A cybersecurity job interview can be similar to a certification test. You need to study, practice, and remember different problems you have experienced and the lessons you learned from them.
Just like any other job interview, having the necessary technical skills is only half of the process. You really need to impress the person sitting in front of you, demonstrate that you know what you are talking about, and add value to the organization. This is your time to shine and put into practice all those soft skills we have mentioned before.
When you meet a recruiter or hiring manager for a cybersecurity role, you will be asked two types of questions: those with the intention of understanding who you are, your background and aspirations, and those designed to determine how well you fit in the position, your cybersecurity knowledge, and experience.
To help you feel more secure for that interview, CyberWarrior Academy came up with a list of the most common questions asked by recruiters and a guide to craft your answers. Remember to add a personal touch by sharing some of your past experiences, even if it’s just something you´ve learned at a lab in a cybersecurity program.
Before going into the technical aspect, we want to encourage you to craft an elevator pitch of who you are. Go over your schooling, background, achievements, skills, and motivations.
Try summarizing the answers to expected questions such as:
- Why are you looking for a job change?
- What are your greatest accomplishments as a cybersecurity professional?
- What assets do you bring to the team?
- What are your weaknesses?
- What was a great challenge at work, and how did you overcome it?
Use this as an opportunity to explain what really motivates you to look for a new position: is it because you want more responsibilities? Maybe you are looking for a better salary? Whatever the reasons are, explain them and go deep into the assets you will bring to the team, your skills (soft and technical), and your impact on those you’ve worked with. Do not forget to explain why you want to work for that organization, and make sure you understand who they are, their products/services, mission, and what makes them different from their competitors.
To make a real impact on your interviewer, take this opportunity to mention the tech blogs you follow, the sites you use to learn about news in the field and comment your thoughts about recent hackings.
Once the interviewer has a better sense of your personal profile and your motivations, you will move on to the next stage: the technical questions. Now is your moment to shine!
This is the time and place to demonstrate your technical knowledge and, more importantly, that you understand how to apply it to real life. As we have said before, do not forget to mention different security situations you have faced, how you solved them, and reverted the damages.
Usually, the technical questions are divided into two categories. The first one is related to fundamental definitions, while the second one is designed to test your ability to apply those concepts in real-life situations.
Theoretical Interview Questions
1. What is the difference between a threat, a vulnerability, and a risk?
Three basic concepts anyone in cybersecurity should be able to differentiate. To summarize what they mean, you can say that: a threat is someone with the potential to harm a system or an organization. A vulnerability is a weakness in a system that can be exploited by a potential hacker (threat). A risk is a potential loss or damage when the vulnerability is exploited.
2. What is Cryptography?
Refers to the techniques used to secure information and communication from third parties or adversaries.
3. Explain the main differences between asymmetric and symmetric encryption
The main difference is that symmetric encryption uses the same key to encrypt and decrypt, while asymmetric encryption uses different keys for encryption and decryption. Asymmetric encryption is commonly used to secure an initial key-sharing conversation, but then the actual conversation is secured using symmetric crypto. Communication using symmetric crypto is usually faster due to the simpler math involved in the encryption/decryption process and because the session setup doesn’t involve PKI certificate checking.
4. What is the difference between IDS and IPS?
IDS refers to the Intrusion Detection System. This will only work detecting intrusions, while the system administrator must take charge and prevent the intrusion. On the other hand, the IPS or Intrusion Prevention System detects the intrusion and prevents it from entering the system.
5. What is CIA?
The CIA triad has nothing to do with the US intelligence agency. In Cybersecurity, mainly in Information Security, CIA stands for Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability. It is a model designed to guide information security policies within an organization, ensuring that the information will only be available or modified by authorized personnel when required.
6. What is the difference between encoding, encrypting, and hashing?
These three terms are commonly interchanged and misused. Encoding involves changing data into a new format using a scheme; it is a reversible process where data can be encoded to a new format and decoded back to its original format. On the other hand, hashing involves computing a fixed-length mathematical summary of data, can’t be reversed, and is commonly used to verify data integrity. While encrypting is the process of securely encoding data and only authorized users with a key or password can decrypt to access the original data.
7. Explain the difference between Penetration Testing and Vulnerability Assessment
Vulnerability assessments are automated scans that identify a range of weaknesses in an organization’s systems. Simultaneously, the Penetration Tests are a more rigorous manual process that can be compared to a form of hacking, designed to identify vulnerabilities and exploit them.
8. What are the differences between HTTPS, SSL, and TLS?
HHTP is the protocol used by browsers and web servers to communicate and exchange information. HTTPS (S stands for SSL) is the secured version of this protocol. TLS is a transport layer security and the successor protocol to SSL.
9. What is Port Scanning?
The technique used to identify open ports and services available on a host. Hackers use it to find information that can help them exploit vulnerabilities, and the system administrators use it to verify their networks’ security policies.
10. Explain traceroute
A traceroute, or tracert, is a computer network diagnostic command that displays possible routes and measures transit delays of packets across an internet protocol network. It basically lists all the points that a packet passes through and can help you identify where a connection stops or breaks.
11. Explain phishing and what practices help prevent it
Phishing is the cybercrime where targets are reached by email, phone, or text message by a hacker posing as a legitimate institution to gain access to sensitive information, such as social security numbers, financial data, and passwords. One of the most common ways to prevent it is to constantly have employees participate in security awareness training to learn to spot phishing and not become a victim. Simulated phishing attacks should follow this to measure the effectiveness of the training.
12. What is a firewall?
A firewall is a network security device that monitors network traffic and blocks data packets depending on a set of security rules.
13. What is a botnet?
Botnet is short for robot network. It is specially designed to perform Distributed Denial of Services (DDoS) attacks, steal data, send spam, and allow hackers to access networks. In other words, a botnet is a network of computers infected by malware that is under the control of an attacking party.
14. Explain brute force attack and how you can prevent it
A brute force attack is a way of gaining access to a system and its data by repetitively trying all the permutations and possible combinations of credentials, all done by automated software. Using strong and unique passwords, restricting access to authentication URLs, limiting login attempts, and using CAPTCHAs are among the most common and best practices to prevent these types of attacks.
15. Explain TCP Three-Way Handshake
It is a TCP/IP network process to make a connection between the server and a client. It’s a three–step process in which the client establishes a connection with a server, the server responds to its request, and the client acknowledges the response to create a stable connection to transfer data.
16. Mention some of the most common cyber-attacks
When you hear this question, it might sound like an easy one, but don’t let pass this opportunity to share your thoughts about recent cyber-attacks. For example, right now, it would be smart to mention an interesting article you read about the SolarWinds attack or how hackers tried to contaminate Florida town’s water supply through a computer breach.
17. Explain the differences between a worm and a virus
Both worms and viruses can cause damage and propagate easily as soon as they have breached a system. The main difference is that viruses must be triggered with a host’s help (human interaction), while worms are stand-alone malicious programs that act independently.
Scenario-Based Interview Questions
For this section of the interview, try mentioning real-life experiences you’ve had, their outcome, and the lessons learned. Here is a short guide of what you should include in each answer.
1. What steps would you take to prevent outdated software from being exploited?
Outdated software is an invitation for hackers to come into your network. The best way to prevent this from happening is to automate every software process as soon as a new version is released.
2. What do you look for when trying to identify a compromised system?
A system usually will “find a way to tell you” it has been compromised. The most common signs include:
- Slow network activity, disconnecting from network services, and/or unusual network traffic.
- Unexplained changes in file sizes, checksums, date/time stamps, especially those related to configuration files.
- Unexplained modification (addition or deletion) of data.
- Unsuccessful login attempts.
- Suspicious entries in the system or network accounting.
- New files and users from unknown origins.
- Port scanning.
- Denial of service activity.
3. How do you secure a server?
- Establish a secure connection using protocols such as HTTPS, FTPs, and SSH Protocol.
- Implement complex passwords and multi-factor authentication policies while educating your employees on this matter.
- Have layers of security for hardware and software such as a VPN, a firewall on every web application and endpoints.
- Keep data, databases, and applications updated and with real-life backups.
- Test the backup process.
- Restrict access to the servers.
- Invest in dedicated servers.
4. How would you reset a password-protected BIOS configuration?
By locating and toggling the BIOS clear or password jumper. If it is not available, then you can try with generic passwords.
5. How do you protect your data?
Mention the best practices you follow at home, at work, and in your daily life to keep your data safe. It will probably include actions like encrypting and backing up data, having an anti-malware system, automating software backups, securing your wireless connections.