Break into Cybersecurity: The Complete Internship Guide 2024

So you want to break into the exciting field of cybersecurity? As with any industry, getting your foot in the door through an internship can be the best way to launch your career. Cybersecurity internships allow you to gain hands-on experience, build your network, and stand out to future employers.

But with so many companies and positions out there, how do you choose the right internship opportunity? This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know to land your dream cybersecurity internship.


Why Do a Cybersecurity Internship?

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Let’s start by reviewing the key benefits of doing a cybersecurity internship:

Gain Valuable Experience

An internship allows you to put your classroom knowledge to work in a real-world setting. You’ll get exposure to the latest technologies and approaches used by cybersecurity professionals. Whether it’s detecting threats, analyzing data, or developing security tools, you’ll build hands-on skills that appeal to employers.

You’ll learn what it’s like to work on a security team, collaborating cross-functionally to protect infrastructure. This process understanding is invaluable compared to solely academic projects. You can better grasp how various roles like security engineering, analytics, and incident response fit together in an organization.

Hands-on experience also helps you determine what aspects of cybersecurity you most enjoy. Finding your niche early allows you to take more targeted coursework and certifications. It ensures you pursue opportunities post-graduation that leverage your strengths and interests.


Explore Specific Interests

From application security to incident response, cybersecurity is a vast field. An internship lets you experience a specific role or industry to determine what you enjoy. You may find a passion for health IT security or defense contractor work that shapes your career path.

For example, you may intern with a penetration testing team and realize you love the thrill of hacking into systems to uncover weaknesses. The autonomy and creativity involved in pen testing may appeal to you more than compliance-driven security analyst work.

Alternatively, an internship embedded with a product development team could spark interest in building security into software from the ground up. You may discover you enjoy working closely with engineers to instill security-by-design versus defending finished products.

Trying different cybersecurity roles during internships helps reveal preferences early on. This steers your career toward opportunities better aligned with your interests long-term.


Build Your Professional Network

During an internship, you’ll collaborate with and learn from experienced cybersecurity experts. These professionals can become mentors who provide career advice and industry connections. Your coworkers and managers from the internship may even help refer you to openings later on.

For example, suppose you intern with Dell’s security team. Your manager there previously worked at Cisco. When you apply for a job at Cisco after graduating, your former manager could put in a good word and shortcut the hiring process.

Networking plays a huge role in cybersecurity hiring since the community is still small despite growth. A current employee vouching for you as an intern carries weight compared to blindly applying. The relationships built add momentum to your post-graduation job search.


Get a Job Offer

Many companies use their cybersecurity internship program as a recruiting pipeline for full-time talent. Interns who perform well often receive job offers to continue on as regular employees post-graduation. Converting an internship to a full-time job saves you from having to interview elsewhere.

For example, you may intern with Capital One’s cyberteam. If you impress them over the summer with your work ethic and quick learning, they’ll likely extend a return offer. This gives you peace of mind about landing a full-time job already versus anxiously sending out applications senior year.

Government agencies like the NSA or FBI also frequently hire from their intern pool. Once you obtain the security clearance as an intern, it makes you a prime candidate for a permanent role.


Earn Money

Unlike some other industries, most cybersecurity internships are paid positions. The average hourly wage for cybersecurity interns is $23.26, according to Glassdoor. Earning a paycheck while gaining experience is a win-win situation.

Given the technical skills required, companies understand they must offer competitive compensation to attract cybersecurity interns. Don’t shy away from negotiating pay during the offer stage if you feel you warrant a higher rate based on qualifications.

Getting paid also allows you to focus on the internship full-time rather than balancing another part-time job. You can immerse yourself in the experience rather than get distracted trying to make ends meet.


Types of Cybersecurity Internships

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Now that you know the benefits, let’s examine the types of cybersecurity internship roles available:


Technical cybersecurity internships involve hands-on work securing systems and networks. Example projects include penetration testing, monitoring infrastructure for threats, developing security tools, and responding to incidents. These roles allow you to sharpen your hard skills.

As a technical intern, you may be given access to a simulated environment to safely experiment. For example, you could test breaking into a virtual server and then harden it against the methods you used. This teaches you attack and defense tactics.

Alternatively, you may support more advanced analysts by gathering and processing data. For example, reviewing firewall logs for anomalies and reporting anything suspicious for senior staff to investigate. This hones your threat detection abilities.

Technical internships appeal to those comfortable diving into systems and tools. The hands-on nature keeps you engaged as you tangibly see the security concepts you’re learning.



Policy-focused cybersecurity internships deal with governance, compliance, and frameworks. You may help audit systems against standards, research regulations, support certification efforts, or document security policies. These roles build knowledge of legal and regulatory matters.

For example, you could benchmark a company’s practices against ISO 27001 or NIST Cybersecurity Framework controls. By mapping their current state, gaps requiring remediation become visible. You learn how to interpret standards in a business context.

Alternatively, you may assist security and compliance teams with processes like system authorization or ATO. Following stringent protocols teaches attention to detail with governance requirements.

You may also help evaluate new regulations from entities like the EU, researching their implications on the organization. This develops your understanding of the evolving legal landscape.

Those interested in risk management and governance thrive in policy-oriented cybersecurity internships. The work satisfies those who value order, frameworks, and caution.



For a big-picture view of cybersecurity, operations internships revolve around risk management, strategy, and processes. You could assist with activities like security assessments, awareness training, vendor evaluations, and business continuity planning.

For example, you may compile threat intelligence to create a risk matrix showing the most pressing dangers to the organization. This teaches you to quantify threats and vulnerabilities.

Alternatively, you could draft disaster recovery plans detailing how systems recover after incidents. Developing playbooks instills preparedness best practices.

Operations roles suit those who think broadly and see cybersecurity’s impact on overall business objectives. You develop a well-rounded outlook going beyond just technical controls.



If you’re interested in the business side, sales and marketing cybersecurity internships exist too. You may help companies promote their security products/services, pitch to potential customers, or analyze market trends.

For instance, you could create collateral highlighting the key benefits and differentiators of your company’s offerings. Honing these sales skills establishes a foundation for account executive roles post-graduation.

Alternatively, you may research competitors and shifting customer needs. For example, surveying potential users about must-have features for a new secure messaging application. You would learn product marketing approaches.

Sales and marketing internships appeal to those excited by business aspects like customer value propositions and product positioning. They offer diverse cybersecurity exposure beyond hands-on technical work.


Top Cybersecurity Internship Programs

The companies and government agencies below offer notable cybersecurity internship experiences:

  • IBM Security – As a giant in the tech industry, IBM has security internship opportunities across the globe. You can gain experience in penetration testing, incident response, and application security. IBM looks for students with hands-on skills like competitive hacking or coding.
  • Palo Alto Networks – This network security company is headquartered in Santa Clara, California and has an excellent global internship program. You’ll get to work on firewalls, cloud security, and cutting-edge threat prevention technologies. Palo Alto Networks wants candidates with high technical aptitude who can learn swiftly.
  • Amazon Web Services – AWS hires security interns to help protect their massive cloud computing services. You could work on encryption, infrastructure security, or identity and access management. AWS values candidates who think innovatively and seek out emerging technologies.
  • Microsoft – At Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington campus, you can intern with various security teams. Example projects include improving Office 365 defenses and protecting Azure cloud services. Microsoft looks for well-rounded critical thinkers who actively collaborate.
  • Accenture – The consulting firm Accenture offers cybersecurity internships focused on security strategy, risk management, and compliance. You’ll gain experience advising major corporate clients. Accenture wants articulate candidates who synthesize insights well.
  • NSA – The National Security Agency is a U.S. government intelligence agency that hires talented cybersecurity interns. You’ll work on national security systems and advanced data protection approaches. NSA recruits STEM-focused candidates who value mission over all else.
  • FBI – The Federal Bureau of Investigation brings on cybersecurity interns to help combat cybercrime. You may work on digital forensics, tracking cyber criminals globally, and analyzing malware. The FBI seeks detail-oriented candidates with unwavering ethics.


How to Get a Cybersecurity Internship

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Ready to land an awesome cybersecurity internship? Follow these steps:

Pick Companies and Roles

Research cybersecurity companies and narrow down ones you’re interested in. Browse their websites for internship postings and see if they offer opportunities aligned with your goals. Location, duration, projects, and learning potential are things to consider.

For example, you may want a highly technical role working on penetration testing, which consulting firms like Deloitte offer. Alternatively, you may value visibility into business strategy, in which case a product company like Symantec may appeal more.

If location is paramount, target companies situated in your desired city. Certain firms like IBM hire thousands of interns annually, giving you geographic flexibility. Think through your priorities before applying broadly.


Beef Up Your Resume

Highlight any prior relevant experience like class projects, coding knowledge, or security club leadership. List coursework related to concepts like networking and operating systems. Include technical skills and certifications that make you a competitive applicant.

For example, put your student research analyzing malware or building secure applications on your resume. Showcase specific languages like Python or web frameworks like Ruby on Rails you have expertise in.

Align extracurriculars like cyber defense competitions with the general capabilities most roles require, such as teamwork and quick learning.


Show Passion

In your cover letter and interview, convey genuine passion for cybersecurity. Share how you got interested in the field and why it excites you. Provide examples of initiative like tinkering with Raspberry Pis or participating in CTF contests.

Discuss cybersecurity books or blogs you follow to demonstrate authentic interest. Predictable questions like “why this field” become convincing when you make personal connections.

At career fairs, stand out by specifically addressing companies’ security offerings and needs. Research helps custom pitches resonate better.


Apply Early

Start applying several months before your target internship period. While some companies hire year-round, cybersecurity internships tend to be competitive. Give yourself time in case you need to expand your search.

Don’t wait for spring to start seeking summer internships – many teams begin interviewing in fall. Apply for roles the prior semester so you’re ready to interview early. Starting your search early rather than waiting prevents missed opportunities.


Get References

Secure recommendations from professors, prior managers/supervisors, or other professionals who can vouch for you. References help validate your abilities to companies. Reach out to them early on since quality recommendations take time.

Ask those who’ve seen you succeed through classes or work experiences. For example, a systems administrator you shadowed can speak to your technical aptitude just as well as a course professor.

Provide references with background on the roles you’re applying for and projects you’ve worked on. Make it easy for them to highlight relevant skills in their recommendations.


Prepare for Interviews

Study basic cybersecurity concepts including the OSI model, common threats like phishing and DDoS attacks, and landmark standards like NIST 800-53 so you can demonstrate knowledge. Remember to dress professionally and practice answering common internship interview questions.

Research your target companies in-depth before interviewing so you can speak intelligently about their offerings and priorities. Understanding their business and security pain points demonstrates commitment.

Practice responding to technical questions that test problem-solving abilities. For example, how to approach investigating a malware infection or improving a weak password policy. Being able to think through issues out loud is key.


Follow Up Appropriately

Send thank you notes to your interviewers afterwards and check in if you haven’t heard back after 1-2 weeks. Be patient and professional if awaiting a decision. Persistence and politeness can pay off!

Ask smart questions when following up, like “What are the next steps in the hiring process?” and “When do you expect to make a final decision?” This shows your continued interest.

Keep a spreadsheet to track applications and schedule follow-ups accordingly. Organized, appropriate follow-up is pivotal to success. Don’t let applications go silent.


Making the Most of Your Internship

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Got an offer? Here are tips to thrive during your cybersecurity internship:

  • Ask Questions – Don’t be shy about asking your manager or teammates for clarification. It’s better to ask questions and learn rather than make mistakes. Admitting uncertainty shows maturity.
  • Take Initiative – Volunteer for extra projects and be proactive. This shows drive beyond just completing assigned tasks. Come up with ideas to improve team processes or offer to draft knowledge base articles.
  • Learn the Culture – Observe how team members collaborate and communicate. Pay attention to workplace norms so you can integrate more smoothly. For example, notice if certain meeting etiquette is expected.
  • Network Internally – Get to know professionals across the organization. They can become great connections even if you’re not working with them directly. Attend cross-team lunches or volunteer for special projects to expand your network.
  • Absorb Everything – Learn the company’s tools, processes, and approaches. The more you soak up, the more valuable experience gained. Become a sponge – don’t miss opportunities to build your skills.
  • Manage Time Well – Juggle your internship responsibilities along with other commitments like classes. Display time management and organizational abilities. Use calendars and task lists to stay disciplined.
  • Document Experience – Keep a detailed record of your tasks, achievements, and skills learned. This will be helpful when updating your resume and speaking about the internship in future interviews. Quantify contributions like “Detected 50 phishing emails” wherever possible.
  • Ask About Full-Time – If you excel, tactfully express interest in coming on board permanently. Many companies make offers to star interns. Near the end, schedule time with your manager to discuss the possibility.
  • Get Feedback – Before wrapping up your internship, schedule time with your manager to discuss your performance. Learn what you did well and areas to improve. Ask how you can grow your skills moving forward.


Next Steps After Your Internship

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Once you’ve completed a cybersecurity internship, here are next steps to continue building an amazing career:

  • Update your resume and LinkedIn to showcase your internship experience and new skills mastered. Ask coworkers to provide recommendations online. Quantify achievements whenever possible.
  • Reflect on what roles you enjoyed most to focus your cybersecurity job search. Use lessons learned to find positions aligned with your strengths. An analytics internship may steer you toward monitoring roles.
  • If you impressed your internship company, keep in touch with managers about full-time opportunities. Make sure to highlight tangible contributions that had impact during your program.
  • Check with your school’s career center for job/internship leads and campus recruiting events. Many companies specifically target recent graduates. Career fairs often have special sections only for those graduating soon.
  • Attend local technology meetups and cybersecurity conferences. Keep learning and grow your industry network. Follow popular Thought Leaders on social media that share valuable insights.
  • Consider additional certifications like the CISSP or CEH to increase your credibility for cyber roles. Choose certs respected by employers seeking the knowledge you specialized in during your internship.
  • If needed, apply for other cybersecurity internships that offer experiences your previous one didn’t. For example, cross-train in governance after a technical role.
  • Develop a professional online presence by starting a website, blog, or portfolio highlighting your projects and expertise. This builds your personal brand in the field.
  • Join professional associations like ISSA, ISACA, or OWASP that provide networking events and career development resources. Take advantage of student memberships.


By interning in cybersecurity, you jumpstart your career and position yourself for success in this high-demand field. Follow these tips to get your foot in the door with an amazing internship opportunity. The hands-on experience, network connections, and resume boost will pay dividends throughout your career.


What skills are most important for a cybersecurity internship?
Technical skills like networking, systems, and programming are foundational. Equally important are problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and a strong drive to learn.
Entry-level certs like Security+, CySA+, and CEH demonstrate baseline knowledge. More advanced ones like CISSP and CCSP require work experience.
It’s not required, but IT experience is helpful context before specializing in security. Familiarity with networks, servers, OS’s, etc. enables deeper learning.
No, some roles focus on policy, governance, risk management, and other non-technical aspects of security programs. Consider what interests you most.
Technical majors like computer science, information systems, and computer engineering are common, but other STEM and business majors apply successfully too.
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