Veteran’s Guide to a Cybersecurity Career

Veteran’s guide

Military veterans in private-sector cybersecurity jobs

Military personnel always face a tough choice when deciding whether or not to leave a life to which they have given their all, often for decades. There are a lot of important questions that need to be addressed because they already had an education and/or occupation before they entered military service, which is not the case.

To begin, what kind of job would they be better suited for? Many soldiers go into law enforcement or other forms of public service. While it appears to be the logical next move, there are a plethora of other choices. Which options are best for a particular retiring soldier will, of course, be determined by that person’s abilities, experience, judgment, personality, and preferences.

Fortunately, there is a lot of resources available on the internet to help veterans return to civilian life. The prospect of being competitive for job opportunities — especially the number of positions that need to be filled against the number of applicants available to fill those positions — is a key factor in the career calculus that may take place.

One of the most, if not the most, shorthanded sectors of the economy right now is information security, or cybersecurity.

According to the InfoSec Institute, there are nearly 3 million cybersecurity professionals in the world, with about 500,000 in North America alone. In virtually every discipline under the information security umbrella, demand for skilled workers far outnumbers supply. And the problem is only going to get worse as potential demand for information security services skyrockets.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has taken up the mantle of cybersecurity workforce development by promoting the field to young Americans, particularly active military personnel and veterans. Its Veterans Cybersecurity Training and Education Guide is designed to help students interested in cybersecurity get a better understanding of the sector.

In addition, the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Virtual Training Environment (FedVTE) offers free online cybersecurity training. Another DHS program, the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies (NICCS), aims to provide “educators with the tools they need to enable students to become part of the digitally literate cybersecurity workforce.” DHS has partnered with Hire our Heroes to provide cybersecurity training for veterans using Skillsoft and Percipio.

Why veterans are so well prepared for cybersecurity in the private sector

In order to fill the increasing number of work vacancies in the information security sector, a growing number of employers are turning to retired veterans. What is the reason for this? There are several explanations for this. Some argue that veterans experience a sense of stability when adapting to the protection of their employers’ networks and digital information in cyberspace because they are comfortable with the concept of contributing their lives to the defense of their country.

Cybersecurity employers also see the same qualities in veterans that so many others do: discipline, dedication, and team orientation.

Today’s armed forces make use of some of the world’s most technologically advanced digital structures. Military information systems and networks are, without a doubt, the most highly targeted high-value assets in the world. As a result, any active-duty service members who have worked directly with these systems, especially in defending them against attack, will be well equipped for private-sector cybersecurity work.

Often, with a little bit of education and/or training, and by obtaining cybersecurity certifications, these veterans will be in high demand from private sector companies.

Many military roles, whether specifically related to military cybersecurity or not, require security clearances. While most private businesses do not need security clearances, the fact that a veteran was entrusted with state secrets by the military speaks volumes about the person’s character and dependability. Indeed, many cybersecurity jobs, particularly those in government agencies and contractors, necessitate security clearances. It is certainly much easier to promote a qualified veteran who already has top-secret clearance than it is to promote a civilian and ask the government for high-level security clearance. In recent years, the average wait time for a civilian to be given a US government security clearance has been about a year and a half. And that’s assuming there aren’t any problems along the way.

Furthermore, many military roles necessitate a thorough understanding of computers, digital information networks, communications systems, cryptography, digital monitoring and spying, and even information security.

Obviously, these military jobs will provide an excellent foundation for a veteran to transition quickly and easily into private-sector cybersecurity employment.

GoArmy.com offers work titles and concise explanations of jobs available within the military for current and new military members. Many who work in the area of information and technology can be found here. Specific roles in the cybersecurity area that would be an excellent springboard for a veteran’s private sector career include:

    • Cyber network defender
    • Cryptologic linguist
    • Information technology specialist
    • Cyber operations specialist
    • Cyber operations officer
    • Cryptologic cyberspace intelligence collector/analyst
    • Cyber and electronics warfare officer
    • Electronic warfare specialist
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There are several other military jobs that will have excellent cybersecurity expertise, but these are the ones that are most directly relevant.

Working in government agency defense roles as a private citizen

Although working in the private sector is more appealing and generally more lucrative than working for defense-related government agencies, remaining in the public sector should not be discounted entirely. There are many lucrative career options available to veterans who choose to continue to assist in the defense of their country against external threats. A national security clearance would undoubtedly be a major carrot for recruiting companies. The most evident and important needs for cybersecurity staff with high-security clearances are at the CIA, FBI, ATF, Homeland Security, CISA (Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency), Secret Service, and NSA.

The list, however, does not end there. Almost any government operation in today’s world can be considered a trap for unethical hackers. Many of those departments do not seem to be obvious places to look for vital or top-secret information, but they may serve as conduits for accessing the networks of other agencies that deal with highly sensitive data. As a result, security clearances are needed in many areas of government.

Making the transition from boots to books

The symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) have been well documented, so there isn’t anything else to say about it here. But it isn’t the only issue that veterans face. For veterans seeking to fit in, living in a very different community and social system for years relative to society at large poses a slew of challenges. When you add in the unique environment and demands of higher education, it’s easy to see how transitioning from the military to college life could leave some veterans feeling confused and unprepared.

If you’ve ever taken a break from school for a few years and then returned, such as from a bachelor’s degree to work and then back to school for a master’s degree, you know how difficult it is to get back into the flow of things. Also, relatively simple tasks, such as remembering basic math or writing skills, can be difficult to recall after returning to campus. Most veterans join the military with a high school diploma but going to college after they leave the military is a totally foreign experience for them. However, there are tools available to assist vets in preparing for college and making the most of their opportunities.

Again, there is assistance available for veterans transitioning from military service to college. California started a program called “Boots to Books” in 2007. As of August 2018, “the course focuses on developing skills required for college success as well as helping student veterans transition their fighting skills to career building.” It is offered in 20 California community colleges. This Military Times report from August 24, 2018, details how veteran Nathan Kemnitz used the Boots to Books program to help him make the tough transition from military service to private education.

Working to develop study skills is a great idea for any veteran going to college. The Community for Accredited Online Schools’ “Student’s Guide to Improving Study Skills” is an excellent primer for all students, not just veterans. OASC (Online Academic Skills Course) and CPST (College Placement Skills Training) have also made an ebook titled “College Success Tips for Adult Learners” and another titled “MCAST – Your Military Career Advancement Success Tips” available through Peterson’s Publishing.

Campus support for veterans

Veterans are retiring to a vast array of privately provided programs, benefits, and financial assistance, not to mention public adoration. All kinds of organizations have coined the word “military-friendly” to describe the special care they offer veterans. Although the veracity of these statements is often questioned, the phenomenon has significantly increased the resources available to today’s veterans.

After their military service, many agencies go to great lengths to assist veterans in becoming well-adjusted, contributing members of society. Many campuses have established programs to assist veterans in acclimating to their new lives, especially those who wish to attend college. The majority of these programs provide financial aid, but many now provide a range of resources to assist veterans in adjusting to campus life.

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As a result, when looking for schools, veterans can check to see what non-financial aid is eligible. Here are some examples:

    • Military experience credit – allowing students to receive course credit for some military training and/or occupations.
    • Textbooks and materials are provided for free.
    • Counselors committed to helping veterans with problems adjusting to college life Veteran housing choices – non-dormitory/student body living accommodations, often exclusively for military veterans
    • Help groups for veterans
    • Help organizations in the community

Financial assistance available to veterans for career training and education

Finances are also a significant barrier for veterans seeking to begin a new life and career in the private sector. Since the military isn’t known for its generous pay, it’s difficult to save money when serving one’s nation. Fortunately, there are a variety of funding options available to veterans pursuing training and preparation to begin a new career.

The Veterans Administration (VA) funding through the GI Bill may be the most critical of these outlets. Benefits under the GI Bill would be determined largely by service period and how much of that time occurred after September 11, 2001. It will also rely on whether the school you choose to attend is on the VA’s list of approved schools.

The VA offers an online application called the GI Bill Comparison Tool to help navigate these factors. It is designed to assess a veteran’s benefits eligibility based on multiple variable inputs. The VA also offers a pdf guide that explains how veterans can go about selecting the right school for them.

In layman’s terms, VA-approved schools determine how much of a veteran’s tuition and housing they can waive, up to 50%, and the VA matches that sum. In an ideal world, the combination will cover all education expenses as well as housing.

Some colleges, on the other hand, waives less than half of the total, leaving veterans to cover the rest with scholarships or other forms of financial assistance, or by paying out of pocket.

Well before student loans become mandatory, if the GI Bill fails to provide enough financial assistance, there are a plethora of other possible sources of help. Financial assistance is accessible to students at almost all schools. A large portion of this comes from private donations, with the donor directing a large portion of those funds to help specific communities.

Today, there is a ready supply of financial aid dedicated to military personnel and veterans.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) offers a guide for all students to help them sort through all of the available details and financial aid options, such as student loans and evaluating financial aid offers.

A variety of high-tech firms are now explicitly offering scholarship funds to cybersecurity students. Cisco, Raytheon, Google, and Microsoft are among them. Cisco also offers tens of millions of dollars in grants to students pursuing cybersecurity careers. In addition, the organization has developed its own CCNA Cyber Ops certification.

There are also a number of websites devoted to assisting students in their quest for available scholarships that are relevant to their needs. There are some of the websites:

    • Scholarships.com
    • Fastweb.com
    • Bigfuture.collegeboard.org
    • Petersons.com
    • Niche.com

The US Navy’s Information Assurance Scholarship Program (IASP) provides funds to assist students in receiving cybersecurity education and developing infrastructure for information assurance education. Scholarships for non-Department of Defense students, Department of Defense students, and school grants are also part of the program.

Training and educational opportunities available to veterans

After deciding to quit the military, the veteran must decide which profession is better suited to his or her abilities, experience, and personality. Military.com offers a guide to assist transitioning veterans in determining how their military experience converts to civilian job opportunities. After deciding on a career area, it’s time to figure out what, if any, additional training and preparation would be needed before looking for work. There are many opportunities for veteran training and education, many of which are free or heavily discounted.

Military Times magazine publishes a list of Best for Vets Colleges every year for advanced education. The colleges are classified into four categories: four-year, two-year, online and non-traditional, and career and technical colleges. For active military members and veterans, online schools may be a suitable option. They have the versatility needed to fit into busy lives that make typical college attendance difficult.

Virginia has partnered with a number of organizations to begin a pilot initiative to assist veterans in transitioning to private-sector cybersecurity employment. CISCO and Amazon are among the members of the alliance, which also includes Fortinet and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families. Those interested in starting their cybersecurity careers in Virginia should take advantage of this Cyber Veterans Initiative, which offers free training and access to industry-recognized certifications.

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“Cybrary is a free community where individuals, businesses, and training come together to give everyone the opportunity to collaborate in an open source way that is revolutionizing the cyber security educational experience,” according to the website. Cybrary provides free study guides for a variety of cybersecurity disciplines, in keeping with its free, open-source philosophy. It also has a course catalog with a range of cybersecurity topics.

Microsoft’s MSSA (Microsoft Software and Systems Academy) also provides a cybersecurity administration program for veterans, as well as training for the (ISC)2® Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) certification exam.

In 2018, Synack unveiled its Veterans Cyber Program, which incorporates human intelligence and artificial intelligence to provide security solutions. The program is structured to help veterans transition into effective cybersecurity careers. Veterans are recruited by Synack through this initiative and receive “expedited application review for access to the Synack Red Team (Synack’s elite crowd of ethical hackers), flexible and lucrative security testing opportunities through the Synack platform, annual networking events, training opportunities to further develop cybersecurity skills, and access to interesting enterprise and government opportunities.”

CyberVetsUSA is an “industry-led program that offers free training and job opportunities to transitioning service members, veterans, National Guard and Reservists, and military spouses interested in entering the cyber workforce.” In a nutshell, CyberVetsUSA is a “skills-to-job pipeline aimed at accelerating veterans into high-demand cyber jobs.” It began by serving North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland, but it has plans to expand to more states in the near future. It provides self-paced online training programs that last 12-14 weeks. Veterans can select from a variety of courses based on their skills and experience. The following are the six choices currently available:

    • Cybersecurity operations
    • Security infrastructure
    • Software engineering
    • Operations/technical support
    • Security management
    • Network security

The SANS Institute, which was established in 1989, is the world’s largest provider of information security training and certifications. It provides over 400 multi-day courses in 90 countries worldwide, as well as a variety of GIAC certifications (Global Information Assurance Certification).

In the age of the internet, active-duty military don’t have to wait until they retire to embark on their higher-education journey.

There are a lot of online colleges these days, and a lot of them offer cybersecurity courses and degrees. If a soldier wishes to prepare for civilian life early or increase his or her military value, online degree programs are worth looking into.

Students have much more versatility for online degree programs than with their brick-and-mortar counterparts. This is particularly true for classes that are “asynchronous.” Synchronous classes occur in real-time at a fixed time, requiring the student to adhere to the timetable in the same way as a student on a real campus might. Students will log in and “attend” classes on their own time for asynchronous classes. Discussion boards, texts, interactive presentations, and podcasts are all available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through this distribution method. Asynchronous classwork could be the ideal way to further one’s cybersecurity education, especially for active-duty military personnel.

Assistance for veterans transitioning from military service to the private sector

There are many services available to veterans who are just starting out with their civilian careers.

VeteranSec is an online group of military veterans who work in or are involved in cybersecurity and information technology. At the moment, they have a private networking forum, free training videos, and a cybersecurity blog with tutorials.

Via its FortiVet Program, which was introduced in 2013, Fortinet, a provider of cybersecurity products and services, enables veterans to pursue careers in cybersecurity. The goal of the program is to “enable exceptional military veterans to transition into the cyber-security industry by offering skilled networking, training, and mentoring.”

In 2017, the FortiVet Program was included in an article in the ITSP newsletter. The “FortiVet program helps veterans of any skill level to gain access to cybersecurity-related job opportunities that would otherwise be difficult to draw on,” according to the report. The article also includes case studies of veterans who used FortiVet to help them transition from their military careers to cybersecurity careers. Military Times magazine called Fortinet a Best for Vets Employer in 2019. The Best for Vets Employers list for 2019 is split into two categories: for-profit businesses and government and non-profit organizations.

From the military to cybersecurity

Although transitioning from military to civilian life can be difficult, the good news is that there are a variety of opportunities available specifically for veterans interested in pursuing a career in cybersecurity.

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