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Unpacking the Interview: Cyber Defense Analyst

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By: Matt Choi

February 18, 2021

Unpacking the Interview: Cyber Defense Analyst

As cyber threats continue to evolve, companies are searching for skilled professionals to deploy, manage, and maintain security infrastructure at scale. Known as Cyber Defense Analysts, these professionals earn above-average salaries for above-average responsibilities. They’re highly skilled and qualified and possess the ability to think on their feet when faced when critical security challenges.

But one challenge they often struggle with is the interview. While many have invested substantial time and effort into in-situ skills, and others have focused on completing key certifications, it can be challenging to translate this education and experience into the ideal interview effort.

This piece will unpack the Cyber Defense Analyst interview with a look at common questions, effective answers, and smart strategies to help land the job.

What is a Cyber Defense Analyst?

Also known as a Security Operations Center (SOC) analyst, these IT experts are often found on the front lines of corporate cyber defense. Using various skills - learned on-the-job and enhanced by specific certifications - Cyber Defense Analysts leverage creative thinking and advanced toolsets to discover attacks hiding in plain sight or masquerading as legitimate processes.

Once threats are identified, analysts develop ways to defeat the threats and then send the results to second-line cybersecurity defenders, paving the way for new policies and procedures to boost cybersecurity across the organization.

Given their pivotal role in securing corporate IT infrastructure, it’s no surprise that enterprise recruitment and hiring teams are looking for a specific set of skills and personality traits to ensure potential candidates think on their feet without losing their cool. As a result, interviews often feature a mix of technical knowledge and in-situ questions.

Question 1: What is the difference between IDS and IPS?

Expect something like this question in any cyber defense analyst interview. The acronyms will vary, but the intention is the same: ensuring potential new hires understand key concepts that define effective cyber defense.

In the example above, an interviewer asks the candidate to explain the difference between intrusion detection systems (IDS) and intrusion prevention systems (IPS). Both form key parts of functional defense frameworks and are often used by Cyber Defense Analysts. The difference? While an IDS is responsible for identifying threats as they occur, an IPS also prevents these attacks where possible and mitigating their impact.

This type of question often occurs early in the interview to screen out candidates who may have some of the required qualifications but lack practical knowledge.

Question 2: What role does authentication play in security? What types exist?

Authentication is a critical part of any effective enterprise cybersecurity strategy. This question serves two purposes: To ensure the candidate is on-board with the essential role of authentication and determine if they know the basics.

Here, simple answers typically suffice. There are three broad types of authentication: Something users know (like a password), something they have (like a one-time text code or USB stick), and something they are (such as biometric information). It’s also important to recognize the role of simple, straightforward solutions in staff adoption — organizations are no longer interested in security staff being disconnected from their less-technical peers.

Question 3: A DDoS attack has been detected. What now?

Any cyber defense analyst interview will include at least one question that tasks candidates with responding to a hypothetical attack scenario. The amount of information given about the attack and any time or resource constraints imposed will vary based on industry requirements and the team conducting the interview. Still, the format is fairly standard: A common cybersecurity threat is used as a jumping-off point to assess the prospect’s ability to think quickly and securely.

For example, in the case of a DDoS attack, it’s important first to identify the form of attack— are malicious actors looking to flood the server with traffic or crash it using an exploitable bug? Once the origin and nature have been identified, Cyber Defense Analysts can take action rate-limiting routers to reduce traffic volumes. Also adding drop-packet filters to deflect packets from DDoS sources, and set lower ICMP, UDP flood drops, and SYN thresholds. It’s also a good idea to contact any corporate ISP providers and see if they can offer assistance.

Charting the Course

Careers in advanced cybersecurity often start with the cyber defense analyst path. Successfully charting this course requires a combination of training in areas such as fundamental cryptography, SIEM solutions, OWASP frameworks. Also, APT fundamentals combined with hands-on learning to develop network vulnerability assessments, monitoring web apps, storing and analyzing IoT data, and logging security event reports.

Cyber defense Analysts now play a critical role in detecting and mitigating corporate cyberattacks by improving immediate IT security and developing ongoing defense best practices. Companies look to find the ideal candidate for their infosec team; however, skills and certifications aren’t enough — prospective IT pros must also be prepared to ace the analyst interview.

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