Thriving as an app security engineer: 6 reasons to work in cybersecurity

December 7, 2022

Although the application security (app sec) role can seem the same in every industry, it's not. Businesses operating in general industries offer fewer possibilities for comprehensive professional growth than security-focused companies. That was the case for Marvin Petzolt, a Senior Application Security Engineer at Nord Security, who jumped from an application security engineer role at a music-sharing business to a security-oriented company. Let Marvin tell us in his own words what factors make app sec professionals thrive at our company.

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Marvin Petzolt, Senior Application Security Engineer at Nord Security

#1 You make an impact

Many people, including me, enjoy working at a place where you can make an impact. As an app security engineer at Nord, I can influence security design and the implementation of some of the greatest cybersecurity products in the industry – NordVPN, NordPass, NordLayer, and NordLocker. By ensuring high-security standards for each product, I contribute to building meaningful, user-friendly, and security-centric consumer solutions valued by millions of people and businesses worldwide.

However, having a tangible impact on security products is not the only way I can make a difference. My security recommendations and guidelines are also taken into account when improving business operations or team workflow. For example, when I joined the Application Security team, we would be notified of upcoming Nord product updates mainly via our automatization and notification bots. However, this approach left us very little time between security testing of the upcoming feature and release to production, which naturally increased pressure on the team.

So I initiated the concept of security product owners, establishing a bi-directional exchange between a specific Nord product and the Application Security team. This concept allowed us to improve communication between developers, team leads, and the Application Security team.

We’re now notified about upcoming changes significantly earlier, leaving us enough time for all the necessary app security tests.

#2 You can reach your full professional potential

The truth is that being an application security specialist in the general industry doesn’t let you reach your full professional potential due to the limited app security cases and tasks you’re working on. This was one of the key reasons why I left a promising application security engineer role at one of the best-known music-sharing companies. There I was securing mainly one app, so the security issues that challenged me were limited.

I wanted to face different app security cases, advance my career, and concentrate more on technical work, security design, and cryptography – things I’m passionate about.

A security-focused company like Nord Security, with its wide range of applications and potential for different security cases, seemed like a natural solution to fulfill all these goals.

#3 You work with meaningful products and interesting challenges

At Nord Security, I’m contributing to building meaningful products – such as NordVPN, NordPass, NordLayer, and NordLocker – that secure people and businesses online.

Most of the time, I focus on cryptography, security architecture, and low-level, client-side implementations. I perform occasional design reviews, threat model sessions, pentesting of features and release candidates, and security code reviews.

Still, my tasks are pretty diverse and depend on what I want to work on. One day I might look into NordLocker’s architecture and how it will encrypt files in the future. The next day, I’ll focus on reviewing the code of NordVPN’s Meshnet feature, establishing a peer-to-peer connection between two endpoints to exchange data or route internet traffic to verify that it is implemented securely. I’ll sometimes also do a black-box security assessment on the NordPass Android release client.

#4 You work with an experienced team

Working in a security-centric company like Nord Security, you can be sure that you'll always be guided by some of the best professionals in the cybersecurity field.

If you're facing a challenging situation that is too difficult or complex for you to cope with on your own, the whole Application Security team comes in to help. The team member with the most experience assesses the issue based on severity and validity. If it’s valid, as a team, we determine how we can support in escalating this issue and jump in to help resolve it as fast as possible.

One of the most useful insights I have received from my team is that an app sec professional doesn't have to know or be involved in all aspects of the team’s work. Application security has many subcategories and specializations, such as Windows Security, Linux Security, Android, and iOS security. It's hard enough to keep up with one specialization, but keeping up with all of them is nearly impossible. So it's OK not to be an expert in all of these technologies, and this is where you can rely on the other members of your team.

Another valuable tip – don't over-complicate. Keep it user-friendly. The perfect security solution usually doesn't exist or comes with a heavy impact on the user experience. Having a 32-character password requirement or providing your biometric authentication for every action you take on the app doesn't help anybody. So it is important to focus on realistic threats and put minor theoretical risks aside for later.

Finally, my team taught me how important it is to keep the cryptographic systems simple. When designing a cryptographic system, the key is to keep it as simple as possible so that anybody can understand it and be able to securely extend this system. The more features and changes are added, the more complex the system becomes. That's why it is necessary to redesign and realign the cryptographic design from the ground up to better fit the new requirements. If you don't do that, you have a design that nobody understands. That makes it impossible to apply the necessary security and confidentiality measures.

#5 You are given opportunities to learn

If you're just starting out in an app security position, coming from a slightly different field, such as web or cloud security, or simply want to learn more, even in a senior position, your team and the whole company will be there to help you grow.

If you're a newbie, one member of your team will become your onboarding buddy, helping you to get up to speed with everything that is going on in the Application Security team. Additionally, you will be provided with a dedicated document leading you through your 30- and 90-day milestones and a checklist of all the tools and access you require to get started.

To keep our team performing at its best, we have knowledge-sharing sessions, pairing sessions, and daily standups. All this helps us stay updated on each other's work, share best practices, and sharpen our skills in the app security field. As a team, we also have a Friday tradition of "self-allocated time" when we learn something new. What we choose to learn can be anything from technologies, reading blog posts, news articles, or methodologies. Did you ever want to learn how to develop iOS applications or do a CTF? Then self-allocated time is meant for that.

Collaboration with other teams also has a huge impact on advancing your expertise in app security. It improves your soft skills and teaches effective communication about the risks and severities of security issues. It also gives you a direct connection to developers, which means that they will come to you with questions and concerns during the development process. In turn, it gives you a unique inside look into the technical foundation of the developed software. Just like that, I learned new technologies and programming languages on the fly since they were required to understand the source code and implementation details.

At the company level, we have knowledge-sharing events. One such example is Tech Days, allowing our people to stay in tune with the latest tech and cybersecurity news, trends, and advancements.

Nord Security also offers a personal development budget that can be used for training or certifications, helping us improve in our field. Moreover, teams often visit various conferences, such as Black Hat, to keep a finger on the pulse of the latest in the field of information security.

Last but not least, everybody can have their own personal development plan. It helps me stay aligned with the overall goals of the security team and how my part might fit in the bigger picture. Personally, I would like to dive even deeper into security architecture and cryptography, so I have aligned this goal on my personal development plan in cooperation with my manager.

#6 You don’t have to convince everyone of the importance of security

As an app security specialist, you understand that security should be a top priority in every company. And if you ask a company about it, of course, they will indicate security is their number one priority but is this actually true? From my experience, you always end up arguing with product managers, product owners, and engineering managers about security improvements. Yet, in a company that has security as its main selling point, it becomes easier to motivate security changes and push people in the right direction.

All these reasons are why application security professionals thrive at Nord Security. If you also want to advance your career in this field, join the Application Security team in Lithuania, Germany, or remotely by applying HERE.