A security pro has to continually revise his or her skill set.IT security pros have been fighting off hackers since the early days of computers. Today’s hackers and other bad actors are vastly more sophisticated than they were even just a decade ago. The need for highly skilled cybersecurity security pros is greater than ever before. Their tasks include not only preventing cyberattacks, but anticipating new ones and remediating after a successful attack.

The best way to know whether you have a highly-skilled security pro on your team is to be certain they have one or more IT certifications from a recognized organization like (ISC)2, Microsoft, Cisco, CompTIA and so forth. A number of security certifications enable you to earn high salaries and, armed with the right ones, you may find yourself progressing to the position of a Security Head, or even a CISO or a CSO.

Of course, landing the elite security job doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels. It can be a constant challenge to keep your organization’s systems well-guarded and your knowledge up to date. It only takes one security lapse in your area of responsibility, especially if the lapse involves something like having your CEO’s mail box spammed, to take you from a corner office to a street corner.

Security breaches are damaging to a firm’s finances and especially to its reputation. No one wants to trust their private information to an organization that fails to secure it. Security expectations vary based on business requirements. For a retail consumer, it is important that personal and credit card information is protected. A retail firm could see an enormous drop in business with a security breach; consumers will have no patience if information like credit card details are compromised.

At the other end of the spectrum, the security requirements for a government or defense organization are very high risk. A breach here could put national security and people’s lives in danger.

Against this backdrop, a security pro has to design, deliver and maintain an operative security system which is versatile as well as protected. Building a security framework may have to be done from scratch or may require new checks to be built around an existing system. It could involve security of networks, servers and computers and storage devices and mechanisms. The knowledge gained through valid certifications helps leverage the latest technology to create a suitable security information management system.

Once an Information Security System and the means to address security incidents are in place, the challenge for a security team is to continuously monitor systems, pre-empt security breaches and stay abreast of the latest happenings as newer approaches are created by cyber criminals.

Staying sharp is a constant battle. There is an abundance of information available on technology to counter security threats, as well as on the nature of potential threats. Separating the wheat from the chaff can be a mammoth task. The challenge is further compounded by the fact that cybercriminals regularly devise innovative methods to counter security checks and the security landscape is constantly changing. Below are four useful tips to help you stay at the top of your game:

1) Attend security conferences

One way of assimilating the latest and most accurate information is via attendance at security conferences. These conferences have wide-ranging representation and provide a useful forum to discuss and share information on threats and the means to counter them. Some of the better known and comprehensive conferences include: IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security, and the Gartner Security Summit.

Another very popular source is the Information Security Forum (ISF), a nonprofit association that assesses security and risk management issues on behalf of its members. Their Threat Horizon Report provides members with a list of potential security threats for the next two year period. This can serve as a guide for security managers to identify possible risks and take preventive measures.

There are also many smaller gatherings from which one can benefit. Take care to join security associations and get on their mailing lists as a way to be notified of any local or regional gatherings.

2) Join online security forums

These are everywhere online, are free, and are filled with valuable nuggets of information. Here are five reasons why online forums are useful to you:

  • Networking opportunities — Most people in these forums are friendly and willing to help. You never know who you will meet and the possibilities for collaboration are endless.
  • New ideas — Just because you didn’t think of a solution doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t.
  • Gain knowledge — There is no end of useful knowledge that you can glean.
  • Share your knowledge — You may be surprised at how much you know and how useful others may find your expertise.
  • A sense of belonging — No man (or woman) is an island, and neither are you. Getting out there is a great way to mingle with other security pros.

3) Maintain your certifications

This is probably the best way to guarantee that you have the right technical knowledge and credentials available. The organizations that sponsor and support these credentials take great pains to ensure that their certification courses are up to date and filled with the most useful information. They will know what is happening in the industry, what challenges are arising and what the needs are for the next generation of security pros better than anyone else.

While all useful certifications have to be kept current and up to date, security certifications tend to have a shorter shelf life and it is vital to be in regular touch with the certifying bodies to check for updates or new version of certifications. You need to maintain your certifications, and there is no better way to do it than through the sponsoring organization.

4) Read Industry literature and websites

A security pro has to continually revise his or her skill set.Most people do not read their industry’s literature. They assume they’ve been trained and know what they need to know. Take this for example: A good security system is required to have a process in place for pre-empting attacks and it’s crucial that a security pro has the know how to implement such a system. There are a number of tools available which scan incoming data and identify/report irregular behavior patterns to monitor and pre-empt cyber-attacks. Reports from these tools can be used to predict attacks and take corrective measure. But which tools are useful?

Fortunately there are organizations that evaluate the effectiveness of these tools. CSO Online and Network World are two sites that do a great job regularly evaluating and recommending tools for security data analysis. Instead of surfing the web endlessly for cat-videos or epic-fails, spend an hour each day reading about your security domain — you’ll be shocked at how much knowledge you will gain in a very short time.

Keep at it

Well informed or not, security professionals are being challenged constantly with attacks that vary in nature and are often difficult to pinpoint even after they happen. (A Data Breach Report from Verizon found that 74 percent of recent attacks were not discovered for weeks after they happened.) The urgent need for security pros is to gather relevant information and pragmatically utilise it to deliver a security system that is safe and tactically preemptive. Following these four tips will help you stay sharp and on the leading-edge of your field.