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In the rapidly evolving digital landscape, cyber threats are becoming more sophisticated daily. As a result, organizations are under increasing pressure to build and maintain effective cybersecurity teams.

However, building an elite cyber operations team is no easy task - from candidate selection to hiring and onboarding, through training and refining team members’ skills, getting the right group of people is a balancing act. A well-balanced team will have the right combination of technical expertise, practical experience, and interpersonal skills. Too much of one skill set and not enough of another can make for a subpar team.

This blog will identify the critical qualifications for a high-performing cybersecurity professional, outline how to hire and onboard, and provide solutions for training and maintaining the team’s skills.

Essential Skills and Qualifications

As with every hiring process, the first step in building an elite cyber ops team is to identify the essential skills and qualifications required to perform effectively. Here are the key competencies a top-performing cybersecurity professional should have:

  • Technical knowledge - Cybersecurity is a technical field, and as such, candidates must have a deep understanding of various technical domains. Some areas that successful cybersecurity professionals have experience in include network security, cloud security, and cryptography. This depth of technical knowledge requires a strong foundation in computer science. The candidate’s ability to stay up-to-date with the latest technological advances and cyber threats is almost as important as their base level of knowledge.
  • Programming and scripting skills - Besides needing deep technical knowledge, cybersecurity team members should be able to write code and scripts to automate tasks and perform complex analyses. Familiarity with languages such as Python, Java, and C++ is essential, and experience with security-specific tools and technologies is also highly valued.
  • Understanding security regulations and compliance requirements - Cybersecurity is a field governed by standards. Adhering to cybersecurity standards like NICE 3.0 helps security teams identify the knowledge and skills needed to manage cyber risk effectively. Additionally, different industries have their own slew of security regulations and compliance requirements that organizations must adhere to, such as PCI-DSS, HIPAA, and ISO 27001. It is critical for cybersecurity professionals to have a thorough understanding of the standards that govern their industry, as well as the legal and ethical implications of cybersecurity incidents.
  • Ability to communicate effectively and work in a team - Communication may be a “soft skill,” but it is perhaps the most important skill a cybersecurity professional can have. For a team to work effectively, they must communicate easily with a range of stakeholders, including technical and non-technical team members, management, and external partners. Clear communication is especially necessary when in the middle of a breach - ineffective communication slows the team and can have a negative impact on the threat response.

In addition to the broad but critical skills listed above, each company will have its own essential skills unique to its organization and industry. When creating a job description, include all the necessary skills to ensure that the right candidates are identified.

Hiring and Onboarding

After producing a recommendation that captures all the essential skills and qualifications a team member needs to thrive in a cybersecurity team, the next step is hiring and onboarding new hires. Here are some tips to help ensure a smooth and effective process:

  • Thorough hiring process - Use a thorough hiring process that includes technical assessments and background checks. Make sure to vet and narrow down candidates based on their skill sets, looking for candidates with a strong combination of technical skills, experience, and interpersonal abilities. For best results, consider working with a professional services team that can set up candidate assessments to evaluate technical skills and competencies. These types of assessments provide detailed reports with the candidate’s overall score and a categorized, comparative breakdown of key skills and abilities.
  • Comprehensive onboarding program - Once the perfect candidate is hired, providing a comprehensive onboarding program that covers company policies, procedures, and security protocols is a critical next step. This will help new hires get up to speed quickly and provide a solid foundation for their future success. Setting up new hires with a training program provides on-demand, hands-on learning content to validate and quantify their skills.

Cybersecurity Training

Building an elite cyber ops team doesn’t stop with hiring good candidates - cybersecurity professionals must stay on top of the newest threats and cutting edge for protection against cyber attacks. Once the right players are in place, the next step is to provide ongoing cybersecurity training. Here are some tips for providing effective cybersecurity training:

  • Skill benchmarking - Building a cybersecurity training program requires knowing where the team’s skills currently lie and where they fall short. Establishing a baseline of organizational team readiness is foundational to training. With the help of a professional services team, it’s possible to evaluate team member activity and progress in real-time through structured content plans and labs while also building highly customizable training plans for each team member.
  • Encourage certification - Encourage team members to pursue security certifications, such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). These certifications not only demonstrate a commitment to the field but are also an invaluable way for cybersecurity professionals to expand their knowledge and expertise.
  • Offer hands-on training in a cyber range - One of the most effective ways to get practical experience in cybersecurity is in a cyber range. A cyber range is an interactive, simulated environment that provides hands-on training, testing, and demonstration of cyber defense and cybersecurity skills. Some cyber ranges even offer the ability to produce a high-fidelity replica of a production environment, so team members can train with the tools they use daily. This type of training is essential for building confidence and competence, and it can also help team members stay up-to-date on the latest threats and technologies.
  • Live-five exercises/team building activities - The importance of effective communication cannot be overstated when it comes to the cohesiveness of a cybersecurity team. Live-fire exercises are a great team-building tool that not only hones cybersecurity professionals’ skills but also develops team communication, coordination, and trust. Conducting live-fire exercises brings traditional red team vs. blue team capture-the-flag and customized exercises to life to test teams and technology under real-world, threat-intel-driven scenarios. Move the cybersecurity team beyond theoretical, classroom-based knowledge. Build a more decisive, experienced, and refined security team by exposing them to real-world threats in an isolated, consequence-free environment.

Building an elite cybersecurity team is no easy feat. It requires finding people with the right blend of technical expertise, practical experience, and interpersonal skills, then providing the tools and training they need to succeed in the long term. By providing ongoing training, hiring the right people, and fostering a positive and supportive work environment, you can build a top-performing cyber ops team to keep your organization safe and secure in today's rapidly evolving digital landscape.

Blog byShelby Verciglio
Shelby Verciglio
Shelby Verciglio
Shelby Verciglio is a Digital Marketing Manager at SimSpace Corporation where she creates and contributes to a variety of digital marketing collateral. Before SimSpace she worked as a marketing manager at several B2B companies. Shelby holds a bachelor’s degree from Auburn University.