top of page

Security Engineer Interview Questions (with answers) That Matter

Updated: Jun 30

Security engineer interview questions are getting tougher by the day, thanks to the sheer number of applications that recruiters receive. No one’s going to ask you basic questions. So, we’re not going to bother with them.

10 Important Security Engineer Interview Questions

We’re only going to look at 10 questions.

There’s a method to our madness. We are a job board. So, the way these questions are designed is a bit different. We started with a huge list of skills and experiences that recruiters are currently looking for. The questions are designed to see if you have those skills and to understand your depth in those skills.

For each question, we’ll have three sections.

  1. Why is this question asked?

  2. An example answer

  3. What makes this a good answer?

For the example answers, we’re using a persona. So, your experience might not exactly match the answers given here. That’s where the third section comes in. For each answer, we look at what makes it a good answer. That way, you can simply cover the points there and weave your experience into it.

Let’s get started.

10 Important Security Engineer Interview Questions

Can you explain how you would design a secure system architecture for a distributed application? What protocols, techniques, and frameworks would you consider?

Why is this question asked?

Designing secure system architectures for distributed applications is a critical task in the cybersecurity domain.

This question is asked to evaluate your understanding of relevant protocols, techniques, and frameworks, and your ability to apply them practically. The interviewer is probing your in-depth knowledge of security principles and your capacity to ensure data protection and system resilience.

Example answer:

In designing a secure system architecture for a distributed application, I prioritize three key aspects: data encryption, authentication, and secure communication channels.

First, for data at rest and in transit, I apply robust encryption algorithms. I lean towards AES for symmetric encryption due to its wide acceptance and proven track record. For asymmetric encryption, RSA is typically my go-to due to its high level of security and widespread usage.

Secondly, to ensure only authorized entities access the system, I adopt multi-factor authentication (MFA) whenever possible.

I prefer to use open standards like OAuth or SAML for authentication as they are widely accepted, flexible, and have been well-vetted by the security community.

Lastly, secure communication is vital in a distributed system. I implement Transport Layer Security (TLS) to ensure secure communication between servers and clients. This prevents man-in-the-middle attacks and ensures data integrity.

Beyond these, implementing a Zero Trust model is crucial, I think. So, I’d design the system with the assumption that a breach is inevitable. Every request is treated as a potential threat, and must be validated and authenticated.

To ensure system availability, redundancy is also a key consideration in my design. I’d distribute data and resources across multiple servers and locations to mitigate the risk of a single point of failure.

On the software side, I'd use hardened, up-to-date systems and follow the principle of least privilege, giving users and processes only the permissions they need to perform their tasks.

Regular patching and updates are necessar, of course.

Why is this a good answer?

  • The response shows a strong understanding of key security principles and protocols such as encryption, authentication, secure communication, and Zero Trust model.

  • The answer demonstrates practical knowledge of how to implement these principles in a real-world distributed system.

  • The use of specific examples, like AES, RSA, OAuth, SAML, and TLS, showcases familiarity with widely accepted and proven security technologies.

  • The inclusion of system redundancy and auditing showcases a holistic approach to security, taking into account system availability and incident response, not just prevention.

  • Mentioning the principle of least privilege and regular updates displays an understanding of the importance of limiting access and keeping systems updated to prevent breaches.

  • The answer shows a proactive mindset, recognizing that breaches can and will occur, and planning for those situations accordingly.

Suggested: Security Engineer Skills and Responsibilities in 2023

Can you explain the differences between symmetric and asymmetric encryption, and where each one would be more appropriate to use?

Why is this question asked?

This question is asked to assess your knowledge of two fundamental types of encryption: symmetric and asymmetric.

Understanding their differences and where each type is most effectively used is crucial for a security engineer. This knowledge helps to determine the best cryptographic methods to protect sensitive data based on the context and specific requirements.

Example answer:

In symmetric encryption, the same key is used for both encryption and decryption. A classic example is the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), widely regarded for its robustness.

The main advantage of symmetric encryption is its speed. Because it uses the same key for both processes, it is computationally less intensive, making it faster than its asymmetric counterpart.

This makes symmetric encryption ideal for encrypting large amounts of data, like in full disk encryption.

However, symmetric encryption has a significant drawback: key distribution.

Sharing the key securely between parties can be a challenge. If it falls into the wrong hands during transmission, the encrypted data is compromised.

This is where asymmetric encryption comes in. It uses two different keys - a public key for encryption and a private key for decryption.

The RSA algorithm is a popular example. The major advantage is that you can freely distribute the public key without compromising the security of the encrypted data. Only the private key, which remains securely with the intended recipient, can decrypt the data.

However, asymmetric encryption is computationally more intensive, making it slower than symmetric encryption. Therefore, it is typically used for securely exchanging keys or for small amounts of data.

In practice, symmetric and asymmetric encryption are often used together.

For example, in SSL/TLS for secure web browsing, asymmetric encryption is used to securely exchange the symmetric key at the start of the session. Then symmetric encryption is used for the rest of the session because of its speed.

Why is this a good answer?

  • The answer shows a clear understanding of the differences between symmetric and asymmetric encryption, including the pros and cons of each.

  • The candidate demonstrates practical knowledge by giving examples of where each type of encryption is best used.

  • The use of concrete examples, like AES and RSA, shows familiarity with widely used encryption algorithms.

  • The explanation of how the two types of encryption are often used together, as in SSL/TLS, demonstrates an understanding of how these concepts are applied in real-world scenarios.

  • The response addresses key distribution - a crucial aspect when considering the type of encryption to use.

Suggested: Remote work communication tips to make your life easier

If you were asked to detect anomalies in a system's network traffic, which machine learning or statistical methods would you use, and why?

Why is this question asked?

The interviewer is looking to assess your understanding and application of machine learning or statistical methods in the context of cybersecurity, specifically anomaly detection. The interviewer wants to understand your ability to use advanced methods to identify irregularities that could signify a potential security threat or breach.

Example answer:

Detecting anomalies in network traffic can be a complex task due to the high-dimensional and dynamic nature of network data. However, several machine learning and statistical methods can be effective.

For unsupervised learning, I'd consider using clustering algorithms like K-means or DBSCAN. These methods group similar data points together, making it easier to identify outliers or anomalies that do not fit into any of the established clusters.

Alternatively, I'd use isolation forests, which are specifically designed for anomaly detection. This algorithm works well with large datasets and is particularly effective at isolating anomalies in high-dimensional data.

On the other hand, if I have a well-labeled dataset, supervised learning techniques can be highly effective. Algorithms such as Random Forests or Support Vector Machines can be trained to distinguish between normal and anomalous network traffic.

In terms of statistical methods, the Chi-Square test is a useful tool. It can help identify if there's a significant difference between the expected frequencies and the observed frequencies in one or more categories of a contingency table, thus aiding in anomaly detection.

In practice, the choice of method will largely depend on the nature of the data, the quality of labeling, and the specific requirements of the task at hand. It's also essential to continuously validate and update the models as network traffic patterns evolve over time.

Why is this a good answer?

  • The response demonstrates a clear understanding of both machine learning and statistical methods for anomaly detection.

  • The answer provides examples of multiple specific techniques, such as K-means, DBSCAN, isolation forests, Random Forests, Support Vector Machines, and the Chi-Square test, indicating familiarity with a wide range of tools.

  • The candidate understands that the choice of method depends on the specifics of the situation, demonstrating the practical application of theoretical knowledge.

  • The mention of continuously validating and updating models indicates an understanding of the dynamic nature of network traffic and the need for models to evolve with it.

  • The candidate recognizes the difference in approach required when dealing with labeled vs. unlabeled data, demonstrating a nuanced understanding of machine learning methods.

Suggested: How to write a cover letter for any job?

How would you approach a cloud-native security strategy? How does it differ from traditional network security?

Why is this question asked?

As businesses increasingly move their operations to the cloud, understanding cloud-native security is a vital competency for a security engineer.

This question tests your grasp of cloud-native security principles and how they contrast with traditional network security. It gives the interviewer insight into your ability to secure modern, cloud-based infrastructures.

Example answer:

Approaching a cloud-native security strategy requires a shift in mindset from traditional network security. Unlike traditional environments where you secure a physical perimeter, cloud-native security focuses on securing applications and data wherever they are.

Firstly, I would emphasize the principle of least privilege (PoLP) across all cloud resources. This implies granting minimal permissions necessary for users, applications, and services to function. Coupled with role-based access control (RBAC), it reduces the potential attack surface.

Next, I’d ensure data is encrypted both at rest and in transit. Cloud platforms typically offer built-in tools for managing cryptographic keys, which I’d leverage to maintain confidentiality and integrity of data.

Container security is also an important aspect of cloud-native security. I'd use tools like Kubernetes pod security policies or service meshes to secure containerized applications.

Cloud-native environments also offer unique opportunities for automating security. I'd incorporate DevSecOps practices into the software development life cycle, implementing automated security checks and scans as part of the CI/CD pipeline.

Lastly, I would take full advantage of the native security features provided by the cloud service provider. This includes using identity and access management (IAM) solutions, setting up security groups and network ACLs, enabling security monitoring and logging services, and configuring firewall rules.

How this differs from traditional network security is primarily in the shift from a perimeter-based model to a data and application-centric model.

Traditional security often involves securing physical hardware and network perimeters, whereas cloud-native security is about securing applications, data, and identities. It also leverages the scalability, automation capabilities, and inbuilt security features offered by the cloud.

Why is this a good answer?

  • The answer provides a comprehensive approach to cloud-native security, covering aspects like least privilege, data encryption, container security, automation, and use of native cloud features.

  • The candidate demonstrates an understanding of modern security practices such as DevSecOps, indicating an up-to-date knowledge of the field.

  • The comparison with traditional network security highlights the shift in focus from physical perimeters to applications and data, showing an understanding of the evolution in security practices.

  • The inclusion of specific examples, like Kubernetes and CI/CD pipelines, indicates practical experience with cloud-native tools and practices.

  • The emphasis on using native cloud features demonstrates knowledge of the benefits of cloud platforms and how to leverage them for security.

Suggested: 11 Resume mistakes that every recruiter notices

What is a Zero Trust Network, and how would you go about implementing it in a large corporation?

Why is this question asked?

The Zero Trust model has become a key aspect of modern network security. This question assesses your understanding of this model and your ability to apply it within a large corporate environment.

It provides insight into your knowledge of contemporary security architectures and your capability to devise practical, effective security strategies.

Example answer:

A Zero Trust Network is a security model that operates on the principle of 'never trust, always verify.'

It assumes that threats can occur both outside and inside the network, and hence, no user or device is trusted by default, irrespective of their location in relation to the network perimeter.

Implementing a Zero Trust Network in a large corporation requires a strategic approach, given the scale and complexity of the corporate network.

Here's how I would go about it:

  • Identify Sensitive Data: The first step is to identify the sensitive data that needs to be protected. This could include personal data, financial data, intellectual property, etc.

  • Microsegmentation: Next, I'd implement microsegmentation, dividing the network into smaller, isolated segments. Each segment can only be accessed by authorized users or systems, reducing lateral movement in case of a breach.

  • Least Privilege Access: Then, I would enforce the principle of least privilege, granting users and systems only the minimum access necessary to perform their duties.

  • Multi-Factor Authentication: For user authentication, I'd enforce multi-factor authentication (MFA), using more than one method to verify a user's identity.

  • Continuous Monitoring & Validation: I'd ensure continuous monitoring and validation of the network, users, and devices, using technologies such as Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems, and applying behavioral analytics to detect anomalies.

  • Automated Security Policies: Lastly, I would implement automated security policies which respond to potential security threats in real time, blocking suspicious activities and isolating affected systems.

Throughout this process, clear communication and training are key to ensure employees understand the new security protocols and their role in maintaining security.

Why is this a good answer?

  • The answer provides a clear and accurate explanation of the Zero Trust model, demonstrating a solid understanding of the concept.

  • The candidate outlines a comprehensive, step-by-step approach to implementing Zero Trust in a large corporation, indicating a practical understanding of how to apply the model.

  • The inclusion of key elements such as microsegmentation, least privilege, multi-factor authentication, and continuous monitoring, shows the candidate's familiarity with the crucial aspects of a Zero Trust Network.

  • The mention of using automated security policies and behavioral analytics shows an understanding of modern, sophisticated security technologies and strategies.

  • The emphasis on communication and training recognizes the human factor in security, demonstrating a holistic approach.

Suggested: How to create a resume that always beats the ATS?

Describe the process of conducting a forensic analysis after a data breach. What tools would you use and why?

Why is this question asked?

Understanding how to conduct a forensic analysis after a data breach is vital for a security engineer. This question tests your knowledge and experience with incident response and digital forensics.

It gives the interviewer an opportunity to understand your proficiency in investigating security incidents, your familiarity with relevant tools, and your analytical capabilities.

Example answer:

Conducting a forensic analysis following a data breach is a complex process, crucial for understanding the breach's nature, extent, and origin, as well as for preventing future incidents.

First, I would begin by isolating the affected systems to prevent further data loss and to maintain the integrity of evidence.

The isolation should be done in a way that doesn’t tamper with the state of the systems as it could alter crucial evidence.

The next step is to identify the nature and scope of the breach. This involves analyzing system logs, network traffic logs, and other data sources to understand what data was compromised, how the breach occurred, and who was responsible.

Tools like Wireshark for network analysis and Log2Timeline for timeline analysis are highly valuable for this purpose.

Once I've identified the compromised data, I'll proceed with the data recovery process. Tools like Encase and FTK can be used for this purpose. They provide a broad suite of features for disk imaging and analysis, which can help recover lost data and investigate the breach's nature.

I'll then conduct a thorough investigation to determine the breach's source. This could involve analyzing malware, determining the methods used by the attackers, and identifying any system vulnerabilities that were exploited. Tools like IDA Pro or OllyDbg can be very useful for malware analysis.

Finally, I'll document my findings in a detailed report, including the nature and extent of the breach, the vulnerabilities exploited, the identity of the possible attackers (if identifiable), and the steps taken to recover from the breach.

This report would be vital for any legal proceedings and for planning remedial actions to prevent future incidents.

Throughout this process, it's critical to adhere to the standard principles of digital forensics to ensure the evidence collected is reliable and legally admissible.

Why is this a good answer?

  • The answer provides a detailed, step-by-step process for conducting a forensic analysis after a data breach, demonstrating a practical understanding of the process.

  • The candidate mentions specific tools used in different stages of forensic analysis, indicating their familiarity with the toolset typically used in digital forensics.

  • The response shows an understanding of the legal and ethical aspects of digital forensics, emphasizing the need to maintain the integrity of evidence and produce a detailed report.

  • The candidate exhibits a comprehensive approach to incident response, from isolating systems and identifying the breach's nature, to data recovery, source investigation, and documentation.

  • The mention of various types of analysis - network traffic analysis, timeline analysis, and malware analysis - demonstrates a wide range of skills and knowledge in digital forensics.

Suggested: How to match your resume to a job description?

Can you explain the concept of 'security through obscurity'? Why is it considered a poor security principle?

Why is this question asked?

This question is asked to evaluate your understanding of various security principles and practices.

The concept of 'security through obscurity' is widely discussed and often criticized in the field of cybersecurity. It allows the interviewer to gauge your perception of effective security strategies and your ability to critically analyze the pros and cons of different security principles.

Example answer:

Security through obscurity is a principle where the security of a system is based on the secrecy of its design, implementation, or configuration. It relies on the idea that if attackers can't see or understand a system's defenses, they won't be able to exploit it.

An example could be hiding the code of a proprietary algorithm or disguising the network structure to keep it safe. The thought here is that by keeping the details hidden, it becomes difficult for an attacker to find vulnerabilities or devise an attack strategy.

However, 'security through obscurity' is considered a poor security principle for several reasons.

Firstly, it's merely a delay tactic. While it might take an attacker more time to understand a concealed system, it doesn't eliminate the vulnerabilities within the system. Once the obscurity is bypassed, the system is just as defenseless as it would have been otherwise.

Secondly, it promotes a false sense of security. If an organization believes its systems are secure because they're hidden or complex, it may overlook the need for robust, well-tested security measures.

Lastly, this approach contradicts the widely accepted principle of 'open design' in security, which argues that a system's security should depend on its key design and protections, not on its obscurity.

Open designs are often more secure as they undergo extensive public scrutiny, leading to the early discovery and patching of vulnerabilities.

So, while 'security through obscurity' can be used as an additional layer in a security strategy, it should not be the primary line of defense.

It's crucial to build systems that are secure even when an attacker knows everything about them except the key used for encryption or authentication.

Why is this a good answer?

  • The answer gives a clear and concise explanation of 'security through obscurity', making it easy for non-experts to understand.

  • It provides practical examples, helping to illustrate the principle and its implications.

  • The candidate critically analyzes the principle, explaining why it's considered poor security practice. This shows their ability to evaluate and critique security strategies.

  • The comparison to the 'open design' principle shows a broad understanding of security principles and best practices.

  • The answer ends with a balanced view, acknowledging that while 'security through obscurity' has significant drawbacks, it could still have a place in a layered security strategy.

What are your considerations when implementing a secure software development lifecycle (SSDLC) in a DevOps environment?

Why is this question asked?

This question is asked to evaluate your understanding of how security principles apply within a modern development environment, specifically DevOps.

It's important to assess your capability to integrate security throughout the software development lifecycle (SDLC) and your grasp of how this can be achieved in a DevOps context, where rapid, continuous development and deployment are emphasized.

Example answer:

Implementing a secure software development lifecycle (SSDLC) in a DevOps environment requires a careful balance between maintaining a fast-paced development cycle and ensuring robust security.

This is often achieved through the practice of DevSecOps, integrating security into each stage of the DevOps pipeline.

My first consideration would be to incorporate security from the very beginning of the project. This includes risk analysis, threat modeling, and defining security requirements during the design and planning stages.

Tools such as Microsoft’s Threat Modeling Tool could be used for this purpose.

Next, I'd ensure continuous integration (CI) tools are configured to perform static application security testing (SAST) and dynamic application security testing (DAST) to automatically scan the code for common vulnerabilities as it's committed.

Tools like SonarQube for SAST and OWASP ZAP for DAST are great for this.

Container security is another critical aspect. Given that DevOps commonly uses containerization technologies like Docker, it's crucial to ensure these containers are securely configured and scanned for vulnerabilities.

Tools such as Clair or Anchore can be used for container scanning.

Further, I'd implement automated security checks within the deployment pipeline. Tools like Jenkins can be configured to prevent deployment if the code doesn’t pass certain security criteria.

In addition to automation, I would also foster a culture of security among the development team. This includes regular training, encouraging developers to write secure code, and considering security at every step of development.

Lastly, I’d ensure a plan for incident response is in place. Despite all precautions, breaches can occur, so it’s essential to have a well-defined process to identify, isolate, and remediate security incidents.

Why is this a good answer?

  • The answer provides a comprehensive understanding of SSDLC and how to implement it in a DevOps environment.

  • The candidate demonstrates knowledge of DevSecOps, showing an appreciation for the importance of integrating security throughout the development lifecycle.

  • Mention of specific tools (e.g., SonarQube, OWASP ZAP, Clair, Anchore, and Jenkins) shows familiarity with the practical aspects of security in a DevOps context.

  • The emphasis on fostering a security-conscious culture among developers highlights the candidate’s understanding that effective security is not just about technology but also involves people and processes.

  • The inclusion of incident response planning underlines the candidate's holistic approach to security, recognizing that a robust security strategy includes both proactive and reactive measures.

Suggested: Can ChatGPT really help you create a great resume?

Can you share an experience where you detected a major security vulnerability in a system? What steps did you take to remediate the problem?

Why is this question asked?

This question helps the interviewer assess your real-world experience in dealing with security threats.

Your response will reveal your decision-making abilities under pressure, your practical understanding of incident response, and your skill in applying theoretical knowledge to real-life situations.

Example answer:

A couple of years ago, while working as a senior security engineer at XYZ Corporation, we detected unusual network activity indicating a possible breach. An attacker was trying to exfiltrate sensitive data from our database server.

Firstly, I initiated our incident response protocol, gathering our core response team, which included representatives from IT, security, legal, and corporate communications. We started by isolating the compromised systems from the rest of the network to limit any potential spread.

Simultaneously, we took a snapshot of the system for further forensic investigation while preserving the existing logs and other potential evidence.

We used network forensics tools to analyze the traffic, confirming the breach and identifying the compromised data. We found that the attacker had exploited a zero-day vulnerability in one of our systems.

Once we understood the nature of the breach, we began our remediation process. This involved patching the vulnerability, followed by a thorough system check for any additional, related compromises. We also strengthened our intrusion detection rules based on the attacker's pattern to prevent similar breaches in the future.

Lastly, we disclosed the incident to our affected customers, in compliance with relevant data breach notification laws, and took necessary steps to mitigate the potential impact on them.

We also conducted an internal review to learn from the incident and further improve our security posture.

The outcome was a stronger and more resilient security infrastructure and a team more experienced in handling such incidents. Despite the initial setback, we were able to use the incident as a catalyst for significant security improvements.

Why is this a good answer?

  • The answer demonstrates a structured and effective approach to incident response.

  • It shows the candidate's ability to make quick decisions under pressure and effectively manage a security crisis.

  • The candidate displays an understanding of the importance of communication during a security incident, both within the team and with external stakeholders (affected customers).

  • The response includes a detailed breakdown of the steps taken during the incident, showing a practical understanding of incident response and digital forensics.

  • The candidate shows awareness of legal obligations (data breach notifications) and demonstrates a responsible approach to handling such incidents.

  • The answer concludes on a positive note, highlighting how the incident was used as a learning experience to improve security.

Suggested: Advantages and disadvantages of remote work in 2023

Can you describe a situation where you had to balance security needs against business needs? How did you ensure an acceptable level of risk while achieving business objectives?

Why is this question asked?

This question is asked to understand your ability to balance the often competing needs of business functionality and security.

The interviewer wants to evaluate your understanding of risk management, and how well you can make decisions that incorporate both business requirements and security considerations.

Example answer:

At my previous company, we were developing a new customer-facing web application. The marketing team wanted to integrate third-party scripts to track user behavior, which could greatly improve our marketing efforts and customer experience.

However, as a security engineer, I had concerns about potential security risks, as third-party scripts can sometimes introduce vulnerabilities into our system.

Rather than rejecting the request outright, I recognized the business value of the marketing team's proposal. I organized a meeting with the marketing and development teams to discuss my concerns and explore possible solutions.

We discussed the risk of potential cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks and data privacy issues that these third-party scripts could introduce. Everyone agreed that while the functionality was desirable, we couldn't compromise our security or our users' trust.

We decided to go for a balanced approach. We conducted a thorough security review of the proposed third-party vendors. This involved analyzing their security practices, data handling policies, and their reputation in the industry.

We selected a vendor with a strong security posture, a good track record, and who was also compliant with our data privacy standards.

In addition, I worked with the development team to implement Content Security Policies (CSP) to mitigate the risk of any potential XSS attacks. We also ensured that the scripts were loaded securely and couldn't access sensitive areas of our application.

This approach allowed us to satisfy the business needs for better customer analytics without exposing our system to unacceptable risk.

Why is this a good answer?

  • The answer demonstrates the candidate's understanding of the importance of balancing security concerns with business needs.

  • The candidate took a proactive approach to address potential security risks, showing good communication and leadership skills.

  • The example showcases the candidate's ability to collaborate effectively with other teams and to explain technical security issues in understandable terms.

  • The candidate demonstrates their knowledge of practical security measures such as Content Security Policies (CSP).

  • The answer reflects a balanced approach to risk management - accepting some risk for business benefits but taking reasonable steps to mitigate it.

Suggested: How to write a Security Engineer resume that actually converts


There you go — 10 important security engineer interview questions and answers.

Though these are only 10 questions, you’ll find answers to a lot of basic questions within. Use it as a prepping guide and amazing job offers shouldn’t be too far away.

If you’re already looking for a security engineer job, check out Simple Job Listings. We only list remote jobs that pay really well. What’s more, most of the jobs that we list aren’t posted anywhere else.

Visit Simple Job Listings and find amazing remote security engineer jobs. Good luck!

bottom of page