How To Learn Cybersecurity from Scratch in 5 Steps

Without cybersecurity, companies are prone to cyber attacks like ransomware. Find out how you can learn cybersecurity as a beginner and help these companies, here.

How To Learn Cybersecurity from Scratch

Cybersecurity is one of the fastest-growing career fields, and for good reason. Research from IBM and the Ponemon Institute shows that data breaches cost an average of $3.9 million, and only 5% of organizations have adequate protection.  

The ISC Cybersecurity Workforce Study reported that the cybersecurity market of jobseekers needs to grow 145% (4 million professionals) to close the cybersecurity skills gap. Such a supply and demand balance means lots of job opportunities, higher salaries (on average, cybersecurity professionals earn a salary premium of ~$12,700 compared to other IT workers), and fast career trajectories, with the ability to move into more senior positions as you develop new skills.

5 Steps To Master a Cybersecurity Career in 2021

Master a Cybersecurity Career

For those with an analytical mindset, technical background, and a love of problem-solving, it is definitely possible to break into cybersecurity without a bachelor's degree. In a few steps, you can be well on your way to learning cybersecurity, digital forensics, and incident response. Here is how to get started:  

1. Gain a foundation in cybersecurity fundamentals 

Cybersecurity involves a mix of hard and soft skills. These include:

  • Software skills/computer science. Understand how to work in various cloud-based environments (including in operating systems like Windows, Linux, etc.) and use software packages (here’s an overview of some top software tools)
  • Risk mitigation. To prevent malware, security professionals assess a system for weaknesses and counter exploitation techniques. The National Security Agency has a great list of strategies, from executing a system recovery plan and segregating the most important networks to leveraging multi-sourced threat reputation services for files, DNS, URLs, IPs, and email addresses and employing hardware security features.
  • Coding/reverse engineering. Learn how to debug a system using programming languages like C and C++, Python, JavaScript, PHP, and SQL
  • Application design. Create secure interfaces in applications and test them for vulnerabilities 
  • Firewall administration. Install firewalls that protect against unwanted incoming traffic and prevent interference by malicious actors 
  • Ethical hacking/penetration testing. Organizations need to be able to think like the “bad guys” in order to pre-empt cyber attacks and build up defenses. This consists of hacking techniques like session spoofing, password cracking, and network traffic sniffing. 

In addition to technical know-how, cybersecurity professionals should bring in transferable skills, like problem-solving, communication, flexibility, and a self-starter mentality. 

2. Gain experience with cybersecurity tools 

Cybersecurity is a software-intensive field and it is important to stay up-to-date on the most important tools and cultivate an inquisitive spirit. 

Some basic systems and key terms include:

  • Firewalls. Firewalls prevent unauthorized access to a private network through traffic filtering. 
  • Antivirus software. From worms, trojans, and spyware to adware, and ransomware, there are many malicious threats that can disrupt daily operations. TechRadar provides a list of the top antivirus software that detects and removes viruses.
  • Managed Detection and Response Services. MDRS are outsourced cybersecurity services that can foresee threats through network traffic analysis, business intelligence, and behavioral analytics and then take immediate action. Many organizations that do not have the assets and resources to develop full-fledged internal systems rely on MDRS systems, such as those in this list recommended by Gartner.
  • Public Key Infrastructure. Public encryption keys allow users and computer systems to verify a party’s identity. Cybersecurity professionals can use these keys for multi-factor authentication, digital signatures, and encrypted messaging. 

Technology Trends

Since cybersecurity is always evolving, practitioners need to stay abreast of key topics:  

  • Cloud security. Cloud computing refers to a process of digitally storing information through an outsourced vendor (e.g. Amazon, Google, etc.), which is scalable and cost-efficient. With all this hosted storage, it is essential to develop policies, controls, and tools that keep data safe from deletion, leakage, or theft. 
  • Encryption. Encryption converts messages into a secret code until it reaches the sender. Companies can encrypt data sent through communication channels (more messaging platforms like Whatsapp, Zoom, and Viber are offering end-to-end encryption), virtual private networks (VPNs), which connect devices to a destination network such as their employer, or through whole-disk encryption software, like FileVault, Bitlocker, and Data Protection.   
  • Internet of Things. With IoT, physical objects come with sensors and software that constantly exchange data. Many savvy hackers are able to exploit vulnerabilities or weak links in these complex and interactive technologies. 
  • Artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence can now identify suspicious access or behavioral patterns more quickly than humans, which presents an opportunity for analyzing millions of events simultaneously, but also raises concerns that adversaries will use machine learning to prevent detection and identify new system entry points. 

4. Procure hands-on experience 

During the recruiting process, you will need to show recruiters that you can apply skills in real-world settings. 

If you are looking for sample projects, here is a list that can help you get started, from keylogging (identifying keystrokes in a system) to bug bounties and packet sniffing (network analysis). 

You can also opt for an internship or part-time position. The Department of Homeland Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, and Federal Bureau of Investigation all offer paid internships, as do many top corporations. 

5. Try out a course/bootcamp

Bootcamps and online courses allow you to learn skills from industry professionals and practice on real-life projects with a cohort. 

  • edX offers a number of free cybersecurity courses where you receive cybersecurity training from educators at Harvard, MIT, and other premier institutions. You can also find courses on Coursera, Udemy, Cybrary (specific to cybersecurity), CISA, Open Security Training, and other learning platforms. 
  • Bootcamps are intense training programs that may offer certain cybersecurity specializations or provide assistance with job placement through job guarantees and career coaching. Bootcamps differ in their duration (part-time vs full-time and the number of months), location (online or in-person), cost, and whether they extend career prep or certification services to graduates.
  • If you’re considering a boot camp, Springboard currently runs a 6-month bootcamp including the popular CompTIA's Security+ certification and a money-back job guarantee.
  • According to Start a Cyber Security Careers, in addition to CompTIA Security+, CompTIA Network+, CompTIA CySA+, and the Cisco CCNA certifications are great for beginners. Since 59% of positions request cybersecurity certifications, boot camps with certifications may be the right career starting point. 

Cybersecurity Career Opportunities

The job outlook for cybersecurity is highly favorable, with the need for critical skills expected to only go up in the future, particularly in industries like banking, retail, tech, and government. One of the best cybersecurity career entry points is through the information security analyst position, which commands a median salary of $103,590 per year and is predicted to enjoy 31% job growth through 2029. 

Information security analysts often come from a computer-related educational or work background and are responsible for managing networks, protecting against security breaches, investigating threats, executing regular tests and audits, and writing reports. 

For a look at the top cybersecurity jobs at the entry-level, this article outlines qualifications to progress as a system administrator, IT support specialist, forensic analyst, cryptanalyst, or junior penetration tester. Other related jobs may be in the IT department but have security as a core function, so with cybersecurity talent, you can broaden your next job search. 

What Are The Fastest Growing Cybersecurity Skills In 2021

Source: Burning Glass Technologies Protecting The Future: The Fastest-Growing Cybersecurity Skills October 2020

Luckily, almost anyone can have a chance at this high-growth career plan, as long as they possess a desire to learn new technology, strong analytical and technical skills, and detail orientation. For more information on cybersecurity and the necessary skills, Springboard’s online materials will put you on a path to success.

Is cybersecurity the right career for you?

According to Cybersecurity Ventures, the cybersecurity industry is expected to have 3.5 million high-paying, unfilled jobs this year. With Springboard’s comprehensive Cyber Security Career Track, you’ll work 1:1 with an industry mentor to learn key aspects of information technology, security software, security auditing, and finding and fixing malicious code. Learning units include subject-expert approved resources, application-based mini-projects, hands-on labs, and career-search-related coursework.

The course will culminate in a multi-part capstone project that you can highlight on your resume for prospective employers or use to demonstrate your technical knowledge in your job interview. The learning materials will also help prepare you to pass the globally-recognized CompTIA Security+  certification so you stand out when applying for cybersecurity roles.

Learn more about Springboard’s Cyber Security Career Track here.

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