What is a Security Researcher & How can I become one?
Most of the cybersecurity community operators who are performing penetration testing, vulnerability assessment, or any kind of Vulnerabilities discovery, have a step in common which is to search online if their software versions, services, or applications have vulnerabilities. And if they do they patch their assets and life goes on.
But a few people think about how this vulnerability was discovered and who discovered it. We are referring to the mastermind behind any released/unreleased vulnerability, the one who has this part in his mind that tells him things here can be abused.
This one is the Security researcher. A security researcher doesn’t have to be the one who discovered zero-days but it can also be the one who finds vulnerabilities within organizations as we will discuss later.
In this article, we are introducing what is a cybersecurity researcher, how to be one, what makes a good cybersecurity researcher, the differences between a cybersecurity researcher and a hacker, and what does a cybersecurity researcher do.
What is a Security Researcher?
A security researcher is the one who finds vulnerabilities in systems, learns why it happens, and reports the results he got to help patch the vulnerable systems as soon as possible.
Also, a security researcher can analyze malwares to understand them and learn how they were developed and what its target is. Moreover, he can perform source code reviews to identify security flaws.
A security researcher can play many roles but the thing they have in common is they belong to the good side whose target is how to keep our systems safe from bad guys.
How to Become a Security Researcher?
There is no one path that you can take and consider yourself a security researcher. It depends on your knowledge and how you look at things. But we will discuss some tips that can help you gain this knowledge:
Earn a Degree
Earning a Bachelor's Degree or Master's in computer science or information security will enhance your skills and focus on how things began and how they are connected. It will also take you back to know how it was made.
Maybe this seems not updated and unnecessary but learning how scientists think before releasing a technology will help you a lot.
Getting the degree can help to get an entry-level position in a big software company or in a research lab which will eventually help you grow faster.
You should choose some specialization to focus your efforts on, some security researchers focus on discovering web-based vulnerabilities and this will require some security researcher who knows programming, web application, and others.
Other researchers may focus on developing sophisticated malwares trying to bypass the most advanced anti-viruses.
Also, they can spend a lot of time analyzing malware they have from some adversary attack to understand what this malware does and what it is targeting.
There are a lot of specializations so you need to choose one and start supplying yourself with the required skills.
Some companies may require some sort of certification or history of bug bounty, for certifications you can check our ultimate guide for security certifications here.
Considering the previously mentioned points or equivalent you should be ready to apply for jobs, this step is important to work along with security professionals, facing real-world scenarios and gaining the needed experience at this level.
What makes a Good Security Researcher?
Passing some certifications or getting some training will not be enough to be a good security researcher. As a cybersecurity researcher, you should have a deep understanding of different technologies.
A valuable method that can help you get better is to find old exploits and figure out why the vulnerabilities happen and from where it originates. Understanding these stuff will enhance your skills and help you get a clear vision of how vulnerabilities are discovered.
Also, a good security researcher must be updated on the latest events in the community and understand what systems are vulnerable, and help organizations get patched.
Security Researcher Vs Hacker
We have discussed different types of hackers in a previous article, now, we want to see the differences between a security researcher and a black hat hacker.
A black hat hacker can find a critical vulnerability in some software or application and keep it for himself so he can exploit all systems using this application. And depending on the severity of the vulnerability he may have access to databases or important assets.
On the other hand, a security researcher will find the same vulnerability and immediately report it to release a patch as soon as possible.
The hacker most likely will stop digging whenever he finds a vulnerability that can give him any sort of access to any system. But the researcher will dig more to find related vulnerabilities and all possible impacts.
Moreover, hackers will create malwares to attack systems and gain access. But security researchers may also develop malwares to figure out if systems are exploitable or not and if so they will suggest the appropriate fixes.
Is a Security Researcher a Good Career Path?
Security researcher job is not everyone’s job, it fits those people who focus on the little details that others will miss and think how little things can be abused to be a vulnerability in the system. Also, it requires:
- Patience: You might spend weeks searching for something and not find it. That is okay and should not frustrate you.
- Critical thinking: Asking yourself how this thing worked and how this vulnerability exists is important.
- Logical thinking: Sometimes under pressure, we can lose our logical view of something, a security researcher should maintain his logical view under different circumstances.
- Investigating skills: To understand how things are connected, checking everything you find, and performing your research.
- Teamwork: Usually especially if you are a new cybersecurity researcher you will not have the same vision as an expert, it is important to be able to work with others so you can get more benefits.
And of course, you should be enjoying what you are doing and not considering it a normal job, it requires you to learn every day and perform your research continuously.
What does a Security Researcher do?
A security researcher is a skilled computer expert that can use his skills in identifying systems vulnerabilities. A security researcher can spend his time:
• Analyzing data and searching for patterns.
• Analyzing malwares to know how it works and what it targets.
• Performing source code review to find potential vulnerabilities.
• Engaging in binary and source static analysis/reverse-engineering of applications.
• Mentoring and providing technical guidance to developers and researchers.
• Applying frameworks to understand how things are built.
• Delivering new techniques.
• Understanding the best steps for the mitigation of a threat.
• Keeping updated with the last findings by other security researchers.
• Reporting findings.
“The Life of a Cyber Security Researcher” is a blog post discussing a normal day for a security researcher that can help you know more about this career.
Moreover, there are a lot of organizations that have great security researchers that you can follow to be always updated like:
And you can find exploits and vulnerabilities in:
Learn more about cybersecurity by exploring more articles here.