How to Become a Cyber Security Researcher?

How to Become a Cyber Security Researcher?

If you’ve ever wanted to be a cyber security researcher, this is the guide for you. I’ll show you how to get started, and what skills are most important. Read further to find out more!

Table of Contents

How to become a cyber security researcher? Click below to find out!

What Is a Cyber Security Researcher?
Cyber Security Researcher Salary
Cyber Security Researcher Skills
What Does a Cyber Security Researcher Do?
What Tools Does a Cyber Security Researcher Use?
How to Become a Cyber Security Researcher?

What Is a Cyber Security Researcher?

Cyber security researchers are a part of the security field responsible for identifying and analyzing threats that may have an impact on the stability of an organization’s information systems.

By understanding these threats early on, they can work with security teams to prevent the exploitation of system vulnerabilities.

The work done by cyber security researchers can be applied to any industry and is essential for keeping business networks, financial accounts, government defense systems and other important information systems secure from cyber criminals.

Security researchers often have a background in mathematics or computer science with some exposure to penetration testing. These fields are useful for understanding how information systems function and how they can be broken into.

Commonly referred to as “blue teaming” activities, some security researchers focus solely on keeping malicious actors out of networks or systems, while others concentrate more on finding ways to disable or disrupt malicious activity already underway.

Not all cyber security researchers are alike; each one has their own area of specialization. Some focus on data protection, while others might look at how to protect networks, IoT, wireless networks, mobile devices, etc. And some go even further by specializing in specific types of threats, such as phishing or ransomware attacks.

For organizations to make the necessary security improvements, security researchers must relay how different attack scenarios can affect their products or systems.

Cyber Security Researcher Salary

While there isn’t a lot of information on this position, ZipRecruiter lists the salary range of a cyber security researcher between $53k and $150k with a nationwide average of $115k. presents an average of $96k.

Cyber Security Researcher Skills

To become a good cyber security researcher, you’ll need to develop the following skills:

Passion for Research

This role isn’t a typical 9-to-5 job and will require hours of sitting in front of computers doing endless research. Part of your job will be to research materials that won’t always be found by performing a simple Google search, so prepare to dig deep. You need to love what you do and be able to think outside the box. If you can manage that, then becoming a cyber security researcher may be the right career path for you!

Penetration Testing & Forensics

Being a researcher means you’ll need to identify and analyze different types of threats. And though you’ll mostly likely seek out threats within your area of expertise, you still need the ability to identify how they work (i.e. exploitation techniques, mitigation techniques, who’s behind them, as well the motivation behind the threat). You’ll be using your extensive knowledge of coding and forensic analysis to help you answer these questions.

Keep Your Knowledge Updated

As time goes on, you’ll begin to develop quite a bit of tribal knowledge that should remain as part of your toolkit. Expect to possess knowledge of the latest technologies being used for criminal activity. All your knowledge will be used to perform malware and vulnerability research and reverse engineer them. You’ll be responsible for monitoring the latest developments in malicious software and detection tools, educating businesses about vulnerabilities and risks associated with them, and making recommendations on how businesses can protect themselves against attacks.

Excellent Analytical Skills

If there’s one skill you must absolutely possess as a security researcher, it’s curiosity. If something doesn’t look right, how deep are you willing to dive to figure out the problem? This is where all your research skills really come into good use; expect to analyze an immense amount of data and be able to make decisions based on that analysis. Be prepared to explain your findings in a clear, concise language that can easily be understood by others.

What Does a Cyber Security Researcher Do?

What does a security researcher do? A researcher must be able to design, test, and implement new security systems as well as evaluate the effectiveness of existing systems while recommending upgrades.

Proactive Threat Research

To stay up-to-date with the latest developments in technology, you’ll be expected to research and analyze threats (i.e. malware analysis) using multiple resources:

Reactive Threat Research

Even after threats have breached the system, your job is to investigate threats while working with the incident response team to collect and analyze log data. You may be tasked to understand how the breach entered the system, the method of transmission and attack throughout the network, the damage caused, etc. (i.e. reverse engineering). Throughout the investigation, you’ll try to determine the source of the malware and the exploited vulnerability to prevent such breaches from reoccurring.

Vulnerability Research

You’ll also be expected to work with the ethical hacking team to reverse engineer the organization’s software. You’ve got to understand the current vulnerabilities, the effect software patches have on vulnerabilities (i.e. patch analysis), and report upon the criticality of remaining vulnerabilities. You also need to maintain a relationship with the risk & compliance team to understand how the organization’s vulnerabilities are being addressed.

Tool Development

Cyber security researchers are often responsible for software development to deter and defend against malicious attacks. Using your knowledge of malware and attack vectors, you’ll be working with other IT professionals (from computer science experts who build systems from scratch to programmers who write software code) to help develop software programs designed to better protect against cyber threats.


Documentation will always be part of the job description. You must be able to define and describe the characteristics of the malware and vulnerabilities you encounter so that your information can be relayed to others in your organization or even published for public consumption.

What Tools Does a Cyber Security Researcher Use?

The vast toolkit available to a researcher requires a wide scope of knowledge. That’s because the background of a cyber security researcher usually comes from a combination of penetration testing, malware analysis (reverse engineering), and cyber security analysis skills. It’s good to know what tools work best under different conditions so you have a better understanding of how to analyze different types of threats.

However, since the field of security research is quite large, you’re not expected to become a genius in every tool. As with every other field in security, you can learn to specialize depending on your interest and area of expertise. Here’s a list of some open source and proprietary tools you can start using for free:

  • Machine Code / Binary
  • Programming & Database Languages: (e.g. C/C++, SQL, Java)
  • Scripting Languages: (e.g. JavaScript, Python, PHP, Perl, PowerShell, Ruby)
  • Assembly Languages & Instruction Set Architectures: (e.g. MIPS, ARM, Intel x86, RISC-V)
  • Operating Systems: (e.g. Windows, Linux, Unix, MacOS, Android)
  • Virtual Machines: (e.g. Kernal Virtual Machine, VMware Fusion, Oracle VM VirtualBox, Qemu)
  • Containerization and Orchestration Tools: (e.g. Dockers, Kubernetes)
  • Vulnerability Scanning Tools: (e.g. Wireshark, Nessus, Metasploit, OpenVAS, Nmap)
  • Static Code Analysis Tools: (e.g. SonarQube, Visual Studio)
  • Network Analysis Tools: (e.g. Nagios Core, Cacti)
  • Decryption Tools: (e.g. EmiSoft)
  • SIEM Tools: (e.g. OSSIM, ELK Stack, OSSEC)
  • Memory Dump Analysis Tools: (e.g. LiME, Volatility Foundation, RAMmap)
  • Debugger: (e.g. Ghidra, IDA Pro, WinDbg, radare2)
  • Decompilers and Disassemblers: (e.g. Capstone Engine, Binary Ninja, Hopper Disassembler)
  • Threat Modeling Frameworks: (e.g. MITRE ATT&CK, OWASP Top 10, STRIDE)

The only way you can learn these tools is by getting your hands dirty with them. With each language comes a world of opportunities for learning how different types of malwares affect systems differently. Start with one technology and begin moving towards others.

How to Become a Cyber Security Researcher?

The best way to prepare for a career in cyber security research is by becoming as knowledgeable about the field as possible. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to answer interview questions and handle job responsibilities. Here are several ways to make your way into the field of cyber security research:

Step 1: Determine Your Interest

As we’ve discussed, cyber security research is a large field. Figure out what area of research captures your interest and start learning the aspects of that specialty. For instance, if your area of interest is network security research, you better know your core web and network protocols (e.g. TCP/IP, HTTP/HTTPS, DNS, etc.). Really take the time to learn about each area of specialization then dive right in!

Step 2: Learn the Concepts

Beyond knowing the operating system, start studying the different aspects of information security such as cryptanalysis, computer forensics, penetration testing, security analysis, threat modeling, and reverse engineering techniques. All these concepts will eventually come into play and are very important in your research.

Step 3: Learn the Languages

You do need to understand how computer languages work. Start teaching yourself scripting languages such as Python then slowly making your way backwards by learning C-like languages, assembly language, and then machine code. If you want to know how malware works, then being able to read the language it’s coded in is a major requirement.

Step 4: Take Cyber Security Researcher Courses or Certification Exams

There’s no better way to display your knowledge base than by earning a certification. Don’t think that a certification means you know everything or are an expert; it simply means you’ve dedicated the time to learn the basics. Below are sample of the certifications you can study for:

  • CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker) by EC-Council
  • CPENT (Certified Penetration Testing Professional) by EC-Council
  • PenTest+ by CompTIA
  • OSCP (Offensive Security Certified Professional) by Offensive Security
  • OSCE (Offensive Security Certified Expert) by Offensive Security
  • GXPN (Exploit Researcher and Advanced Penetration Tester) by GIAC
  • GWAPT (Web Application Penetration Tester) by GIAC
  • eLearnSecurity

If you take any educational coursework; even if the course doesn’t offer a certification, it’s still a good way to build your knowledge.

Step 5: Learn the malware

You need to show an interest in learning how malware thrives. Start by learning about the history of malwares and how it has evolved over the decades. Then progress to learning how modern forms of malware operate and learn their detection techniques. Use the tools at your disposal to obtain threat intelligence information; understand the types of malwares and their attack surfaces, methods, paths, patterns, signatures, and intent. In other words, get into the mindset of the hacker and figure out how they thought to develop this threat.

Step 6: Learn the tools and practice

Spend time learning about tools used in cyber security research and how they work (such as the ones mentioned above). While some tools can perform multiple functions, most of them are specialized to a specific area. Take the time to download the open-source tools and work with them in simulated environments. At this stage, you should focus on gaining familiarity with the tools used for reverse engineering. During this process make sure you practice what you’ve learned. Learn to create and infect a virtual machine, then learn how to detect, respond, and reverse engineer it so that the tools become second nature to use.

Step 7: Learn security research trends

Learn about new trends in technology and how they affect cyber security. This includes reading blogs and articles that discuss these topics, talking with peers who are already working in the field, and taking advantage of training resources offered by employers or industry organizations. While the field does involve some individual work, consider being part of a community by joining organizations such as: or to understand issues that other researchers are facing. Take advantage of open-source intelligence (OSINT) tools, capture-the-flag (CTF) events such as Pico CTF, bug bounty programs such as Hackerone, or threat simulators such TryHackMe. While you might be inclined to search the dark web to obtain threat intelligence information (remember to use extreme caution and only observe…never participate), you may be better off scouring more legitimate and reliable sources of information.

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by Amit Doshi

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