10 Common Cybersecurity Interview Questions

10 Common Cybersecurity Interview Questions was originally published on Forage.

While you make your way along the cybersecurity career path, you’ll probably sit through a few interviews. And, more likely than not, you’ll be asked some common cybersecurity interview questions. Even though they’re common, that doesn’t mean you should create an answer on the fly.

Below are 10 common cybersecurity interview questions, along with a brief explanation of what the interviewer may be looking for in your answer.

Cybersecurity Engineer vs. Cybersecurity Analyst

Before reviewing common cybersecurity interview questions, let’s go over the difference between a cybersecurity analyst and a cybersecurity engineer.

Cybersecurity engineers design network security. For example, they set up firewalls or design login protocols. But they might also work in real-time, fending off an attack as it happens.

Cybersecurity analysts analyze and test the solutions the engineers implemented. Analysts try to poke holes in the security and may even actively hack their own system to see how well it holds up.

>>MORE: What Is Cybersecurity?

That said, cybersecurity engineer interview questions and cybersecurity analyst interview questions often overlap or are identical. Depending on the position you’re applying for, though, you’ll tailor your answer accordingly.

10 Common Interview Questions for Cybersecurity Roles

No matter what kind of cybersecurity role you’re interviewing for, here are 10 common interview questions you’re likely to encounter.

1. What is cryptography?

The dictionary definition of cryptography is, essentially, writing and solving codes. While that answer is technically correct, it’s probably not the answer you want to give in a cybersecurity interview.

In this case, cryptography is when cybersecurity pros use algorithms and other methods to keep sensitive user information (like passwords and social security numbers) safe from anyone who shouldn’t have that information. There are different types of cryptography, like public keys and hash functions, and each is implemented differently.

2. What’s the difference between IDS and IPS?

IDS stands for intrusion detection system, while IPS stands for intrusion protection system. Both monitor network traffic but protect your systems differently.

An IDS analyzes network traffic for suspicious or known signs of trouble. When it flags something, the appropriate people are notified, but traffic to the network does not stop. An IPS also monitors traffic for trouble. However, the IPS stops all traffic when it finds something unusual or suspicious.

3. What is CIA?

This is not a trick question! Your interviewer is not asking about the CIA, though we’d understand if you thought that for a second. CIA is a model for developing cybersecurity policies. It stands for:

Confidentiality: Making sure private information stays private.

Integrity: Ensuring your data remains trustworthy, meaning it isn’t tampered with.

Availability: Allowing people to access what they need when they need it.

This framework allows the team to address and protect each area while ensuring they work in unison. You want a system that’s confidential and maintains its integrity, but it does you no good if no one can access that information because you’re trying to maintain confidentiality and integrity.

4. What is traceroute?

As the name implies, traceroute is when you trace the route data travels from source to destination on the internet. As an example, when you log into an account from your computer, that information travels through multiple devices, networks, and routers. A traceroute traces the route that information takes from your computer to the system you’re logging into.

But if this cybersecurity interview question comes up, the interviewer likely isn’t asking because they’re wondering if you know what traceroute is. They want to see if you know how hackers exploit traceroute.

Essentially, hackers run a traceroute to identify the systems and routers you use, then exploit that information to hack your system

5. What is a brute force attack, and how can you prevent one?

A brute force attack is when a hacker tries a variety of username and password combos in an attempt to hack an account. The hacker may have half the information (say, a username) and is using trial and error to figure out the other half.

There are several ways to slow down or prevent brute force attacks:

  • Hide the login page
  • Require 2FA logins
  • Increase password length
  • Require more complex passwords
  • Lock the user out after X failed attempts

6. How do you secure a server?

There are tons of ways to secure a server, such as:

  • Using SSL
  • Private networks and VPNs
  • Setting password and login expirations
  • Firewalls
  • Hiding server information

And many, many, more.

This cybersecurity interview question is asking which methods you prefer and why. Your answer may change based on the type of server you’re securing, so don’t be afraid to ask for additional details before answering.

7. What’s the difference between a threat, vulnerability, and risk?

A threat is a potential problem, but one that hasn’t caused damage — yet! An example would be a phishing email. There’s potentially a problem, but only if someone opens or responds to the email.

A vulnerability is a weakness in the system that can be exploited by a threat. That can include things like not using SSL or using (and reusing) weak passwords. But it can also include physical threats, like leaving doors unlocked or disgruntled employees.

Risk is the potential damage a vulnerability plus risk can cause. If someone opens a phishing email, clicks the link, and “resets” their password, how much damage could that cause to your entire system?

8. How are hashing and encrypting different? What about hashing and salting?

The easiest way to remember the difference is that encryption protects data while it’s moving, and hashing protects data while it’s stored.

In the larger picture, encryption is a two-way function. It scrambles data, so it can’t be read without the key. You encrypt the data before it’s sent, and the receiver is the only one with the key. This way, if it’s intercepted, no one else can decode it.

Hashing also scrambles data but with a different intent. Because hashed data is stored (like when a retailer keeps your credit card on file), there’s no “decoder ring,” making it a one-way function. Hashing the data proves it’s authentic and hasn’t been altered. But anyone who hacks the hashed data should not be able to decode it.

Salting is done in addition to hashing. When you salt the hash, you add additional, random characters to the hash to make it even harder to decode.

9. Explain the difference between a penetration test and a vulnerability assessment.

A vulnerability assessment identifies the flaws in your current system that make it vulnerable. From those results, you prioritize what should happen and in which order.

A penetration test is also known as “ethical hacking.” In a penetration test, you (or people you hire) hack your system to find the flaws and explain how the vulnerability was exploited.

10. What are the different kinds of data leaks?

Data leaks can be put into three buckets:

  • Accidental
  • Intentional
  • Hacked

Accidental data leaks happen when someone accidentally gives away privileged information. For example, sending an email with a confidential attachment to the wrong person or losing a laptop that isn’t password protected are accidental leaks.

Intentional data leaks happen when someone purposely leaks privileged data (like when people give secret documents to WikiLeaks).

Hacked data leaks happen when the system is breached, and the hackers obtain confidential information.

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