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Cybersecurity

How To Learn Cybersecurity on Your Own [Beginner’s Guide]

12 minute read | February 29, 2024
Sakshi Gupta

Written by:
Sakshi Gupta

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Launching a career in cybersecurity is a strategic move in today’s digital age, where the demand for security experts outpaces the supply. This guide is designed to help you navigate the journey from beginner to job-ready professional in the cybersecurity realm. Whether you’re pivoting from a related field or starting with no background, this post lays out a clear path for acquiring the necessary skills, understanding the industry’s core requirements, and identifying areas for improvement.

Through a combination of online learning, certification, and hands-on practice, you’ll learn how to make yourself an attractive candidate for cybersecurity roles. Explore the steps to build your knowledge base, specialize in high-demand areas, and ultimately secure a position in this fast-growing field. Let’s dive into how you can turn your interest in cybersecurity into a successful career.

Can You Learn Cybersecurity on Your Own?

Yes, you can learn cybersecurity on your own using free online resources and courses from top universities and platforms like Coursera, edX, Udemy, and Springboard. These courses cater to all levels, from beginners to professionals looking to specialize, covering everything from basic concepts to advanced techniques for protecting sensitive data and improving network security.

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How to Master Cybersecurity

Learning cybersecurity can be quite manageable if you follow the right approach and use the right tools to develop your skill set. Here are some tips to get you started.

Identify Transferable Skills

Start With the Basics

Take a Course

Find a Speciality

Enter Contests or Get Feedback

Get a Certification

Identify Transferable Skills

When transitioning to cybersecurity, leveraging your existing skills can give you a head start. Here’s a more detailed look at how specific backgrounds can translate into cybersecurity competencies:

  • Coding/Programming: If you have experience in coding, you’re already familiar with the logic and structure that can be applied to understanding malware, developing security scripts, or finding vulnerabilities. Key languages for cybersecurity include Python, JavaScript, and SQL.
  • Data Analysis: Analytical skills are invaluable for interpreting data breaches and understanding attack patterns. Familiarity with data analysis tools and techniques can help in threat intelligence and security analytics.
  • Network Administration: Knowledge of network setup and management provides a solid foundation for understanding how attacks propagate and how to secure networks against them.
  • System Administration: Experience in managing and securing operating systems can help you in securing endpoints and understanding the intricacies of various attacks.
  • Digital Forensics: If you have a background in digital forensics, you’re well-equipped to investigate cybercrimes and analyze breaches.
  • Project Management: Skills in managing projects and teams are crucial for leading cybersecurity initiatives and ensuring that security measures are implemented effectively.

Start With the Basics

Start learning the basics before you dive into more complex topics. Besides hard skills, you also need certain soft skills to build a cybersecurity career.

It’s important to have a foundational understanding of:

  • Software skills: Learn how to work with cloud security environments, computer systems, and different operating systems. You should also know how to use software packages, such as office suites and anti-virus members.
  • Data: Know the different types of data, how they are classified, and when to call in a forensic expert.
  • Programming language skills: You’ll master the right programming language skills to work in the field.
  • Networks: Learn how things like firewalls and intrusion detection systems work. You should also know about virtual private networks (VPNs) and how they function.
  • Cybersecurity laws: Familiarize yourself with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) and other related legislation that may affect your work. The National Security Agency has created a list of strategies, such as segregating important networks, executing recovery plans, and using multi-sourced threat reputation services for email addresses, IPs, URLs, and DNS.
  • Ethical hacking: You should be familiar with the basics of ethical hacking and how to use various cybersecurity tools, such as Nmap, Wireshark, and Kali Linux to defend against cybersecurity threats. Organizations require cybersecurity experts to be skilled at penetration testing and ethical hacking to pre-empt cyber attacks. Familiarize yourself with hacking techniques, like network traffic sniffing, password cracking, and session spoofing.
  • Mobile security: The days of protecting your company with little more than antivirus software are long gone, especially since remote working has become so popular. Even small businesses have gone mobile. Data breaches can easily occur when workers use their own laptops and mobiles for work, threatening your infrastructure security. Moreover, hackers are always scanning their IP addresses and looking for access. Understanding ethical hacking and other practices for mobile device management can really help.

Take a Course

When it comes to learning about cybersecurity, it is important to use a credible and reliable source for cyber security training. Many online platforms offer courses in cyber security basics. 

Taking an online course or a bootcamp allows you to study at your own pace which is most comfortable. In addition, they often have flexible hours, so you can fit them around your schedule. A bootcamp offers an intensive program of one week to three months and is usually completed with a final exam. You may need to take several days to find out which courses are a good fit for you and your goals.

You also learn many new things from industry experts with many people who’re also learning the fundamentals. Here are some places to find online cybersecurity courses

  • Springboard: Springboard’s six-month Cybersecurity bootcamp comes with a money-back job guarantee and connects you to mentors who can help you along your journey in the cybersecurity field.
  • edX: It has many online options in cybersecurity from renowned institutions, such as MIT and Harvard. For instance, this Introduction to Cybersecurity course will teach you key terms and cybersecurity concepts along with helping you identify threat actors and their motivations. The website also has advanced courses and MicroBachelors Programs, such as the Cybersecurity Fundamentals program from NYU.
  • Coursera: You can find over 80 courses in cybersecurity on Coursera, ranging from Introduction to Cybersecurity from NYU to specialized courses, such as Cybersecurity for Business.
  • Udemy: It has a host of cybersecurity online courses taught by industry experts. You can also filter the search results by ”Beginner Favorites” to find the best introductory and foundation-building courses.

Find a Specialty

Over the years, cybersecurity has matured into a diverse field with different specialties. In an enterprise, a cybersecurity expert is promoted to superior positions based on the cybersecurity specialization they have. 

You can choose the specialty you want to build a career in based on your interest. If you’re interested in the field, it’ll be easier for you to master the art and keep yourself abreast of all recent developments in this field. Apart from finding your interest, you should also focus on learning about the different areas where cybersecurity experts are needed. Some common specialties are:

  • Application security: It involves ensuring that applications and programs perform as expected and do not contain vulnerabilities. Application security professionals typically focus on the software development life cycle (SDLC) and encourage developers to write secure code. They also reinforce secure coding practices throughout the organization.
  • Network security: These professionals work with firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and other network security appliances. They ensure that the organization’s networks remain secure, even as new vulnerabilities are discovered. They also maintain firewall rules and configure routers/switches to allow only authorized traffic to access networks.
  • Penetration testing: Hacking can be a good thing, too! Penetration testers use several techniques to identify security vulnerabilities in websites, systems, and applications before criminals do. They then report their findings from the pen test to the appropriate parties. Penetration testers work closely with developers, auditors, and management to ensure that vulnerabilities are fixed quickly.
  • Research: Researchers try to understand the real-world techniques that cybercriminals use against their targets, both for defensive purposes and for uncovering vulnerabilities in systems. Plus, they also try to advance the overall field of cybersecurity by conducting experiments to find new types of potential threats, discovering vulnerabilities in risk management products, and recommending security improvements.
  • Information security: Information security (InfoSec) is the practice of protecting information by mitigating information risks. It is part of information risk management, which is the process of identifying, analyzing, and responding to information risks.

Get a Certification

Cybersecurity professionals, like cybersecurity analysts, can also benefit from certifications, such as CompTIA Security+, CompTIA Network+, CompTIA CSA+, and the Cisco CCNA

As 59% of employers require applicants to have cybersecurity certifications, a combination of certifications and a bootcamp works well for most people.

The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification from ISC is one of the most sought-out credentials in the cybersecurity industry. You should get this certification if you want to learn specific skills for certain jobs, such as information assurance analyst, IT security engineer, and security administrator. If you want to specialize in IT project management or security engineering, you should get the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) certification from ISACA.

Check out this list to find more cybersecurity certifications that you can use to kickstart or advance your career.

Enter Contests or Get Feedback

History shows that when it comes to learning anything, it’s best to procure some hands-on experience. Recruiters want to know that you can apply your knowledge to real-world problems.

Enter cybersecurity contests to test yourself and identify where you need improvement. For instance, the Global Cyberlympics is a cybersecurity competition with different categories, such as network exploitation, service exploration, digital forensics, and web applications. Cyber Quests is catered towards U.S. cybersecurity professionals. It’s a series of cybersecurity challenges in topics ranging from forensic analysis to vulnerability analysis. 

Consult this cybersecurity contest list to find out about more competitions. You can also find out about cybersecurity strategies and competitions in the Reddit forum SecurityCTF. Meanwhile, Forensics Wiki is an international resource to find information about cybersecurity contests, tools, conferences, techniques, and much more. If you simply want to practice your cybersecurity skills, you can use Vulnhub. It’s a cybersecurity practice zone that has virtual labs and machines for vulnerability penetration testing.

Plus, get feedback on your work from industry professionals so you can know what areas you need to target for improvement. If you’re enrolled in a bootcamp or an online course, you can ask your instructor or mentor for feedback.

Get To Know Other Cybersecurity Students

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A Career in Cybersecurity: Where To Start

To get started in cybersecurity, you first need to determine how much you already know. Do you have a background in cybersecurity, or are you learning it from scratch? The learning curve differs for both.

If You Know Nothing

  • Set a learning goal

    First, you need to set a goal for what you want to learn and in how much time. For instance, you can decide to learn penetration testing in three months.

  • Break down your skillset

    Now, break the big skill into smaller sub-skills, like analytical thinking, hacking, computer forensics, etc. Prioritize the skills based on the specialty you want to eventually get into.

  • Enroll in a Bootcamp

    Take an online bootcamp to learn the basics of cybersecurity. You’ll also find a sense of community since other learners will be at the same learning stage as you. Plus, you can go to your instructors for advice and help. Coursera, Springboard, edX, and Udemy have some of the best online cybersecurity courses for beginners and pros alike.

  • Identify barriers

    What are the barriers in your quest to learn cybersecurity? Are you struggling to grasp certain concepts? Get a mentor. Do you need someone to teach you a certain topic in detail? Enroll in a course or use a free learning resource.

  • Set aside two hours daily

    If you already have a job, try to keep two hours aside for learning and reviewing concepts every day. Most online courses allow you to learn at your own pace, so you don’t necessarily have to cram everything in a week or few days. During this time, you can also learn from online tutorials or read wikis and Reddit threads about cybersecurity.

  • Document your progress

    Make notes about your forays into cybersecurity help you track the things you learn throughout. Doing so will allow you to see how far you’ve come. Plus, you can quiz yourself on the concepts you’ve learned.

  • Evaluate your skills

    Once you’re confident that you’ve learned a substantial amount of concepts, test yourself. ISACA has a free cybersecurity fundamentals quiz that you can take online. Or, you can take this exam for beginners.

  • Courses

    Enrolling in a courses will get you up to speed in a certain concept or patch up the gaps in your skillset with specific tools or tactics.

  • Conferences

    Attending cybersecurity conferences will allow you to learn from industry experts. You’ll also get the chance to network with other professionals in the field. Networking is important for finding jobs at reputed organizations.

  • Journals

    One way of keeping up with the advancements in the cybersecurity industry is to read relevant journals. The Journal of Cybersecurity is a good place to get started.

  • Certifications

    Obtaining a certification, like the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification, can help you prove your knowledge and skills. Certifications also prepare you for specialized jobs that generally tend to pay higher.

Advice from Experts

“It took me seven years to land my first cybersecurity role, and if I could go back in time, this is exactly how I would do it.”

UnixGuy shares a comprehensive guide on breaking into cybersecurity without a college degree, emphasizing mindset, qualifications, and job application strategies. They highlight the importance of self-learning, practical experience, and networking for success in the field.

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“IT fundamentals, that’s what you should learn.”

Grant highlights the significance of mastering IT fundamentals as a foundational step for those aspiring to enter the cybersecurity field, discussing key areas such as hardware, software, networking, applications, and basic security principles. The video suggests that beginning with these core concepts sets up learners for greater success in cybersecurity.

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Resources To Help You Learn Cybersecurity

Fortunately, there are many resources online to help you learn cybersecurity:

  • Courses. If you want to impress your potential employer at your first job interview, you can take the Cyber Readiness Program beforehand. It’s a step-by-step guide that helps medium and small-scale businesses become cyber-ready. You can use the knowledge from this course to answer the interviewer when they ask you what value you can bring to your organization.
  • TED talks and podcasts. If you prefer listening and learning, make sure to watch these  TED talks about cybersecurity. TED talks are a great way to learn about a topic since they are short videos with key takeaways. The talks are easy to follow, and you’ll get a good idea about the topic even if you’ve never heard of it before. Speaking of listening and learning, Security Now is a remarkable podcast hosted by Leo Laporte and Steve Gibson. Steve Gibson is known for coining the term ‘spyware’ and creating the first-ever anti-spyware software. You can surely learn a lot from him. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.
  • Webinars. NinjaRMM has a library of webinars that provide useful information on pressing cybersecurity questions from industry experts. Another similar resource is the CyberSecure My Business Webinar, where you can learn all about cybersecurity basics for business.

These resources are equally helpful for beginners and mid-tier professionals.

FAQs About Learning Cybersecurity

Is It Hard To Learn Cybersecurity?

Initially, getting into cybersecurity can be hard, especially if you plan to be a self-taught cyber security expert. But with time and patience, learning these skills can be quite manageable. You may think that you need to have a head full of impressive degrees from prestigious colleges, but you can easily master cybersecurity concepts through online courses, free learning resources, and bootcamps.

How Long Does It Take To Learn Cybersecurity?

A Bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity will take four years to complete. You can follow it up with a two-year Master’s degree. Alternatively, you can learn cybersecurity through online resources and courses. Doing so will take you anywhere from six months to a year to learn the basics and be ready for a workplace. If you want to master a certain specialty, you’ll have to enroll in a bootcamp, which adds three to six months to your learning journey.

What Are the Minimum Requirements To Get Into Cybersecurity?

The minimum requirement for a career in cybersecurity is a high school diploma or GED, but a Bachelor’s degree in a technical field is recommended. Specializing through cyber security courses or bootcamps, and knowledge in areas like cloud computing, SQL injection, and ethical hacking enhance prospects. Soft skills like critical thinking and communication are essential. Learning can be self-directed using online courses, forums, and tutorials, with community support available for guidance.

Since you’re here…
There are hundreds of thousands of vacant cybersecurity jobs, and one of them has your name on it. You can enter the industry in 6 months flat with our Cybersecurity Course. We’ve helped over 10,000 students make huge career changes with our fully flexible mentor-led bootcamps. Explore our free cybersecurity course curriculum today to start your career switch story. 

About Sakshi Gupta

Sakshi is a Managing Editor at Springboard. She is a technology enthusiast who loves to read and write about emerging tech. She is a content marketer with experience in the Indian and US markets.