Google security engineer interview questions and preparation guide
Security Engineer interviews vary considerably based on the team you are interviewing with. Software Engineers at Google don’t interview specific teams, but Security Engineers do.
Security Engineer interviews cover a mix of coding and security knowledge related to the team’s domain and the candidate’s experience. You can expect to be asked interview questions that cover many security areas and questions that dig deeply into areas in which you claim knowledge.
For example, if your team is responsible for detection, forensics, and incident response, they will ask questions about those fields, some of which may be adjusted for the candidate’s background. If you have worked on IDS systems, they’ll probably ask questions about how IDS works and how it would function in a particular scenario. They might also present you with a more general network detection scenario. These will generally be simplified versions of problems they face.
For a security assessments position, you might be asked how you would assess a particular system. For a corporate security hardening position, you might be asked how to harden a particular configuration.
We made this ultimate guide to make your Google security engineer interview preparation much easier, and to help you succeed in getting a job as a security engineer at Google.
- Google security engineer interview process
- Security engineer interview questions
- Security engineer’s responsibilities
- Security engineer’s salary
- How to prepare for a Google security engineer interview
1. Google security engineer interview process
The interview process is similar to the Google software engineer interview process, with the difference that Google security engineers focus on networking skills and experience.
After they shortlisted your application, the main stages of the interview process follow:
- Phone screen / technical screen
- Onsite interviews
Phone screen - HR-ish round. Discuss motivations, interests, skills, and so on. If you pass this round, your recruiter will schedule your next interview. The next interview is a technical screen/Coding interview.
Technical screen / Coding interview - In this round, they will ask you questions about data structures and algorithms. The questions are similar to software engineer interviews. Also, expect requirements to solve problems using a remote collaborative editor.
Onsite interviews - The onsite round for Google security engineers comprises the following interviews:
- Coding interview
- System design interview
- Security design interview
- Behavioral interview
1.1 Coding interview:
In coding interviews, for security engineers at Google, expect data structures and algorithms interview questions. The interview is similar to the software engineer interview, but the Google security engineer interview is easier than the interviews for software development engineering roles.
1.2 System design interview:
In this interview, expect requirements to design a high-level modern technology system like a Google product or service focusing on its security features.
1.3 Security design interview:
In this interview, the important stuff is your problem-solving skills, and how you approach solving problems. They will ask you to design a system while focusing on security risk evaluation.
1.4 Behavioral interview:
Behavioral questions are asked in all interviews. In a behavioral interview, they want to see your work experience, your motivation for the prospective role, and your values (whether your values align with company values).
2. 30 Google security engineer interview questions
- How would you design a distributed web scraper?
- Describe all the mechanisms you would use to find passwords on a powered-off device.
- How to create a botnet?
- How can you review the obfuscation chrome extension code?
- How would you go about securing a web server?
- Explain traceroute in detail.
- Describe HMAC in detail.
- Given a security incident with X and Y characteristics, what do you need to do to respond?
- Given an app, service, or network with X and Y characteristics, assess it and make recommendations.
- Where is the vulnerability in this code snippet?
- Reverse engineer this code.
- Given the X attacker technique, how would you detect it?
- Differentiate between VPN and WLAN?
- Which is more reliable: SSL or HTTPS?
- Differentiate between symmetric and asymmetric encryption?
- What do you mean by a DDoS attack? How can you prevent it?
- What do you mean by Network Sniffing?
- Differentiate between Stream Cipher and Block Cipher?
- Differentiate between HIDS and NIDS?
- What do you need for SQL injection? How can you prevent it?
- What is the difference between a virus and a worm?
- What form of cookie might you use in a spyware attack?
- What are polymorphic viruses?
- What do you mean by forwarding secrecy and how does it work?
- What do you mean by honeypots?
- What do you mean by system hardening?
- What do you mean by Domain Name System (DNS) attack?
- What do you mean by ARP poisoning?
- The difference between information protection and information assurance?
- How can you avoid a brute force attack?
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At Google expect a high level of questions like how you will protect a network, and dive deep into details according to your answers. You have to understand everything you said to catch up with the following question the interviewers asked.
For a security engineer position, you have to know all aspects of security to have a hire recommendation, not only knowledge in the domain you are applying for. Coding capabilities are also required, but the difficulty of coding questions is lower. They just focus on your ability to come up with a working solution to a problem. You need experience with programming and knowledge of algorithms and their use cases. Prepare to brush up on your security engineering knowledge.
3. Security engineer’s responsibilities
The security engineer’s primary responsibility is not writing code, it is “doing security”: finding vulnerabilities, doing security assessments or penetration tests, running incident response, etc.
They often write code, but it’s a means to an end, and some may have fairly limited coding skills. They are evaluated according to a dedicated and separate job ladder.
You might be finding security vulnerabilities in code, finding hackers on the network, being a hacker on the network, or one of many other roles.
Security SWE’s primary responsibility is writing code with a security implication. For example, they might work on the Cloud hypervisor or the Chrome sandbox.
They need to know about security to write their code effectively, but it’s still all about “making a thing.” The “security” part of their title is an informal designation: they are evaluated on the same ladder as other SWEs. Their day-to-day work is writing code, much like any other SWE. They probably also serve as the team’s security champion and expert, answering questions about security and reviewing code with security impact.
Security Engineers have less coding skills but more security skills than an SWE at the same level. You can become a security SWE by starting as a regular SWE and gradually taking on more security work, and you can become a Security Engineer by becoming a Security SWE, but SWE is the most prestigious position at Google so almost nobody moves from SWE to SE.
4. Security engineer’s salary
According to Glassdoor, the typical Google Security Engineer’s salary is $153,797 per year. Security Engineer salaries at Google can range from $98,347 - $281,704 per year.
The estimate is based upon 78 Google Security Engineer salary report(s) provided by employees or estimated based upon statistical methods.
Therefore, at Google, for a security engineer position, you can expect an average total pay of $156,347 per year, (including bonuses and additional compensation).
5. How to prepare for a Google security engineer interview?
On a resume, the interviewers expect to see some combination of:
Strong coding experience, e.g. a CS degree or open-source
Security coursework, such as a thesis or concentration. 1–2 courses are not enough.
Security extracurriculars, such as a CTF team, vulnerability discoveries (CVEs), or security-related open source work
The more of these you have, the better - although you don’t need to have all of them. Coding, at least at a scripting level, is required for almost all positions. At the entry-level, it’s better to focus on a specific area.
Make sure you review the basics. Networking protocols, crypto, security tooling, operating systems, and web security at the bare minimum. You want to focus on the fundamentals. Google interviewers have a knack for really digging down to the core and making you reason about systems at the fundamental level. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to re-design basic protocols.
Make sure you know everything you’ve written on your resume. It’s going to look bad if you mentioned your experience with “benchmarking OpenSSL”, but you don’t understand how a CA works or the steps involved in an SSL handshake.
Brush up on programming, especially if you haven’t written code in a while. Doing some “Interviewhelp” helps.
Design thinking. Learn how systems and security fit together. For example, they might ask you about what a firewall or an IDS acctually buys you when you would or wouldn’t use one, and then ask you to evaluate alternatives. Read a lot about the internal details of popular firewalls, routers, IDS, authentication systems, web applications, etc.
Interview elsewhere! Experience helps. You don’t want this to be the first place you interview.
Google’s interview format is probably the most open and fairest I’ve seen anywhere. Interviewers care about how you think, rather than about your ability to regurgitate facts. Honestly, unlike software engineering interviews, you can’t really “prepare” for these. Being a generally competent and well-rounded engineer will give you more mileage than anything else.
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