Home > Careers > What Is a Network Security Engineer?

What Is a Network Security Engineer?

Network security engineer in server stacks

A network security engineer is a type of cybersecurity professional tasked with protecting a company’s network and any users or devices connected to the network. These types of security engineers can work in practically any industry since every company with a computer network needs someone to keep that network safe. 

But what does being a network security engineer actually mean? In this guide, we’ll go over: 

What Does a Network Security Engineer Do?

Network security engineers are responsible for maintaining a network’s infrastructure to ensure that all users, programs, and devices have a safe and secure space to operate. A network security engineer is a cybersecurity specialist who protects the network from malfunctions, misuse, or destruction. To accomplish this, these engineers implement virus protection, test the network for weak points, and create safety protocols to prevent future breaches. 

Network security engineers use routers, firewalls, and network-monitoring tools to protect the network from internal and external threats. Since viruses, malware, and spyware are constantly evolving, these engineers need to follow the trends and continually learn how to prevent new threats. A network security specialist also needs to split their focus between the network and the users — the network needs to be secure, and the users and their devices need to know how to help keep it secure. 

“There are new devices being added almost everyday so we have to make sure all the security measures are there,” says Andreas Grant, network security engineer and founder at Networks Hardware. “We have to be on the lookout to make sure all the software is updated and security patches get applied.” 

>>MORE: Experience a day in the life of a cybersecurity professional with SAP’s Cybersecurity Engineering Virtual Internship Program.

Where Do Network Security Engineers Work?

Network security engineers are necessary at any company that has or uses computers, data, or information. Some engineers may choose to work at tech giants like Cisco or IBM. Others may choose to work in a more specialized field. For example, networking security engineers are needed in health care to help protect patient information and banking institutions to ensure the security of client financial data. Network security professionals can even work for colleges and universities, securing massive networks with thousands of daily users. 

>>MORE: Check out some of the top tech companies

Network Security Engineer Salaries 

According to Payscale, the average base salary for network security engineers is $95,221 per year. However, other sources, including Glassdoor and Indeed, suggest that network security engineers can see salaries in the six figures depending on location, bonuses, and profit sharing. 

According to CyberSeek, cybersecurity engineers (which include network security engineers) can earn average salaries of around $113,000 per year.

For those just breaking into network security engineering, average entry-level salaries range from $75,000 to $85,000. However, highly experienced engineers with over 15 years of experience may see annual salaries over $130,000. 

How to Become a Network Security Engineer

Education

Most employers look for candidates with a degree in a relevant field, such as information technology or computer science. Courses in these majors should focus on the skills network security engineers need in their day-to-day roles, such as coding languages, data management, and cybersecurity tactics. 

Specializing in a particular industry or area of network security can be beneficial, too. For example, if you want to handle network security for financial organizations, it helps to have a foundational understanding of how the finance industry works and the primary threats. A master’s degree in the chosen industry can help network security professionals progress to higher positions. 

Certifications 

Certifications show employers you have the technical skills to be a successful network security engineer. In the world of cybersecurity, there are many certification options administered by hardware and software companies so engineers can prove their expertise on specific brands and programs. Some of the most common choices for network security engineers are: 

  • CompTIA Security+: Establishes core cybersecurity knowledge
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP): Shows cybersecurity program design, implementation, and management skills 
  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH): Demonstrates understanding of testing computer systems for weaknesses using ethical hacking techniques 
  • Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) Security: Shows in-depth understanding of Cisco security systems
  • Palo Alto Networks Certified Network Security Engineer (PCNSE): Demonstrates skills in designing, implementing, and troubleshooting Palo Alto Networks firewalls
  • Juniper Networks Certified Expert Lab Exams Security (JNCIE-SEC): Displays expertise in configuring and managing Junos-based security programs. 

Pros and Cons of Network Security Engineering

ProsCons
Great payHigh-stress
In-demand workCompetitive 
Ever-changing Constantly evolving

Cybersecurity and technology, in general, are in a constant state of evolution. This ever-changing nature of the work means that this career is typically not very boring. Every day can bring exciting new challenges and experiences. However, it can be tough to stay ahead of the curve. 

“Whether you like it or not, you have to keep learning to stay ahead in this constantly evolving field. This continuous learning to be able to be on top of threats can be exhausting,” says Grant.

In the U.S., in 2022, every data breach costs an average of $9.44 million, with health care and financial services typically having the most expensive data breaches. For this reason, talented security engineers are in-demand and can get paid top dollar to protect companies’ data, networks, users, and wallets. However, this pressure to prevent million-dollar breaches can create a high-stress environment. 

Additionally, network security engineers may be in demand, but there’s still competition for spots at the big tech companies and to make sure the blame doesn’t fall on your head for a multi-million dollar breach. 

Find your career fit

Discover if this is the right career path for you with a free virtual work experience.

Skills for Network Security Engineer Careers

A career in network security engineering requires a lot of technical, hard skills, including: 

  • Testing networks for vulnerabilities
  • Modeling potential threats
  • Encryption
  • Understanding of cloud security
  • Coding skills in languages such as Java, JavaScript, SQL, PHP, Python, and C
  • In-depth knowledge of the necessary equipment like routers, firewalls, virtual private networks (VPNs), and network monitoring tools

Grant notes that successful network security professionals should enjoy investigating complex problems, have strong analytical skills, and be detail-oriented

Start learning the skills you need for a career in security engineering with Forage’s tech virtual experience programs

Image credit: agnormark.gmail.com / depositphotos.com