Network Security Engineer Skills: What You Need to Know

Network Security Engineer Skills: What You Need to Know

The role of a network security engineer requires a comprehensive skill set to effectively protect an organization’s digital assets and ensure network integrity, including a solid understanding of cybersecurity principles, network protocols, and familiarity with networking components.

Proficiency in configuring, deploying, and managing firewalls and IDS/IPS solutions is essential for monitoring and safeguarding network traffic, detecting potential intrusions, and preventing unauthorized access or malicious activities.

Most positions require a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as computer science, information security, or network engineering. These programs provide a strong foundation in networking concepts, operating systems, programming, and security principles. With that in mind, let’s dig into the most vital network security engineer skills!

What Does a Network Security Engineer Do?

Depending on their experience level, skills, and the company they work for, a network security engineer might face a variety of tasks in the course of a given day, including (but certainly not limited to):

  • Analyzing network logs for suspicious activity.
  • Configuring firewalls and intrusion detection systems.
  • Conducting penetration testing (i.e., simulating attacks to identify vulnerabilities)
  • Collaborating with colleagues on incident response.

On the broadest possible level, that means competent network security engineers must have the following:

  • Technical Skills: Understanding of network protocols, cryptography, operating systems, and security tools is essential.
  • Analytical Skills: The ability to analyze data, identify patterns, and draw conclusions is crucial for threat detection and incident response.
  • Problem-solving: Creative thinking and a methodical approach are key to solving complex security challenges.
  • Soft Skills: Collaborating effectively with colleagues from different departments is vital for building a robust security posture, and requires “soft skills” ranging from communication to empathy.

For individuals with the right aptitude and dedication, a career in network security offers not only professional growth and stability but also the satisfaction of playing a vital role in protecting our increasingly digital world.

Which Skills Should a Network Security Engineer Learn?

Mitesh Arora, distinguished engineer and senior technical director Aryaka, agrees that mastering core technical skills is crucial to anyone wishing for a career in network security engineering.

“If you come from a reputable engineering college with networking and security as core subjects, you have a greater advantage to be hired at more relevant companies for better roles,” he says. “However, if your academic background is a bit different, you can still build a solid foundation through associate level certifications and training programs.”

Core technical skills include:

  • An understanding of networking and its principles
  • Cloud services (i.e., Azure, AWS, Google Cloud)
  • SSL
  • HTTP(s)
  • Public Keying Infrastructure
  • Cryptography
  • Scripting
  • Compliance

Nimai Sood, director of software engineering at NetApp, suggests aspiring network security engineers gain proficiency in major operating systems such as Windows, Linux, and macOS, all of which can prove essential for administering network devices and security tools.

“Knowledge of cryptography, firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and malware analysis is vital for understanding and mitigating cyber threats,” he adds. “Familiarity with scripting languages like Python, Bash, and PowerShell allows for the automation of tasks and development of security tools.”

Understanding and utilizing Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) tools is important for monitoring, analyzing, and correlating security event logs and alerts across the network, enabling rapid responses to potential threats.

Network security engineers must also possess the ability to design and implement secure network architectures and configurations and have proficiency in incident response methodologies and digital forensics.

Does a Network Security Engineer Need Certifications?

Ultimately, recruiters and hiring managers are interested in your skills, and are often willing to overlook formal certifications or degrees if you can demonstrate your mastery of network security engineering tools and concepts. That being said, possessing certain certifications can help you stand out in a crowded field of applicants. But which certifications?

These are some of the more prominent ones that network security engineers tend to earn:

“These certifications can be further complimented by training offered by industry-leading security services companies,” Arora explains.

Sood pointed to other popular industry certifications, including Cisco CCNA and CompTIA Network+, as helping validate a network security’ engineer’s knowledge. “The CompTIA vendor-neutral certification validates foundational knowledge in security concepts, tools, and procedures,” he says. “It’s a great starting point for anyone new to the field.”

The Cisco CCNA routing and switching certification focuses on the fundamentals of Cisco networking technologies, which are widely used in enterprise networks. Sood says it’s a good option for those who want to build a career in network security with a focus on Cisco infrastructure.

He calls the CISSP a “gold standard” for experienced security professionals, one which can open doors to leadership roles. “Ultimately, the most effective educational foundation is one that combines theoretical knowledge with practical experience,” he says. “Look for opportunities to build your hands-on skills through internships, personal projects, and participation in cybersecurity communities and events.”

Don’t Forget Your Soft Skills

“As a network security engineer, communication is very important,” Arora says. “One should be a great listener to ensure they understand problems thoroughly and can respond appropriately.”

They should also have a focused problem-solving approach to ensure they can address issues effectively: “Additionally, being adaptable is especially important in the dynamic and continuously changing world of network security,” Arora adds.

Security is a very dynamic concept—what worked yesterday might not work tomorrow. Network security engineers must keep up with the latest trends, which can mean following industry experts and influencers, subscribing to industry publications, and reading security blogs and research papers. Consider asking your company to fund your training on the latest products and technologies.

Always Keep Your Skills Up-to-Date

Sood notes the landscape of network security is constantly evolving, with new threats and technologies constantly emerging: “To stay ahead of the curve, network security engineers need to be aware of these trends and develop the necessary skills to address them.”

Cloud security, supply chain attacks, the use of artificial intelligence, and Internet of Things (IoT) security are all prominent trends to watch. Steve Petryschuk, director and technology evangelist at Auvik, advises network security engineers to commit standing time each week to developing their security skills; these include staying up-to-date on common security forums and investing time in red team or blue team exercises.

“Practical, hands-on exercises are a critical component of any network security engineer’s professional development,” he says. “Textbook theory will only take you so far in a real-world security incident.”

Arora points to SASE/SSE are significant trends representing a convergence of networking and security: “A.I., [generative A.I.] and predictive analytics are continually evolving and reshaping the landscape, making these skills essential.”

Network security engineers can have a successful career if product and technology knowledge are complimented with proficiency in artificial intelligence. “By complimenting traditional product and technology knowledge with skills in AI/ML and GenAI, network security engineers can significantly increase their earning potential,” Arora adds.

Sood explains that attackers are using A.I. to develop more sophisticated malware and launch automated attacks, while defenders are using A.I. to detect and respond to threats faster and more effectively: “Understanding of AI/ML concepts, ability to analyze security data using AI/ML tools, and knowledge of ethical hacking techniques to simulate attacker behavior are key.”

Understanding of zero trust principles, experience with identity and access management (IAM) tools, knowledge of network segmentation and micro-segmentation techniques are likewise important. “Attackers are increasingly targeting software supply chains to inject malware into widely used applications or libraries,” Sood concludes. “This makes it crucial to secure the entire software development lifecycle.”


Nathan Eddy



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