By and large, cyber threat analysts tend to be highly skilled in the technical domain.
However, far too many analysts find themselves hitting a ceiling and can struggle to get into higher positions of responsibility. While having a baseline proficiency in the technical side of things is a prerequisite, what many analysts don’t realise is the sheer range of non-technical skills they need to become ‘promotable’, well-rounded (and well-paid) cybersecurity leaders.
Technical skills are just the starting point
It goes without saying that to be a threat analyst, you need a strong grasp on technical concepts, tools and practices. As with other highly technical disciplines, it helps to have a strong background in computers or mathematics. Knowing how software development works and hands-on experience with coding can also a strong advantage, but the goal here is straightforward: you need to have the depth and breadth of knowledge to analyse threats and identify cyber risks.
That means your ability to translate multiple feeds of information into business priorities is the key. A general awareness of what an optimally-run system looks like, combined with a powerful pattern recognition threat sonar, makes for an attuned threat analyst.
Think like a cybercriminal
Doing things by the book is all well and good, but the best threat analysts have a knack for thinking laterally. Putting themselves in the shoes of a cybercriminal, they can imagine new ways to exploit their vulnerabilities, which means they have a better eye for spotting signs of compromise. Imagination, curiosity and inventiveness are hugely valuable skills in the cybersecurity game, and are almost never taught in school. If you can cultivate these habits in your day-to-day, you’ll be able to spot unusual patterns and uncover insights which can be a big leg up in your cybersecurity career.
Leverage intelligence-gathering and analysis
Threat analysts are much more than just network and endpoint security technical resources. A good threat analyst has a holistic understanding of the business itself, as well as its processes and systems. A Jack of all trades and master of many, the ideal threat analyst should have an innate understanding of what business as usual looks like, and an instinct for when one small element doesn’t feel right. Just as importantly, they need to be able to translate threat intelligence into a cohesive report which can be shared with the rest of the organisation. Threat intelligence is only useful if it’s acted upon, which means those reports must be understandable and actionable for other people in the business as well.
Develop your big-picture thinking and communication skills
Senior threat analysts are called upon to perform a wide range of business functions, including managing budgets, communicating instructions widely, creating training programs, liaising with vendors and clients, even planning complex system and network builds. To promote cyber awareness, threat analysts must be able to relay important security updates and communicate the cybersecurity needs of the business to technical and non-technical stakeholders.
Just as importantly, cybersecurity leaders need to have a deep understanding of the business, beyond just threat analysis. To win support and influence, you have to be able to speak to the business impact of your decisions, and how cybersecurity concerns impact the business at large. Being able to talk to stakeholders in business terms, like how threats will impact business ops, explain how cyber funds will be used and why, will position you as a multi-dimensional cyber leader.
This is where your communication skills become absolutely essential. Being able to write and speak clearly and effectively will win you the ear of people across the business, and will ensure you have a seat at the table when the big decisions are made.
Don’t ignore self-care
In the race to climb up the ladder, you might feel you have to put in long hours and burn the candle at both ends. While some late nights and weekends are inevitable, burning yourself out is no way to get ahead. Your physical and mental wellbeing are maintained with an appropriate work/life balance, sleeping and eating well, and creating solid boundaries between your work and personal life. It's the only way to ensure you’re operating at your peak when you are on the job.
It's easy to think about cybersecurity as the domain of software tools and automation, but a threat analyst’s greatest weapon is their mind. That means you need a sustainable way of working that enables you to stay open to changes in the market, your business and technology, while also prioritising your well-being. Granted, that’s easier said than done. There will be times when you drop the ball on one of these fronts, but that’s okay. As long as you keep learning and keep course-correcting. The journey to leadership isn’t a sprint as much as it’s a marathon.
Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone
It’s human nature to want to stay in a bubble we’re familiar with. Threat analysts feel at home with software, tools, dashboards and data points, and while these are all essential, you should also strive to go beyond them. As we’ve seen, the ideal threat analyst isn’t an endpoint-monitoring automaton, or even necessarily the smartest person in the room. They are the ones who can see the big picture, articulate the impact on the business, and offer business solutions as well as technical ones.
Being good at a job with so many variables takes flexibility, creativity, mastery and often years of consistent effort. It can feel intimidating, especially when you’re starting out your career, but no one is born a cybersecurity leader. Every CISO, CIO and CTO has years of hard-won experience behind them, and they’re still learning on the job every day. Getting out of your comfort zone and demonstrating your willingness to tackle whole-business problems shows ambition, initiative and passion. And that is what all great cyber leaders are made of.