect networks from threats that can harm their computer systems. There are plenty of opportunities for someone in the network security profession. These include network security analyst, network security engineer, and network security administrator. Let’s learn more about these roles.

Network security analysts examine a network for potential vulnerabilities, develop solutions to mitigate these vulnerabilities, and investigate security intrusions. Network security engineers wear many hats because they plan, design, install, analyze, troubleshoot, and maintain computer networks. After a computer network is designed and built, network security administrators manage, monitor, and oversee the network’s security.

No single path leads somebody to become a network security professional, but there are certain skills that can make someone successful in the job. Network security professionals must have a good grasp of an assortment of technical skills, which include understanding:

  • Secure network architecture
  • Vulnerability testing
  • Threat modeling
  • Virtualization technologies
  • Cloud security
  • Firewalls
  • Encryption solutions
  • Secure coding practices

Remember Florence, the network security engineer at a large bank? She has mastered many of these technical skills and is constantly learning more about her craft, but it’s her interpersonal skills that set her apart from the crowd. Her interpersonal skills include:

  • Innovation
  • Collaboration
  • Problem solving
  • Communication

In the next section, you learn about how to protect computer networks, including how Jim and Florence keep their networks secure.

A network security engineer at his desk with various hats on his desk connoting the fact that network security engineers wear many hats given their job responsibilities.

Common Network Security Scenarios

In order to protect a computer network, you need to know what assets (hardware, software, data, and so forth) comprise the computing systems and the connections between them. You also need to know who should and should not be allowed to access these assets, what access level should be allowed, and typical network traffic patterns (where the data flows).

Florence and Jim know that computer networks are constantly at risk of being attacked. They are responsible for securing their respective systems, but the scale of their computer networks is vastly different. Florence is a member of a large security team within the bank where she works, so each team member focuses on their specific area of network security. Jim is responsible for overseeing all IT issues, including the security aspects of the medical clinic’s computer systems. Each uses slightly different tools to reach their network security goals.

Both Florence and Jim are aware of the assets that make up their networks. Since Florence’s network is larger and more complex, she works with her security team and employs the latest software tools to constantly track the assets in her network. These tools automatically notify her when devices and software are added or removed from the network. For Jim, spreadsheets work just fine to track his network’s assets. He knows what devices make up his network and who should have access to them.

Out-of-date software and firmware are common targets for malware (malicious software) and intruders to gain entry into a computer network. Systems should be updated to the latest software and firmware patches because unpatched security vulnerabilities are some of the low-hanging fruit that malicious attackers use as network entry points. Jim manages these patches himself, but since Florence works at a large bank, a separate part of the security team handles vulnerability scanning and works with individual system owners to deploy patches. 

Since default passwords are a potential attack vector, organizations should require all users to change their passwords when they initially connect to a network. Requiring users to create strong passwords (long passwords that contain a mixture of letters, numbers, special characters, and so forth), change their account passwords at regular intervals, and use stronger authentication methods for administrative accounts, such as authentication tokens from a mobile device are standard best practices.

In addition to strong password policies, it’s important that appropriate privileges are assigned when user accounts are created. After all, not all users are created equal. Some users require more privileges than others, depending on their job responsibilities.

In addition to maintaining awareness of the assets on a network, a network security engineer should be familiar with typical network traffic patterns and use software to monitor current network traffic. Changes in network traffic can indicate that an attempted security breach is underway. Network security engineers often use tools that automatically discover network devices and provide real-time intrusion prevention and detection.

In this unit, you learned how a network security breach can impact a business, covered what skills network security engineers need, and discussed various ways to defend computer networks. In the next unit, you’ll learn about prevalent network attack methods and examples of network security incidents.

Resources