How to Become an Incident Responder


Updated October 3, 2022

Interested in an incident responder career? Use this guide to learn about becoming an incident responder, including required education and experience. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Incident responders operate at the intersection of computer forensics, cybersecurity, and criminal justice. They work to intercept cybersecurity threats and prevent future breaches.

Cybersecurity professionals like incident responders can find work in any industry that deals with private or sensitive computer information, including banks, hospitals, and government agencies. Incident responders hold a variety of responsibilities and job titles, including incident manager, cyber incident responder, incident response analyst, and incident response engineer.

This page offers an in-depth exploration of how to become an incident responder. Continue reading to learn about the recommended educational and experiential pathways to securing this position. We've also included several career resources, such as internship opportunities and job boards.

What Is an Incident Responder?

An incident responder's main goal is protecting digital information. They collect intrusion artifacts and mitigate threats to improve cyberdefense. Incident responders also conduct defense analysis. Some of these cybersecurity professionals write security guidance and techniques.

Incident responders bolster protections against the constant influx of malware and phishing. Industries like computer systems design; credit intermediation; and management, scientific, and technical consulting employ high numbers of information security analysts, including incident responders.

Effective incident responders develop a number of core competencies, including computer forensics, computer network defense, and threat analysis. These professionals develop their skills through postsecondary studies and internship or work experience.

Required Education for Incident Responders

Prospective incident responders can prepare for careers in cyberdefense by pursuing cybersecurity degrees.

Bachelor's degrees in cybersecurity focus on fundamental skills like data analysis, data security, cryptography, and identity management. Enrollees also improve their problem-solving, technical, and communication skills. Many internet security jobs require a bachelor's degree. After graduating, students can pursue career opportunities, advanced degrees, and industry certifications.

Master's degrees in cybersecurity explore more advanced concepts in the field and allow students to specialize their knowledge. Learners study complex issues like foundations of algorithms, information assurance, and cryptology. Some master's programs offer specializations in security systems or cybersecurity analysis. Master's degrees typically meet the preferred educational requirements for advanced and management-level positions.

Doctoral degrees in cybersecurity offer candidates opportunities to conduct advanced research and publish their findings. Students often collaborate with peers and program faculty as they research and write dissertations on cybersecurity that contribute to this ever-evolving field. Ph.D. graduates can work in the field or teach and research in higher education.

After earning their desired degrees, prospective incident responders must also apply their knowledge to the workforce and gain job experience.

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Required Experience for Incident Responders

Incident responders rely on soft and hard skills to effectively secure information for their employing organizations. Industry experience lets cybersecurity professionals hone their skills and prepare for work in incident response.

The following soft skills can help incident responders excel in their field:

  • Attention to detail
  • Customer service
  • Oral communication
  • Problem-solving

Prospective incident responders also need industry-specific hard skills such as:

  • System control
  • Security monitoring
  • System administration
  • Cybercapability integration

There is no single path to becoming an incident responder. Many different roles can offer valuable experience. Cybersecurity professionals can master industry skills by working in positions like secure software assessor, vulnerability assessment analyst, or security architect.

Internship Opportunities

Internships also offer prospective incident responders opportunities to hone industry skills. Below, we've gathered several internship opportunities that can offer relevant experience for future incident responders.

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Required Certifications for Incident Responders

Earning certifications in cybersecurity can make incident responders more competitive in the job market. These certifications offer specialized training in niche areas of cybersecurity and verify professionals' expertise. Cyber certifications can help professionals meet preferred qualifications for high-level positions.

Independent industry organizations and schools offer certifications. Some bachelor's and master's programs offer opportunities for academic certification within program coursework. Professionals can also pursue training through cybersecurity bootcamps, which may offer intensive certificate preparation.

The cybersecurity certification programs listed below offer focused study in cybersecurity foundational principles, best practices, important tools, and latest technologies.

  • GIAC Security Essentials Certification: This program provides an introduction to cybersecurity, including basic terminology and concepts. It concludes with a proctored exam. The GSEC can help professionals attain entry-level employment in information security.
  • Systems Security Certified Practitioner: This certification from (ISC)² focuses on advanced technical skills for implementing, monitoring, and administering IT infrastructure. Enrollees must pass an exam and maintain membership with annual fees. The SSCP credential can help professionals advance more quickly in their careers.
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional: The (ISC)² CISSP certification is an advanced credential that demonstrates competency with cybersecurity design, implementation, and management. Some companies require employees to hold certifications like CISSP to qualify for advanced and management-level roles.

How Do I Become an Incident Responder?

Securing a job as an incident responder requires a mix of education and experience. Earning a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity meets the requirements for most entry-level security roles and allows graduates to start applying their skills right away. Candidates may need several years of entry-level experience before applying to incident response positions.

Graduate degrees in cybersecurity paired with internships and certifications can also demonstrate competency and industry readiness. Professionals with advanced credentials may be able to apply directly for incident response positions, depending on organizational requirements.

Continue reading for more detailed steps on how to become an incident responder.

Steps to Becoming an Incident Responder

  1. Bachelor's Degree in Cybersecurity: Undergraduate degrees provide a foundation of theory and best practices for the cybersecurity field. Full-time students typically complete these degrees in four years. Prospective incident responders should pursue bachelor's degrees in cybersecurity, information security, computer forensics, or related fields.
  2. Cybersecurity Internship: As a part of — or in addition to — a bachelor's program, learners should seek internship experiences to apply their skills and knowledge. Internships through academic institutions may satisfy program or practicum experience requirements. Industry internships like those offered through CISA, DHS, or the NSA can provide pay and valuable experience.
  3. Master's Degree in Cybersecurity: Graduate programs in cybersecurity help potential incident responders demonstrate advanced knowledge of cyberdefense concepts. Master's degrees usually take 1-2 years of full-time study and may require a culminating thesis or research project.
  4. Certification: Professionals can also hone their incident response skills through certification programs. Whether university-affiliated or independently operated, certification programs can satisfy the preferred job qualifications for incident response positions and leadership roles in cybersecurity.
  5. Work Experience: Even with a strong educational foundation, professionals may need to accrue experience through entry-level cybersecurity roles. Working as an IT support specialist or security specialist can help graduates practice valuable skills like security monitoring and administration before finding work as an incident responder.

Should I Become an Incident Responder?

For detail-oriented technology lovers, an incident response job can be a rewarding career path with opportunities for challenging, dynamic daily work.

Incident response and cybersecurity careers offer higher-than-average salaries with a strong employment outlook: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports information security analysts earn a median salary of $102,600 as of 2021. The BLS also projects a 33% growth in employment for this occupation from 2020 to 2030.

If you think a career in incident response may be right for you, consider the following factors and explore the resources that we have compiled below.

Pros of Becoming an Incident Responder

Cons of Becoming an Incident Responder

Stimulating, impactful cyberdefense work

Potential for high stress and personal responsibility

Transferable, in-demand skills

Many years of education and experience needed to develop necessary skills

Diverse, evolving cybersecurity challenges

Constant refreshing of skills required to stay up-to-date on best practices and new threats

Plentiful opportunities for specialization and certification

Potentially costly industry memberships and continuing education requirements

The Job Hunt

CISA offers helpful resources, including resume tips and hiring events. They also have employment opportunities for students and recent graduates. This cybersecurity-specific job search platform features categorized listings for many careers in the field, including incident responders. This resource covers careers in cybersecurity, IT governance, and technology risk. This site features job postings from top tech employers. This job board offers products, job fairs, and resources to help cybersecurity professionals secure careers. Applicants on this site must hold U.S. citizenship and maintain current security clearance. This resource serves women seeking jobs in the cybersecurity field. In addition to job boards, the organization offers skill development programs and mentorship opportunities.

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Resources for Future Incident Responders


What Is an Incident Responder?

Explore the job duties and responsibilities of an incident responder and learn about their role in cybersecurity.
Learn More

Salary and Career Outlook for Incident Responders

This page details career prospects for incident responders and how factors like location and industry can impact salary and employment.
Learn More

Day in the Life of an Incident Responder

Follow this link to learn about the typical daily activities of an incident responder.
Learn More

Certifications for Incident Responders

This page details the certifications that give incident responders an edge in the job market and in the workplace.
Learn More

Questions About Incident Responders

What is incident response training?

Incident responders learn their essential job skills through cybersecurity education and/or industry experience. Some of those skills include threat detection, malware interception, and risk management.

Is it hard to become an incident responder?

Because incident responder positions are usually not entry-level, qualifying for work in incidence response can take several years. Often, prospective incident responders need extensive education — including degrees and industry certifications — and job experience.

What makes a good incident responder?

The best incident responders are detail-oriented problem-solvers and possess a strong foundation in cybersecurity best practices.

Are there other names for incident responders?

Depending on the employing organization, incident responders may also be known as incident managers, cyber incident responders, incident response analysts, and incident response engineers.

Featured Image: Nitat Termmee / Moment / Getty Images

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