How To Learn Cyber Security

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If you’ve ended up here you’ve likely heard the buzz that cyber security is one of the hottest career tickets of the 21st century. Hardly a day goes by without a high profile hack which costs organizations millions. And close to a million cyber security job openings are unfilled due to a lack of talented individuals within the field. 

Cyber security is also the rare field where individuals without formal academic credentials can not only “get in the door,” but can advance to the pinnacle of decision making. While a forma degree in a computing discipline may be a straighter path to entry, many individuals eschew this route and teach themselves the basics. 

We’ve covered all sorts of computing education topics here at DegreeQuery, and in this guide hope to culminate some of our research on how you can train yourself well enough to enter the field of cyber security!

Interested in checking out related routes to a cyber security career? 

Check out some of our reviews of related degrees below: 

In this Guide: is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Start with programming basics

If this part of the learning process is daunting to you, realize that not all cyber security jobs require programming knowledge. Some policy-related jobs don’t require much hands-on computing knowledge. Also note that of the cyber security jobs that do require programming knowledge, there’s a large range to what is required. Some cyber security professionals instead focus on information technology, some on best practices within an organization, some focus on web-centered security, while others hack routers. 

With this said, your options for a career in cyber security will be GREATLY enhanced with some or even a great deal of programming knowledge. 

Luckily for you, there have never been more options for being able to teach yourself. 

So where should you start? You’ll need to at least learn the syntax of some common programming languages. One exceedingly popular language for web-based technologies is Javascript. 

You’ll also need familiarity with your command line, which will enable you to interact with your operating system of choice as a power user. 

Additionally, many cyber security professionals choose to opt for less widespread operating systems which enable users greater control to many operating system components as well as the ability to interact with other systems in more advanced ways. Two of the most popular alternative operating systems used in cyber security work include the following: 

While any three of these operating systems will largely look the same as Windows or Mac for basic use, you’ll likely want to learn some power users moves, and may find these operating systems referenced in cyber security tutorials, particularly as you get more advanced. 

Learn IT fundamentals

While you can focus on cyber security at the policy or software levels, many cyber security exploits utilize hardware as well as software. A common requirement of nearly all cyber security positions is to at least hold an introductory set of cyber security certifications. Many of these certifications focus on a basic understanding of how networks, networking equipment, computing, and telecommunications hardware works. 

There are many ways to learn IT fundamentals that include pursuing a degree program in information technology, playing around with your own technology, taking non-credit courses, or working in an IT help desk setting. 

One element worth noting as you begin your study of IT fundamentals is that many study materials are centered around one of two tracks: a general understanding of information technology, or a vendor-specific path for learning IT fundamentals. 

Perhaps the largest pathway to IT competency involves following along with popular study pathways for the most popular IT certifications. We’ll tackle what exactly these certifications cover in the next section. But for now we’ll just list a few of the best youtube series for learning the fundamentals of IT. 

Complete certifications

As many cyber security employers are large or governmental employers, certifications are commonly used as a way to vet the many individuals within an organization. Commonly certifications are required in two subject matter areas for cyber security: (1) general IT understanding, (2) cyber security-specific. 

Among general IT understanding certificates there are two primary certifications. These include: 

  • CompTIA A+, which covers 9 areas of general IT knowledge

    • Hardware
    • Operating Systems
    • Software Troubleshooting
    • Networking
    • Hardware Troubleshooting
    • Security
    • Mobile Devices
    • Virtualization and the Cloud
    • And Operational Procedures

  • CompTIA Network+, which covers networking in greater detail

    • Networking concepts
    • Infrastructure
    • Network Operations
    • Network Security
    • Network Troubleshooting and Tools

Among security-specific entry-level certifications some collection of the following are the most common: 

  • CompTIA Security+

    • Threats, Attacks and Vulnerabilities
    • Architecture and Design
    • Implementation
    • Operations and Incident Response
    • Governance, Risk and Compliance

  • Microsoft Technology Associate

    • Microsoft-centered cyber security techniques
    • Windows server and networking skills

If you already have a handle on basic cyber security and IT knowledge, you can actually continue to progress to quite advanced and specialized domains of cybersec knowledge through additional certifications. 

These include certifications for penetration testing, governance, virtualization, policy and decision making in cyber security, and more. 

Hack things at home

A big part of learning cyber security is getting hands on and discovering how one can actually break into a information system. While professionals called penetration testers (or ethical hackers) are paid to hack into systems with the permission of others, it’s important to note that it’s illegal to hack into someone else’s system. Even if you’re just “practicing.” What this essentially leaves is the option to practice your hacking skills in one of two ways: (1) in a sandbox environment meant to emulate another system, or (2) on your own equipment.

There are many videos online that tackle very specific hacking patterns. You should read up on some of the prerequisite skills. Or many videos may step you along line by line of code that you may need to configure. 

For a few favorite videos stepping you through hands-on hacking you can do at home check out the following: 

Attend hackathons

Hackathons can be intimidating for self taught individuals or those early in their learning cycle. But one thing that surprises many who have never attended a hackathon is that individuals come into hackathons with very different skill sets, perspectives, and prior knowledge. If you study up on some of the basics and learn fundamentals, more experienced members of your team will help you to find some way that you can contribute to your project. This is one of THE BEST ways to learn from more experienced individuals in the field in a short accelerated timeframe. 

Learn at work

There’s little better incentive to learn cyber security technologies than (a) being paid to do so, and (b) knowing that you need to do a good job learning new techniques because it’s part of your job. 

There are a number of ways to get into cyber security at work. You can take a new job in some IT or developer position. You can also just start volunteering (or asking) for cyber security projects. Nearly every organization of any size has some cyber security initiatives to tackle. Whether this initiative is to update the organization’s policies towards secure use of org equipment, or trying to break into your systems as an authorized ethical hacker. 

Seek out a degree

Finally, the most direct route for many individuals seeking to get into cyber security is to head to school for a degree. You can typically focus on a range of subjects if you’re seeking to enter cyber security, including information technology, information systems, computer science, information assurance, or cyber security. 

Check out some of our reviews of related degrees below: