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

14 minute read | December 17, 2023
Sakshi Gupta

Written by:
Sakshi Gupta

Ready to launch your career?

Cyber security has quickly become an emerging field, considering that an ever-increasing number of cyberattacks are carried out against computer systems and networks all over the world. Antivirus software and rudimentary tools aren’t cutting it anymore and data breaches occur every day. Hackers can target any computer system remotely, compromising network security and customer information that can be used for identity theft and fraud. It’s no wonder you want to launch a career in cybersecurity!

While colleges and universities are adding more cybersecurity education opportunities, the demand for skilled workers in the cyber security field is constantly increasing at a rate much faster than schools can accommodate. Fortunately, there are many online cybersecurity courses, cybersecurity certifications, ethical hacking classes, and free learning resources to master information technology and cyber security skills and build a career in the field. A self-taught cybersecurity expert with the right practical skills could be just as proficient and skillful as someone with a degree in cybersecurity and technical background inside a security operations center.

If you are interested in cybersecurity, there are lots of different topics and career paths to pursue, like ethical hackers that specialize in pen testing and cyber threats. Others follow a career path that focuses on legal issues and compliance. The key is to pursue the hands-on experience and cybersecurity skills you need for your new career.

However, keep in mind that self-teaching cybersecurity can be a challenge. You’ll need to be motivated and have the discipline to learn independently. The good news is that, per labor statistics, cybersecurity professionals are in hot demand. So whether you want to become a certified ethical hacker, cloud security expert, information security analyst, or general specialist in digital forensics, you can have a great cybersecurity career alongside many other self-taught cyber security professionals.

In this guide, you’ll find the best way to start your career in cybersecurity and resources to help you excel in the field. We’ll discuss low-cost cybersecurity courses you can use to fine-tune your cybersecurity skills, including incident response, pen testing, and more.

Can You Master Cybersecurity on Your Own?

You can master cybersecurity on your own, thanks to the multitude of beginner-friendly online courses and learning resources available these days. For example, top schools such as MIT, Harvard, Stanford, and many others have open courseware that you can use to learn cybersecurity concepts from the best of the best instructors. You will learn everything you could possibly learn about cybersecurity; from protecting a computer system and it’s sensitive information to improving network security at home and identifying threats to implementing your knowledge to eradicate security risks in an organization by completing a simple cybersecurity course. With low costs, comprehensive courses, and career assistance, it’s one of the best ways to enter the field.

If you already work in the field, a cybersecurity course can help you specialize and adapt your skills according to the organization’s infrastructure needs, e.g. becoming an ethical hacker. If you are a complete beginner that’s interested in cybersecurity, an introductory course will equip you with a solid understanding of information security and the techniques you need to master to protect sensitive data and address the risks an organization faces.

In addition, there are great free online cybersecurity courses available through platforms such as Coursera, edX, Udemy, and Springboard that cover different cybersecurity concepts that will take you from being a complete novice straight to the security operations center in no time flat. Study each course, the different topics you’ll cover, and the additional features on offer to find out which is the best option for you.

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How to Master Cybersecurity

  1. Start With the Basics

  2. Take a Course

  3. Enter Contests or Get Feedback

  4. Find a Specialty

  5. Get a Certification

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.

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

  • 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.
  • Bootcamps. A bootcamp is an extensive and accelerated course of study that prepares you for a specific career or profession. Top cybersecurity bootcamps offer intensive and practical training. Instead of sitting at a desk and reading books, you learn by doing real-world problems. While some bootcamps are part-time, others are full-time and can be as long as six months. 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.

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.

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.

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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

If you know nothing about cybersecurity, follow the tips below to get started.

  • 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 course. Take an online course 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.

If you have a related background in cybersecurity or hold a degree in the discipline, you can leverage those assets to polish your skills. Here are some ways to advance your existing skills to increase your chances of bagging a higher-paying job:

  • Bootcamps. Enrolling in a bootcamp will get you up to speed in a certain concept. You’ll learn advanced cybersecurity concepts, like penetration testing and incident response.
  • 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.

Resources To Help You Master 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 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 is Cross-Site Scripting?

Also called XSS is a type of security vulnerability in web applications where malicious code is injected into a website, allowing attackers to execute scripts in the context of a user’s browser. This can lead to unauthorized access, data theft, and potential manipulation of website content or user interactions. It’s a good thing to understand when working in the field.

What Are the Minimum Requirements To Get Into Cybersecurity?

Per labor statistics, the minimum requirements to get into cybersecurity are a high school diploma or GED. However, if you want to pursue a career in cybersecurity, it is highly recommended to have a Bachelor’s degree in a technical field like computer science, information technology, etc. Alternatively, you can take a cyber security course and specialize in a certain sub-field through bootcamps after acquiring some basic knowledge about the subject. 

Additionally, you should have knowledge about cloud computing, performing an SQL injection, SaaS models, ethical hacking, and penetration testing. Familiarity with different operating systems is also a plus. Soft skills needed for a cybersecurity position include critical thinking, problem-solving, attention to detail, and strong verbal and written communication.

The best way to learn cybersecurity depends on your existing skills, learning method, and dedication to the skill. By now, you should know how to start learning cybersecurity and the best practices you need to focus on.

It’s always best to take an online course and learn from free resources, such as forums, YouTube videos, tutorials, wikis, and Reddit. You’ll also find affordable short courses that can be paid for by credit card. If you need any help, you can always head over to the online community of industry experts or your fellow students in the online course 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.