What is a Network Engineer? Its Role in Information Security
Computer networks fit so seamlessly into daily life that it’s only when these systems fail that people notice them. For typical users, a network error may only be a minor inconvenience. But temporary network outages are more significant for businesses. In 2019, 25% of companies reported that the average cost of an hour of network downtime is between $301,000 and $400,000, according to Statista. Some 15% of companies reported that just one hour of unplanned downtime can cost them more than $5 million.
Companies rely on network engineers to protect enterprise networks from unplanned outages and security breaches. Programs like an online Master of Science in Cybersecurity (MSCY) can prepare professionals to fulfill vital roles as network engineers.
What Is a Network Engineer?
Organizations, governments, and even remote users access computer networks to complete daily business tasks. Infrastructures that include software and hardware support the connectivity and operations of the enterprise network.
Network engineers design the computer infrastructure based on business needs, evaluating how information should flow throughout and outside the organization. A network engineer spends a significant amount of time charting data flow, especially as the network grows in size and complexity.
After configuring the right hardware, software, and services, a network engineer, then, tests the system to ensure that information flows properly. Any errors or service interruptions require network engineers to troubleshoot, diagnose, and test the system until working harmoniously. Once implemented, network engineers perform regular maintenance to secure and update networks.
Protecting Against Outside Attacks
Network system attacks are on the rise. More than 3,800 publicly-disclosed data breaches occurred in the first half of 2019, up 54% from the same period last year, according to a report by TechRepublic. Nearly 90% of these data breaches resulted from outside attacks. Along with continually updating hardware to meet network demands, network engineers must install scanning and blocking systems to prevent phishing and ransomware attacks. Another part of what a network engineer is involves educating employees about these attacks and how to avoid suspicious emails and leaking information unintentionally.
Network engineers balance the importance of security against the growing demand for faster, more efficient, flexible connectivity and computing. A network engineer must keep current with changing technologies, such as emerging fifth-generation (5G) cellular systems, when upgrading and optimizing a company’s network. Implementing these technologies can involve testing new processes and equipment, monitoring system performance, and completing training manuals for users.
Salary for a Network Engineer
Advancements in technology and the need to secure information have driven demand for information technology professionals like network engineers. The median annual salary for network engineers is $72,398, according to October 2019 data from PayScale.
How Norwich Prepares Future Network Engineers
Students in Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Cybersecurity program can prepare to be network engineers through both core courses and specialized concentrations.
The following core courses provide the foundational skills for information security and assurance before students pursue a concentration of their choosing:
- Foundations and Historical Underpinnings of Information Assurance: Examines the development of networks, from early theories about data structures and the creation of mainframes to today’s advanced technologies. The course also follows the progression of policies and government regulations regarding privacy and protecting user data.
- Information Assurance Technology: Students learn to defend information systems against internal and external threats by examining vulnerabilities in the physical layout of the building, like door access and keycards, and learning about anti-spam tools and security certifications.
- Human Factors and Managing Risk: The success of a networking and security system depends on the people who use it. In this course, students learn to create an information assurance program that incorporates the human elements of business, such as employee attitudes and behaviors toward data and security. By understanding these elements, future network engineers and other IT professionals can identify and mitigate risks in their networking systems.
- Information Assurance Management and Analytics: Examines the management of an information assurance program, from developing a strategy to measuring program success. Students learn various tactics to promote information assurance awareness in their organizations and how to communicate the value of the program to management.
Students considering a career as a network engineer can benefit from pursuing one of the concentrations in the MSCY program at Norwich.
- Computer Forensic Investigation and Incident Response Team Management: Students focus on the events during and after a computer security incident. In addition to creating a computer security incident response team, students learn how to manage an incident as it’s happening. Students also learn how to complete computer forensic investigations after the event, looking for program optimizations and enhancing knowledge of other domains.
- Critical Infrastructure Protection and Cyber Crime: Students delve into the people behind cyber terrorism and cybercrime, common hacking techniques, and how information assurance programs can counteract those attacks. Further coursework examines the systems and networks of critical infrastructure in the U.S. such as electricity, water, and fuel and how risk is managed in these areas.
- Cyber Law and International Perspectives on Cyberspace: Students focus on the legal aspects of public cyberspace, investigating federal, common, and international laws that impact information assurance programs and professionals. Some key topics include privacy rights, governance frameworks, and geographical differences in cyber policymaking.
- Project Management: Students complement their knowledge of networking systems by learning the elements of project management. The courses cover areas such as leadership, communication, and strategic management.
- Vulnerability Management: Students take a hands-on approach to testing computer networks and finding vulnerabilities. They also examine the tools and controls to complete penetration tests and look at the legalities of completing ethical security tests.
The Skills Needed for the Future of Network Engineering
Many organizations require network engineers to be “masters of all things networking,” according to an article by staffing firm Robert Half. Both technical skills and communication skills are crucial for aspiring network engineers.
Computer Skills for Network Engineers
Understanding local area network and wide area network hardware and software and their implementations in a network structure are critical for network engineers. Advanced knowledge of tools and concepts such as Java, Python, blockchain, and cloud services is increasingly important.
Mathematical acumen is another key skill that defines a network engineer. While network engineers may not use advanced math daily, as networking systems grow in complexity, the ability to understand computer operations in their mathematical form is beneficial.
Soft Skills for Network Engineers
Network engineers are often the translators between business goals and technical needs. They communicate with business leaders and project managers to provide a better understanding of business objectives and technology solutions.
These communication skills are critical when a system isn’t working or the organization experiences a network incident. Network engineers and their teams must use problem-solving skills to identify the issue and create a corrective plan, then communicate it to the rest of the organization and any other affected parties. Detailing this plan often requires explaining technical terms in a format more easily understood by people without technical backgrounds.
Start a Career as a Network Engineer
With data breaches, hacks, and system failures making headlines, network reliability has grown in importance. Organizations depend on experts like network engineers to keep their IT systems running efficiently to maintain business operations and keep ahead of the competition.
Learn more about how Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Cybersecurity program can build the competencies needed to engineer the networks of the next generation.
Outages. Downtime. System Failures. 2019’s IT Meltdowns, Data Economy
Average Cost Per Hour of Enterprise Server Downtime Worldwide in 2019, Statista
Job Summary & Tasks of a Networking Engineer, Houston Chronicle
Data Breaches Increased 54% in 2019 So Far, TechRepublic
US-Wide 911 CenturyLink Outage Caused by Faulty Data Centre Network Card, Data Economy
Connectivity of Tomorrow, Deloitte
Technology Salary Data and Hiring Trends, Robert Half
Average Network Engineer Salary, PayScale
Summary of Qualifications for a Network Engineer, Houston Chronicle
Master of Science in Cybersecurity, Norwich University
Why It Pays to Be a Network Engineer, Robert Half
Network Engineer Job Description Guide, Robert Half